Being Green

Ever wonder about your personal care products? Living Green 365 has some ideas for you to be greener!

Choosing and using personal care products
When was the last time you tried reading the label on your favorite lotion, soap, shampoo, or cosmetic? The dizzying number of complex ingredient names on many products can leave even the most discerning consumer confused.

Indeed, many of us assume that the ingredients in our personal care products have been government tested and deemed safe. In truth, however, there may be less government regulation and oversight of cosmetics and similar products than you may think.

While the U.S. Food and Drug Administration prohibits the misrepresentation or misbranding of products, it does not require ingredients, other than color additives, to have the agency’s approval before going on the market. It is the responsibility of those who make or market personal care products to ensure that they are safe.

Chemicals in our personal products can be unhealthy not only for us but for wildlife and aquatic environments, too. Wastewater treatment facilities are not designed to effectively remove these chemicals, so they can end up in our lakes, streams and other water bodies, where they accumulate in fish and other creatures. They can also turn up in our drinking water.

What to do?
Here are some general guidelines to help you choose and use products.

Buy products that are simple, meaning they contain the fewest ingredients possible. A long ingredient list doesn’t necessarily mean you’re getting more great ingredients. It can mean that the product contains a lot of fillers like preservatives, surfactants, and emulsifiers.
Avoid siloxanes. Any ingredient ending in “siloxane” or  “cone” (such as dimethicone) is a siloxane. They are toxic to aquatic life and cause a lot of trouble at wastewater treatment plants.
Avoid synthetic fragrance. Look for the term “fragrance free.” Products labeled “unscented” can contain fragrance that masks the product’s natural odor.
Avoid synthetic dyes. They have no function in your product. This is simply a brand’s attempt to set itself apart from other brands, or to make products more appealing. Dyes are easy to spot on labels. Anything with a color name (D&C Red) is a synthetic dye.
Marks hand
Make your own when you can. It’s easier than you think! Not only will you avoid toxic ingredients, you will save money. A few recipes are provided below to get you started.
Use the smallest amount of product needed to do the job. Typically, this is considerably less than what the product instructions state.
Use the fewest number of products to do the job. You don’t need different shampoos or other products for you, your children, and your spouse. Find one that you feel good about and use it for the whole family.

Choose products that can serve multiple purposes. A  product like witch hazel, for instance, can replace skin cleanser and astringent.
Buy things in containers that can be reused, and then reuse them!  Avoid plastic containers, which can leach chemicals into your product.

Look for ingredients that you could eat.
Be leary of products that are labeled, for example, “natural,” “botanical,” or “pure.”  These designations can be misleading and  products with these labels may still contain toxic ingredients.
Make your own
Creating your own personal care products can be both economical and better for the environment. By reusing the same glass jars to contain your products, you can reduce waste that would otherwise be generated and discarded. Ingredients bought in bulk for creating your products also often come in containers that can be reused numerous times.

You’ll also have peace of mind knowing that your products contain no toxic or synthetic chemicals that can expose you or your loved ones to risk or be released into the environment.

Summer Streets, a former esthetician, now environmental chemist at the MPCA, shared some of her favorite recipes for nontoxic hair and body care. Consider making these for your own use or to give as gifts!

Whipped body butter recipe

4 oz. unrefined shea butter (available at most co-ops. An 11 oz. jar costs around $10)

2 T base oil. Use any oil you like – sweet almond, jojoba, olive, grapeseed, etc.

10 – 20 drops essential oil (optional)

Put shea butter and base oil in a bowl. Whip with beaters until combined and fluffy. You can then gently incorporate essential oils and  transfer the whole thing to a glass jar. You can split this into portions: a large portion for body, a smaller portion for hands, and an even smaller portion for eye cream. Consider adding essential oils geared toward a specific use/desired outcome (such as anti-aging or anti-eye bags) and add to each portion. NOTE: if you split portions you will need to adjust the amount of essential oil you add. The amount suggested is for the full batch. This is especially good in winter.

A good summertime body moisturizer, says Summer, is straight sweet almond oil  (can also be used as eye makeup remover and facial cleansing oil).

Hair and body elixir (conditioner/moisturizer)

Equal parts: Jojoba oil and fractionated coconut oil (stays liquid at room temperature)

Essential oils, optional. The amount depends on how much elixir you make. General rule of thumb is that the essential oil should account for only 1 – 2 % of the final blend, that is, 6 drops EO per 1 oz. of carrier oil = 1% dilution.

Example recipe:

4 oz. jojoba oil

4 oz. fractionated coconut oil

Up to 48 total drops of essential oil

This is great as a body moisturizer. Also provides nice moisture and sheen to hair. A little bit goes a very long way!

Both of these products have long shelf lives and do not require refrigeration or addition of a preservative. Just be careful to use bowls, jars, and utensils that are completely dry! Water = mold = spoilage.

For more recipes or for guidance or training on DIY personal care products, check with your local community education program or local CO-OP. The internet is another great source for recipes.

More information
Madesafe. National certification program for nontoxic products. Has a searchable online product database, as well as information on chemicals to avoid.

Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep Cosmetics Database. Provides profiles on thousands of cosmetics and personal products.

What’s in our water? Research by the MPCA confirms that a wide variety of unregulated chemicals are ending up in Minnesota’s lakes and rivers. The chemicals, including pharmaceuticals and personal care products, are of concern because many have properties that can interfere with the functioning of hormones in animals and people.

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