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Toxic Waste: The Problem With Beauty Products

by Christine DeSadeleer Sep 9, 2009
Here are a few of the types of toxic products we use on a daily basis, and what you can buy instead.

Ten years ago, most of us had no clue how many harmful chemicals and by-products were a part of our daily health regimen. It was more about finding what products, from shampoo to antiperspirant, actually cleaned our hair and well, kept us from sweating.

Now, information about harmful ingredients found in your average beauty merchandise is slowly making its way to the masses. But what is the real story, and what can be used instead?

Yes, many products most of us use every single day have cancer-causing ingredients. So I’m here to dust off that ole’ holistic nutrition degree and list ones which might be drastically negatively affecting your health, and what in the world to replace them with:


First off, I have to mention that we are undergoing a crisis of epidemic proportions with Vitamin D deficiency. The best source for this cancer-prohibitive vitamin (yes, even of the skin variety) is the sun.

Now, I know it freaks some people out – especially the super whities – to go out in the sun without being lathered through and through with the white stuff. But just 10-15 minutes when the sun is strongest can fulfill your Vitamin D needs for the day (and hopefully store some for the winter).

Then slather on all the sunscreen you want, as long as it is a natural brand that uses Zinc, such as Soleo Organics, to protect you from the UV rays, NOT oxybenzone, which has been shown to be an endocrine disruptor and has been linked to allergies, hormone disruption, and cell damage.


Ah, soap. Smells good, doesn’t it? Well, between the fake fragrances that can cause skin allergy nightmares, and the petroleum-based ones that should actually be going in your car’s tank instead of on your skin, it ain’t so fresh anymore.

What to do, you ask? When in doubt, there’s Dr. Bronners. There may be crazy writing all over it, but it is just plain good stuff, with a base of organic olive, coconut, hemp, and jojoba oils, it’s cheap, and lasts FOREVER. Or make it yourself; find step-by-step instructions here. Homemade soap also makes a great present.


Remember that chain email letter that went around about 10 years ago saying that deodorant can cause cancer? Yeah, everyone said it was bunk, but it was kind of true. Aluminum, the main ingredient in antiperspirants that stops sweat, has been linked to breast cancer.

Aluminum, the main ingredient in antiperspirants that stops sweat, has been linked to breast cancer.

I’m completely and utterly guilty of this one. But there are natural deodorant alternatives, such as Kiss My Face, Chrystal Rock, and Jason. Unfortunately, no antiperspirant alternatives though, so if you are a sweaty person, these deodorant alternatives need to be used a lot.

Or, you can at least switch up using the natural alternatives most of the time, and then occasionally wearing the regular stuff. You know, when you have a date after a snowboarding session or something.

Shampoos and Conditioners

Alright, I attempted to go the shampoo-free gal route, using baking soda and apple cider vinegar to clean and condition my hair. Didn’t quite work, though it might have over time.

I tried it for good reason: if you take a look at the ingredients of most shampoos and conditioners (even “natural” ones), they contain parabens, Propylene Glycol (antifreeze), and dioxins, which are pretty well known to be endocrine disruptors and probably linked to cancer (TreeHugger busts the myth around sodium lauryl sulfate being linked to cancer).

Even if they don’t have these ingredients, they have plenty of other chemicals you can’t pronounce, such as triethanolamine and TEA-oleate. Mostly, these chemicals do such important things like make it lather. Pffft.

Don’t forget, if you have a wheat or soy allergy, almost ALL shampoos and conditioners have one or both ingredients. And just because you don’t digest it through your mouth doesn’t mean it won’t affect your body.

The best natural shampoo I’ve found is Beeceuticals (although I’m not a fan of some of the ingredients in the conditioner), but please let me know if there is another TRULY natural one out there that works.


Ladies, ladies, ladies (and some gents). I can’t stress the importance of using natural makeup enough. There are all kinds of cancer-causing agents in all forms of regular makeup, including parabens, toxic metals such as mercury, and everyone’s favorite, formaldehyde (uh, isn’t that for dead people?).

A few brands that I can personally vouch for include Dr. Hauschka, Miessence, and Lavera. That’s not saying they are 100% perfect – there are some ingredients in even these brands that I’m not a fan of. But they are much better than what you find at an average drugstore.


Sorry, guys, but this needs to be discussed. Cotton is the most highly pesticide-sprayed crop, and when you use a regular tampon, you are putting those pesticides right beside your ovaries. NOT a good idea.

Cotton is the most highly pesticide-sprayed crop.

Luckily, there are a couple of organic cotton alternatives (that I also believe help in reducing the possibility of toxic shock syndrome–no wonder it is so prevalent with those toxins in there!), such as Natracare organic tampons and pads.

There is also the much more environmental choice in purchasing the Diva Cup or my friend Emily’s favorite thing in the world, The Keeper (apparently The Keeper is more, well, comfortable). These “cups” can be used again and again for years on end. Or you can purchase washable pads, such as Luna Pads.

Bottom line is to stay away from ingredients you can’t pronounce, and just know that there are plenty of healthier choices available.

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