Thursday, May 29, 2014

Preventing Cancer and Trying to Look Good While Doing It

One of the first things I did after receiving the initial breast cancer diagnosis was try to rid our house of toxins.  Given the known connections between toxic chemicals and various types of cancer and the fact that the skin is the body's largest organ, it seemed like an important place to make some changes.  Frankly, the control freak in me needed something tangible to do while we waited to begin my treatment, and throwing myself into finding better health and beauty options was empowering - if overwhelming, as it gave me something positive on which to focus my energy.  For the sake of this post, I'll focus on beauty products and share a separate list of household cleaning solutions in a Part 2.

As I inventoried our household and personal care products, I was astounded at how many little bottles of "miracle cures" I'd collected over time.  Confession:  Call me gullible or vain - or both - but I've always been a sucker for the latest claims to minimize pores, prevent wrinkles and make my skin sparkle, shine or whatever else the beauty industry tells me it should be doing.  And apparently I'm not alone; the average woman has something like 60 beauty products in her stash. 

Hair & Beauty Memes

But how many women are able to go completely free of makeup or beauty products, even after a cancer diagnosis?  While I'm a little jealous of those who can pull it off (you're gorgeous!), I just wasn't in a position to go cold turkey, so I dove into the Environmental Working Group's (EWG) "Skin Deep Database."  You can search by product and ingredient to get a score (the lower, the better), and I quickly learned that there are a number of automatic red flag ingredients, many of which are present in most mainstream cosmetics and hair care products.   

The more I inventoried my products and researched their ingredients, the more concerned I became.  In fact, even some of the ones that advertised themselves as pure, safe and natural were less so than I believed.  It seems the U.S. standards of oversight on cosmetics are nowhere near as stringent Europe's, so it's often best to look for products not banned in the E.U.

Visit the EWG's "Quick Tips for Safer Cosmetics" for a great primer on what to avoid and buy instead, including a detailed description of the ingredients' dangers.  In the meantime, here are some of the scariest ingredients found in most commercial cosmetic and beauty products:
  • Vitamin A compounds (retinyl palmitate, retinyl acetate, retinol)
  • Aluminum
  • Paba
  • Parabens
  • PEG/ceteareth/polyethylene
  • Triclosan & Triclocarban
  • Fragrance
  • Oxybenzone
  • Nanoparticles
  • Synthetic colors are listed as D&C or FD&C
  • Petroleum
  • Phthalates
  • Methylisothiazolinone, methylchloroisothiazolinone and benzisothiazolinone
  • Lead
  • Formaldehyde and formaldehyde releasers – Bronopol, DMDM hydantoin, Diazolidinyl urea, Imidzaolidinyl urea and Quaternium-15  
  • Methylisothiazolinone, methylchloroisothiazolinone and benzisothiazolinone
  • Resorcinol  
  • Boric acid and Sodium borate 

Sadly, just about every cosmetic, lotion, hair care, bath and body product I owned contained some combination of these ingredients.   In case you're feeling a little panicky yourself, I thought I'd share some of the safer alternatives I've found.   One caution is that just because one product in a brand's line is safe doesn't mean they all are, so I always check all of the ingredients, most of which are available online, and for department store brands that don't list them, I ask salesperson to show me the book of ingredients by product. 
I can't get over how serene this lady looks with bananas and kiwi all over her face.  She must be on to something, right?
In general, products that meet my criteria score between a 0 and 2 on the EWG safety rankings, don't include anything on the list above and are readily available in stores or online.  Some of my favorite brands include:  Origins (available online and at department stores such as Macy's), Real Purity (online), Burt's Bees (online, Target and health food stores), Aubrey Organics (online and health food stores) and The Honest Company (online; shampoo available at Costco). 

Shampoo, Bath and Body Wash - Plain ol' castille soap by Dr. Bronner is great, though in the winter months, it was a little drying for us.  We love The Honest Company's shampoo/body wash combo and use it for the whole family. 

Conditioner - The Honest Company's conditioner is fantastic.  It's moisturizing without being too heavy.

Foundation - Real Purity has a great non-nanosized powder.  I also like their liquid foundation, though I've noticed it does "melt" off my face a little when exercising (i.e. sweating).  At some point, I may need to research something that actually stays on my face, but for now at least I know when I'm working hard enough, right?

Lipstick - I love Real Purity's lipsticks.  They go on smooth and offer a good color selection.  I also like Burt's Bees and Origins lip gloss. 

Blush and Eye Shadow - Origins and Real Purity.

Mascara - This one is tough.  I'm a smudger, a crier and a water lover, so I've always needed waterproof mascara.  Origins and Real Purity both have decent mascara products, though they're a little clumpier on application, smudge if I rub my eyes during the day (which I do, often) and make me look like a raccoon if I wear it while in the water.  I know, I'm not really selling them, right? But at least they're non-toxic.  I noted that Bare Minerals has a waterproof mascara that meets my requirements, so I plan to try that next.

Antiperspirant/Deodorant - This one was terrifying for me.  I'd been aware for years that the aluminum in antiperspirants is tied to breast cancer and that the very act of preventing the body from shedding toxins through the skin (which is what an antiperspirant does by definition) is harmful, but I was too afraid of body odor to give it up.  Clearly, the big C changed all that and while I was still scared out of my mind that I'd be "smelly girl," I immediately took the plunge.  

UPDATE:  New recipe here.

I actually was pleasantly surprised!  It took a little trial and error, but here's the system I've worked out that has kept me dry and smelling fresh:

Tom's of Maine deodorant as a base, with a slathering of Homemade Coconut Oil Deodorant over it.  I found that either one alone didn't do the trick, though, so for me, the one-two punch is important.

Have I mentioned how all-purpose coconut oil is? It's like the duck tape of beauty products.

                  Homemade Coconut Oil Deodorant
                  1/4 cup baking soda
                  1/4 cup corn starch
                  8 tbs melted coconut oil

Mix ingredients together and pour into small container or emptied antiperspirant container and let set in refrigerator.  Note that coconut oil melts at warm temperatures, so in the winter, you just scoop some with your fingernail and it will melt on contact with your skin.  In the warmer months, it'll already be soft or liquid. 

Lotions - Once again, The Honest Company and Real Purity score high on the lotions.  Both have face and body lotions that are non-greasy and Real Purity's "velvet glove" product is good for more intensive moisturizing.  I'm currently using Honest face and body lotion as well as a homemade night and body cream concoction of coconut oil and jojoba oil that I mix in my Kitchenaid.  It goes on a little greasy at first, so it's better for night than day, but surprisingly it's never made me break out, even with my naturally oily skin.

Shaving Cream -  I've had great success just sing conditioner or one of the thicker natural oils (vitamin E, olive or grapeseed) instead of shaving cream.  If you're using oil, you may want to add a few drops of essential oil as fragrance to avoid smelling a little salad dressing.

Hair Spray - I had to do some experimenting here, as I needed a product that would hold.  I really like Aubrey Organics, as it lasts all day, even when I've curled or styled my hair.

Nail Polish - I still try to avoid wearing it all the time, but with the summer sandal months upon us, I can't imagine going without a pedi.  Zoya is my favorite polish, as it's "four free" (no Formaldehyde, Toluene, DPB or Camphor), long lasting and made in Cleveland.  OPI, Wet and Wild, Sally Hansen and Essie are all "three free" (Formaldehyde, Toluene, DPB).  There are a number of brands now introducing "five free" that I want to check out, but for now I like that I can choose from among my existing stash.

Toothpaste I've made the switch to floride-free toothpaste, and like Tom's of Maine.  There are several brands on the market, but many are sweetened with stevia, which I can't tolerate, though if you like it, Honest and Kiss My Face are good options, including their baby/kids toothpastes.

Baby Care - We were late to the game on this, but Honest has great best diaper rash and ointment that's all naturalAs I mentioned above, we use Castille soap or Honest Company Shampoo/Body Wash on Charlie. We also found coconut oil worked great on his cradle cap and overall dry skin, particularly when he was at his tiniest and flakiest.  

Sunblock - The EWG just came out with their 2014 Guide to Sunscreen, and I've been working to find a product ranked as a 1 that doesn't cause us to burn or Charlie to break out in a rash (the kid has some seriously sensitive skin).  So far, Seventh Generation Baby has worked well.  We also just bought Aubrey Organics, Honest Company and Babo Botanicals, so we'll see how they work. Other brands that seem to work well for others but didn't for us are Badger (we all got sunburned, but it might have been because some of the natural sunblocks are meant to go on thick and serve as a physical barrier and we didn't use it that way) and Babyganics (Charlie's skin reacted to it).

So there you have it, the product of my obsessive compulsive research and plenty of trial and error.  I hope this list has been helpful.  I know many of you have done your own research and product testing and would love to hear about your favorites, so please share them in the comments!

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