TORONTO - Adria Vasil, an expert on all things green, unveils what's hiding in our hairstyling aids, sunscreens and even our clothing in "Ecoholic Body," the third book in her earth-friendly series.
In her extensive guide, which is printed with organic ink, she tells Canadians what they need to know to keep healthy and green while detoxing the planet. Vasil explains what ingredients to avoid when shopping for cosmetics, clothing and condoms while giving tips on natural or organic substitutions and remedies.
In short, it's about everything that touches or goes into our bodies.
"I really wanted 'Ecoholic' to be an exhaustive guide to everything to do with the body," she said in an interview coinciding with this week's publication of the book.
"Not just the body-care stuff ... but I go from shampoo to sandals to supplements to everything in between."
Using her background as a journalist, she breaks down data from researchers and relays it in a conversational, sometimes humorous way. Her reviews can be ruthless — she tells you straight up if she thinks you're not going to like the way a product performs.
First up is body care, since pretty well everyone uses shampoo, deodorant and toothpaste.
"We're slathering this really nice stuff on us that smells good and feels good and makes us look good, but what we're not realizing is it's loaded with pollutants," she said.
"We think of pollution as something that's a far-away smokestack, but actually it comes right back into us when we're slathering it on our skin or putting it in our hair or rubbing it on our underarms."
Vasil, 36, has been writing about environmental issues for about a decade and began her "Ecoholic" column for Now magazine in 2004. Her environmental epiphany began in her teens and stemmed from news reports about such issues as acid rain and the Exxon Valdez oil spill in 1989.
"Around that time I started paying attention to the bigger environmental issues realizing, 'Oh wow, there's a whole world outside my doorstep that I was completely oblivious to before.'
"It was around (age) 15 or 16 that I started paying attention to the products that I was using, that I was putting on my hair, on my skin, that I was using every morning."
She began reading ingredients lists and told her parents she was going to use the money she earned as a bus girl to buy her own shampoo and toothpaste at the health-food store.
But back then, there wasn't a lot to choose from and some products weren't always the best performers, she noted.
"Performance wasn't the original thing people cared about. When you went to a health-food store back then it was the real crunchy granolas that were supporting it because they didn't want the toxic stuff, but they were willing to take a ... lesser-performing product.
"But now people want natural and they want it to perform and I think they want the best of both worlds and the good thing is that through my testing and through my years of doing this I've realized we're at a good point now because companies have actually stepped up."
At the same time, chain drugstores and grocery stores are also offering more natural and organic selections, she said.
But no matter where you do your buying, learning to read ingredients labels is paramount because though some companies have removed certain chemicals from products, they may have replaced them with other preservatives and irritants.
Her "Mean 15" list of what to avoid includes BHA and BHT (endocrine system-disrupting preservatives linked to cancer); DEA/MEA/TEA (diethanolamine), which can create carcinogenic nitrosamines when mixed with preservatives; formaldehyde-releasing preservatives; two sunscreen chemicals known as oxybenzone (BP-3/ benzophenone) and octinoxate (octyl methoxycinnamate) which may disrupt the hormone system and can trigger allergic reactions; and parabens, which are estrogenic preservatives also tied to damage to the male reproductive system.
The word fragrance on a label "hides a crazy cocktail of chemicals — up to at least a dozen hormone disruptors have been detected in perfume alone," she said.
"It's perfume, it's light, it's fluffy. It shouldn't be a serious topic, but it becomes a serious topic when they're loaded with stuff that makes us sick, that makes the people around us sick and ends up polluting the waterways downstream when it goes down there," Vasil said.
Apparel, including jeans, faces strict scrutiny too.
"We don't often think about the impact of our clothes and the fact that a quarter of the world's pesticides, insecticides, end up on cotton," Vasil said.
And wrinkle-resistant finishes on our clothes off-gas formaldehyde, she added.
Many fashion designers now offer eco-friendly clothing and she suggests shopping at second-hand stores or doing swaps with friends.
Vasil's older brother, who had chemical and environmental sensitivities, died while she was writing "Ecoholic Body," and the book is dedicated to him.
"He was the one who led the green charge in our family from the beginning."
Her brother inspired her in many ways "to keep going down the green path because he was forced to be the most natural of all because this stuff did make him sick."
Take a look at some not so eco-friendly celebrities that should take a page out of Adria Vasil's book: