Guest Column — A Better Choice: Non-Toxic Personal Care

By Patti Hatzistavrakis

Over the last few decades, the personal care industry has become big business. There are thousands of products on the shelves, all claiming to help you be your best, youngest, or most vibrant self. Manufactures spend billions of dollars to ensure the popularity of their items. It seems that all of this advertising is paying off; recent research suggests that the average person (including men) uses nine personal care products each day. Some, use as many as 15.

I was no exception. For years I had monthly salon appointments. I purchased all the products “experts” suggested for me and then waited for the miraculous results. Guess what? They never came. That is, until I ditched it ALL. Two and a half years ago, I was diagnosed with Breast Cancer. I immediately began to research all of the ways I could control the amount of synthetic chemicals and hormones entering my system. Processed foods were the first to go, but I was hesitant to believe that my beauty regime could have anything to do with the disease.

The truth is that our skin, from head to toe, is the largest and most permeable organ. It quickly absorbs any product that is applied, including body wash, lotions, perfumes and other airborne chemicals like hairspray. Once the product’s ingredients enter the skin, they get delivered directly into the blood stream and the internal organs without being filtered. In contrast, food and drink start getting broken down by saliva and then further filtered out by our digestive system. So, products we apply to our skin have a more direct effect on our overall health.

The personal care industry is largely unregulated and the US government doesn’t require any mandatory testing for safety. Manufacturers are able to use a variety of natural and manmade chemicals in their formulations. They are also responsible for their own testing and claims processes. So, terms like “hypoallergenic” and “natural” can be misleading due to the lack of industry standards. 

There are about 7,000 chemicals being used today in personal care products and many of them are considered toxic. The Environmental Working Group (EWG) has estimated that 1 in 5 products may be contaminated with cancer-causing ingredients. Toxins accumulate overtime, and can lead to a myriad of issues, such as endocrine disruption (including the thyroid and immune functions), skin and lung irritations and even cancer.

I read a terrific study about the accumulative factor of sunscreen, as an example. A test group applied sunscreen once and then were tested periodically over the next 72 hours for a specific range of chemicals commonly found in sunscreen. Results showed chemicals present in both urine and blood samples for the duration of the test period as well as an increase in concentration. Meaning, not only does the body not process the chemicals, but that they flow freely and collect throughout the entire body!

Some of the more common chemical ingredients

Parabens are chemical preservatives often used in lotion, deodorant, cosmetics and cleansers. On labels, they can also be called methylparaben, propylparaben or butylparaben. Parabens have been found to mimic estrogen, which can drive breast tumor growth.

Phthalates are synthetic ingredients used to increase flexibility and longevity and are found in color cosmetics, perfume, and liquid soap. They have been linked to reproductive defects, breast cancer and low sperm count.

  Sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS), which is used to create suds, is incorporated in most everything from toothpaste to body wash and shampoo. While it is not necessarily harmful to humans on its own, it becomes contaminated with 1,4 Dioxane, a known carcinogen, during the manufacturing process.

  Heavy metals and dyes are contained in many color cosmetics and other beauty products. Deodorant is famous for including aluminum, which has been linked to neurological diseases. Lipstick can contain lead, which is easily ingested. Chemical dyes are widely used in everything from hair coloring and eye shadow to nail polish. Nail polish also contains a petroleum by-product called Toluene, which can affect the central nervous system and brain function.

Artificial fragrances are considered trade secrets and therefore do not have to be disclosed. Artificial fragrances can cause headaches, asthma and other respiratory issues.

In addition to the many health risks associated with these chemicals, they also create issues for the environment. The manufacturing process alone has been linked to polluted air and water resources. Packaging can contain harmful chemicals like BPA and clog landfills if not recyclable, and certain ingredients, like micro beads and SLS, contaminate streams and lakes after they are washed down the drain.

Based on my research, I’ve come to the belief that commercial personal care products are harsh, full of toxic chemicals and just plain harmful to humans and the environment.

changes to personal care regime and products used

1) Monthly salon appointments were been canceled. Any product that was out of date or contained one of the chemical ingredients listed above was thrown in the trash. Facials, hair treatments and certain products can be extremely harsh to your skin, stripping essential moisture.

2) My regime was streamlined to just the basics: body and face washes, shampoo and conditioner. I use coconut oil instead of lotion if my skin feels dry. Castor oil is a terrific deep conditioning treatment for the scalp and hair. It’s also been shown to promote hair growth.

3) The essentials were replaced with more organic and natural products. I look for the USDA Organic label and use the EWG’s website ( to ensure purity.

4) Color and fragrance were kicked to the curb. I no longer color my hair, paint my nails, or wear makeup.

5) The sun is now my friend. Our skin uses the sun’s rays to generate Vitamin D, an important link to protecting against a host of diseases including cardiovascular disease, diabetes and cancer. I choose not to use sunscreen, due to health and environment implications, so I keep my time in the sun to the appropriate day parts (early morning and evening). If I am in the sun during mid day, I cover up. If you choose to use sunscreen, I suggest a non-nano particle Zinc sun block. The particles are too large to penetrate the pores of the skin.

6) I began practicing beauty from the inside out. My lifestyle now consists of whole, unprocessed foods to regulate digestion, plenty of water to keep me hydrated, and daily exercise to help me sweat out toxins through; you guessed it, my skin!

As with everything, my transition from beauty junkie to purist has taken a few years. I can happily say that I am now seeing some truly amazing results. My skin is softer, clearer and more hydrated than ever. My nails are super strong and healthy. And my hair is thicker, fuller and stronger. Plus, I’m saving time and money! Every day, I make the best choices I can to be as healthy and naturally beautiful as possible – inside AND out!

Patti Hatzistavrakis is a freelance writer residing in Puna.


2 replies
  1. sada anand kaur
    sada anand kaur says:

    Have for decades thought: If I wouldn’t eat it, why would I put it on my skin. There are so many truly natural, organic oils, baking soda, honeys, etc. that cleanse & moisturized to be applied.

  2. parv
    parv says:

    An antiperspirant, not a deodorant by its lonesome, that has the aluminium molecules to block up the sweat pores.

    Patti, could you cite your sources please where you wrote X causes, or may cause, something? The claim about sodium lauryl sulfate is the most curious one to me.

    State of California would be a great source of chemical names present in modern life which *may* be harmful to health.

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