by Julie Yakunich

When you have a chronic illness, you often start looking for areas of your life that you can improve. Since the origin of most chronic illness is unknown, it is impossible to identify exactly where to start. Most people first consider their diet and their stress levels, which are great places to start (check out our Food Lifestyle Guide for great tips on how to get started with revising your diet).

When I first became ill, I suspected that my body was toxic. I struggled with fatigue, acne, liver pains, eczema and other skin issues, sensitivity to chemical smells, and headaches just to name a few. At that time, 7-8 years ago, I came across an article that discussed the number of toxins we are exposed to as part of modern life. I was dumbfounded, and frankly, a bit frightened. This motivated me to seek out ways to minimize my exposure to toxins. Everyone could stand to reduce the number of toxins they are exposed to, but it is really important for those of us with chronic illnesses.

One of the first areas I cleaned up was my personal care products. Most commercial products are loaded with toxins that can range from carcinogenic (cancer-causing) to endocrine disrupting (effects the endocrine system) to allergy inducing. Fortunately, in these last few years, the number and quality of personal care products that are non-toxic have improved dramatically. First, I will review how to investigate which products are safe, then I will review some of my favorite brands.

First, knowledge is power. Many personal care products list ingredients on their labels, but reading these words (think extremely long, chemical names) and remembering which are bad is nearly impossible. I use two apps to determine safety:

  • EWG (Environmental Working Group)
  • Think Dirty

With both apps, you can either type in the name of a product or scan the barcode on the back of the product to search. This makes purchasing new products so much easier. I can often be found in an aisle of a store scanning my little heart out while looking for safe products. Think Dirty will give you a score on a 1-10 scale with additional details about how the toxins in each product will affect you and which ingredients are most dangerous. What I love most about this app (and love it, I do!) is the recommended alternatives. Many of the products I use today come from those lists. Let’s review some of the brands I love:

Make-up:

  • Bare Minerals
  • RMS Beauty
  • Beautycounter
  • AuNaturale
  • Vapour
  • W3ll People
  • Kjaer Weis

Hair Care:

  • 100% Pure
  • Innersense (I have curly/wavy hair and their Quiet Calm Curl Control is life-saving)

Deodorant:

  • Schmidt’s
  • Primal Pit Paste

Lotion/moisturizer:

  • 100% Pure (I love their Coffee Bean Under Eye cream)
  • Juice Beauty
  • Odacite
  • Bottega Organica

Soap/shave gel:

  • Dr Bronner’s (very safe but can be drying on some skin types)
  • 100% Pure
  • Burt’s Bees

Toothpaste:

  • Tom’s
  • Uncle Harry’s Natural Products

I have yet to try non-toxic nail polish or remover that I liked or worked well. So I mostly opt for not using it at all. And, in general, I’m not perfect or 100% non-toxic. There are a few products that are not totally safe that I still use, but I know that I have significantly reduced my toxic burden. This process took me a number of years to switch over. I didn’t have it in my budget to throw the old stuff out and start fresh. I started with things that were absorbed directly into my skin, lotion and moisturizer, deodorant, lipstick, foundation, concealer, blush, and eyeshadow. Then I moved onto products that were most toxic. Lastly, I switched to safer hair products and mascara as they weren’t directly in contact with large portions of my body.

Toxic ingredients to look out for:

  • Parabens – endocrine and reproductive systems disruptor
  • Talc – carcinogen
  • Phthalates – endocrine disruptor
  • Lead – neurotoxin
  • Fragrance – a blanket term for a number of chemicals that are dangerous. Many toxins are hidden in products because they are labeled ‘fragrance.’
  • Formaldehyde – a known carcinogen and neurotoxicant
  • BHA – carcinogen and reproductive system disruptor