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When you open your medicine cabinet, there’s a good chance the contents staring back at you are pretty hazardous to your health.
Disguised in the canisters, tubes, bottles and sprays are insidious toxic ingredients that the federal government allows manufacturers to use in products you put on (and when they penetrate your skin — in) your body every day. These personal products can smell great, and that’s a big part of the problem.
Two thirds of the chemicals used by the fragrance industry have not undergone safety testing. They’re not good for anyone, but more than three dozen chemicals not listed on the labels of big-name brand men’s personal care products were found to be associated with allergic reactions, damage to sperm (and resulting infertility), and disruption of hormone levels — including testosterone, other male hormones, and thyroid hormones — according to a recent study.
These risks are mainly related to a group of dangerous fragrance substances not listed on these products — phthalates, which are chemicals used in plastics and lubricants. Phthalates have been shown to be detectable in men’s bodies within 48 hours of using aftershave or cologne. So imagine the harm they could do if you consistently use these products.
While you should be concerned about the fragrances in your personal care products, they aren’t the only toxins hiding in your medicine cabinet, as you’ll see below. So before you slap on the aftershave, lather up in the shower, or get ready for a night on the town, take a look at the following four items that may be harboring health hazards in your medicine cabinet and consider some healthy alternatives.
Along with the phthalates lurking in your aftershave, you should also be concerned about any propylene glycol, a type of alcohol that is more appropriate for your car, since it is also used in antifreeze. The known carcinogens benzyl acetate and ethyl acetate are solvents that are used in aftershave, and while you won’t see their names on the label, you could experience respiratory, skin, and eye irritation.
Some natural alternatives to traditional aftershave include aloe vera (you can grow your own), apple cider vinegar (full strength or diluted with water, and keep in the refrigerator), or ice cubes (rub on your just-shaved face to close those pores). You might also try raw coconut oil when you shave, as it soothes and moisturizes.
Before you swipe that fragranced (think phthalates) deodorant or antiperspirant under your armpits, consider this. These products often contain aluminum in the form of aluminum chlorohydrate. A recent report in the Journal of Trace Elements in Medicine and Biology noted that aluminum in antiperspirants can be absorbed through human skin and that “the potential toxicity of Al has been clearly shown and recent works convincingly argue that Al could be involved in cancerogenic processes.”
Of course, deodorant and antiperspirant are not the same; the first allows you to sweat but blocks the odor while the latter prevents perspiration. Both, however, typically contain aluminum and fragrances. Even if you choose an aluminum-free deodorant, chances are it still contains other potentially harmful ingredients, such as triclosan (a hormone disruptor) and propylene glycol (see “Aftershave”).
When you decide to ditch your aluminum-based, chemically fragranced, and otherwise toxin-laden deodorant or antiperspirant, look for all-natural brands that contain ingredients such as witch hazel, aluminum-free baking soda, vegetable enzymes, coconut oil, aloe vera, cornstarch, and/or tea tree oil or other essential oils. If you want to go super simple, use plain aluminum-free baking soda — dry or mixed with a small amount of water. If you want a great ready-made solution this is the deodorant that I use.
If you want your hair to look its best — and you’re anxious to hold onto it for as long as possible — then pay attention to what’s in your shampoo. According to Dr. Robert Dorin, a board-certified hair transplant surgeon, you’ll want to avoid products that contain the following ingredients: ammonium lauryl sulfate, sodium laureth sulfate, of sodium lauryl sulfate (harsh detergents), sodium chloride (can contribute to hair loss), diethanolamine (DEA) and triethanolamine (TEA) (scalp irritation), parabens (hormone disruptors, hair loss), phthalates, formaldehyde (hair loss), propylene glycol (allergic reactions, irritation), dimethicone (irritation, possible skin tumors), and fragrances. So, pretty much all commercial hair products based on that list.
You’ll find numerous all-natural shampoos on the market that are not burdened with the abovenamed ingredients and provide a fresh fragrance from essential oils. If you want something ultra simple, you can make your own shampoo by combining 1 tablespoon of baking soda and eight ounces of water in a bottle. Shake well and apply. It’s that easy.
Another option: in an old shampoo bottle combine ¼ cup coconut milk, ¼ cup liquid castile soap, and 10 drops of an essential oil. If your hair is dry, also add ½ tsp almond oil. Shake well before each use.
4. Body Wash
Many of the harmful ingredients popular in body wash are the same ones you’ll find in shampoo, including DEA and TEA, sodium lauryl sulfate, sodium laureth sulfate, parabans, phthalates, formaldehyde, and of course, fragrances. If your body wash has an antibacterial component, then beware of triclosan (see “Deodorant/Antiperspirant”).
Once again, you have a choice of many all-natural products on the market that don’t contain these ingredients. Some of the ingredients you’ll look for are the same ones you would use if you wanted to whip up your own body wash. Here’s a simple formula: 6 tablespoons each of liquid castile soap and raw honey, 4 tablespoons olive oil or coconut oil, and 15 to 20 drops of an essential oil. Combine in a wide-mouth container with a lid, stir well, and use in the shower. If you use coconut oil, you will need to heat it in the microwave for about 10-15 seconds before adding to the container.
You work hard to keep your body in shape. Don’t jeopardize your health by using toxic personal care products.