Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Natural products - are they worth it?

Lately I've been thinking a lot more about the products that we use on and around our bodies, and I'm wondering whether it's worth it to make the switch to using all-natural products (as much as possible).  This has mainly stemmed from my reading about how to treat Emmett's eczema.  I'd like to be able to control it without slathering him in a lot of unnecessary chemicals, if at all possible.  So, from there I thought - if I'm using all-natural products on Emmett, then should I on Annika as well?  And what about myself and Carey?  Wouldn't it stand to reason that we would all benefit from it?  So I've been doing some reading and here's a list of some of the yucky stuff that we routinely put on our bodies (info taken from and

Sulfates (sodium or ammonium lauryl/laureth/myreth sulfate)
Synthetic ingredients used to create foam or to allow liquid to spread or absorb easily. Commonly found in soap, toothpaste, shampoo, shower gel, and bubble bath. Sulfates are known to irritate the skin and in some cases cause eczema. Sulfates have also been linked to cancer. Like many other commercial ingredients, it is also a xenoestrogen, making it's way to the bloodstream and causing hormonal imbalances in the body.

Synthetic Parabens (methyl, proply, ethyl, butyl)
Synthetic preservatives used in lotions, gels, shampoos, toners, deodorants, antiperspirants and sunscreens. Synthetic parabens have the potential to mimic estrogen which can result in reproductive abnormalities and breast cancer.

Ingredients used to enhance fragrance or make it last longer. They are commonly found in perfumes, fragrance, hair products, deodorants, body lotions and nail polish. Unfortunately they are NOT required to be listed on labels as they are classified as proprietary. This is a cause for concern as consumers have no real way of knowing which products contain them. In order to be a savvy consumer avoid products that claim an ingredient as ‘fragrance’ or ‘perfume’.  They are also used as a softening agent in plastics. Phthalates can be irritating to asthma sufferers, cause headaches, migraines, dizziness and are being linked to disrupting hormone levels, feminizing males in the womb and blocking natural hormone receptors in females.

Ingredients found in petrolatum, mineral oil, paraffin, and propylene glycol which are unfortunately in the base of most personal care products such as lip balms, baby moisturizers, shampoos and conditioners. Sulfates, parabens and phthalates are all either derived from petrochemicals or contaminated with them. The scary part is that research has shown they potentially cause cancer, disrupt DNA, and can cause birth defects. 

Phosphates are used for their superior cleaning power as they eliminate the soap scum residue leftover from cleaning. Phosphates are made from a phosphorus base, which is a very important mineral for plants and animals. However, the chemical balance of phosphorus is very important to keep in check. Excess phosphorus into rivers, lakes and fresh water can offset the delicate balance of biology and produce an excess of algae and bacteria, making water inhabitable for aquatic life, unsuitable for swimming or ingesting.

Chlorine is very irritating to the skin. It dries out the skin's natural oils and can cause rashes, hives, soreness and irritation to the eyes, lungs and mucus membranes. Chlorine is mostly found in bleach and many detergents and cleaning products. Commonly used to kill unwanted bacteria, when released into oceans, chlorine can kill a large amount of natural bacterias needed for certain aquatic life. An abundance of chlorine has changed the chemical composition of the oceans, which could destroy the symbiotic balance of bacteria in healthy areas of water. Although it has anti-fungal properties to it, there are much healthier alternatives to your skin and to the environment.

I think that using less chemicals and more natural products has become more accepted when it comes to cleaning our homes (doesn't almost everyone have a Norwex cloth these days?), but it still has a ways to go when it comes to our personal products.  Although, I think that a lot of mainstream companies are realizing that consumers are looking for things that are "greener" and are trying to make their products seem like they're green, even if they're not.  For example, the Aveeno brand.  I've used Aveeno lotion, body wash and shampoo on the kids, because it seems like a more natural choice.  And it does have some natural ingredients in it, but when I took a closer look at the labels, I found quite a few of the lovelies listed above.  I believe they call that "greenwashing" - making a product seem like a more natural or environmentally-friendly choice, even though it is not.

I have three main concerns with switching over to all-natural personal products - cost, availability and effectiveness.  Most natural products that I've come across cost quite a bit more than regular products - and usually there's no coupons for them (I like coupons :) ).  Recently I went to the Rocky Mountain Soap Company store, and it didn't take long to rack up quite a bill.  I bought some all-natural, unscented, tear-free shampoo for the kids, and it was $13 for the bottle (although it should last for quite a while).  The other thing is availability - most of these products aren't available at your local grocery store or Wal-Mart.  We had to drive across the city to go to Rocky Mountain Soap (which is why I bought several things - I wanted to make it worth the trip!).  With 2 kids in tow, I don't like having to go to a lot of different places when I need stuff - I like the convenience of one-stop shopping.  The last thing is effectiveness - if I'm paying more for these products, and going out of my way to buy them, then I want them to work.  My main reason for going to Rocky Mountain Soap was to get their "eczema relief" kit for Emmett.  I'd read a lot of reviews and testimonies online about how great it is, but when I tried it on him, it didn't seem to make much of a difference, so that really disappointed me.  But we'll try it for a little bit longer and see if it helps.  I haven't been using the soap regularly on him, so it might make a difference if I did that.  Sometimes, though, I think natural products can work better than synthetic ones.  For a while I used the Norwex organic night cream, and I absolutely loved it.  I'm not sure if you could see the difference, but I could definitely feel the difference on my skin.  However, since it cost 3 times what my other moisturizer cost, I only used it when I received it as a birthday or Christmas present.  I ran out a while ago, and went back to my old moisturizer, since I couldn't justify the cost.

There are benefits, too, of buying all-natural products (besides avoiding all the chemicals).  One of the benefits is the opportunity to support smaller, and even local, businesses.  I know it sounds like a bit of a oxymoron that I like shopping at a place like Wal-Mart and I also want to support small, local businesses.  Truth is that I don't really like Wal-Mart, but it's a necessary evil for me.  I don't go there often, only when I have to (usually to stock up on formula), and I hope that one day I'll be Wal-Mart-free.  But for now, it's very convenient.  Anyway, back to local businesses - a lot of the natural products are made right here in Canada, some even in Winnipeg.  There's a great store called Tiber River Naturals that was started by a Winnipeg mom, making soap in her home.  Their products are still made right here in Winnipeg.

So, as you can tell, I'm still kind of on the fence.  Is it worth it or not?  Perhaps I'll start slowly, with a few things here and there.  Most of the stuff I use on the kids is all-natural, so I think that's a good start.  What about in your household?  Do you think it's worth it to use all-natural personal products or household cleaners?  What are some of your favs?


Melissa said...

I share in almost all of your thoughts and concerns here Pam. Sometimes it's not that easy being green, but in the end I think the positive outweighs the negative.
A lot of the time it comes down to cost for me:( I wish the better option wasn't the 3 times the price option.

Andrea said...

Other than Norwex products (cloths, laundry detergent) I'm not much of an all-natural kind of girl. For much the same reasons you mentioned - cost, effectiveness, convenience.

I suppose I don't naturally have as 'green' of a tendancy as a lot of other people that I know...maybe it's just laziness?? I don't know...

Anonymous said...

Great thoughts Pam. There are a lot of really great products in your pantry that can replace some of your, Olive oil and coconut oil as moisturizer.