Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Getting Personal, Part 3

In my previous two posts (Getting Personal, Part 1 and Getting Personal, Part 2), I shared with you why I made the switch to natural products and started to discuss which items I tweaked.  Here are a few more personal care products that I have been researching and slowly changing.

Deodorant -  One of the first body care products I ditched was antiperspirant, most of which contain aluminum.  After reading about the risks of using it (there are some scary links between aluminum and Alzheimer's) and thinking more about how antiperspirants work, I decided that clogging my pores with heavy metal was not a good idea.  How do you think your body rids itself of toxins?  One way is by excreting them from the pores.  Ever heard about people being so drunk you can smell it on their skin?  It's because the booze is oozing from their pores. Or have you ever noticed how your whole body smells like garlic if you eat a lot of it?  I wanted to allow the toxins in my body to come  out, not stay inside me. The antiperspirant went in the trash and I began to seek out a new solution.

At first, I tried all sorts of "natural" deodorants.  Deodorants do not clog the pores.  They do not prevent you from sweating.  All they do is mask or neutralize the smell.  I tried the crystal rock kind and the Tom's of Maine brands.  They all worked ok, but the crystal ended up giving me an itchy rash and the Tom's of Maine made me feel slimy... not a good feeling.   My husband aptly describes the feeling as "swampy".  

After some trial and error, I finally decided to try making my own deodorant.  It was a success!  The recipe is made with coconut oil, so it can be stored in a jar and applied with fingertips or poured into an old antiperspirant applicator and used that way.  However,  since coconut oil has a melting point of 76 degrees, the deodorant must be stored in the fridge in the summer - it's not as weird as it seems.  I place it next to my coffee creamer in the fridge so that I can apply my deodorant as I make my morning coffee.  Ok, maybe that is weird.  To each their own.  Here is the basic formula.  I'll add a dedicated post someday with step-by-step instructions for those of you who are interested.

-2 tbsp baking soda
-2 tbsp arrowroot powder (or cornstarch.... but that irritated my skin)
-2 tbsp coconut oil, softened but not liquid
-Essential oil of choice - I prefer tea tree oil because of it's anti-bacterial properties and it's clean scent, but you could choose any oil that appeals to you

Simply combine and stir together the first 3 ingredients and then add 2-3 drops of essential oil.  Store in a small jar or refill an old deodorant container.  One batch will last me several months. 

This formula works well for me - I have been antiperspirant free for 2 years and will never go back.  Again, it does not prevent me from sweating, but I really don't have problems with soggy armpits and believe me,  I'm a sweaty gal.   The baking soda does a nice job keeping me relatively dry.  As for odor, I think I have way less BO using this as opposed to the antiperspirant.  I also love how my arm pits feel clean and fresh, instead of gunky and waxy like they did when I used regular antiperspirant.

My husband used the Tom's of Maine brand for a long time, but recently has switched to using just plain baking soda.  I bought him a powder brush and he simply dips the brush in a small jar of baking soda and applies it with the brush, usually just after he showers, when his skin is still damp.  It must work well for him because he never stinks!

Finding a natural deodorant that works for your body may take some trial and error.  I understand that some people are not willing to do this, for a variety of reasons.  As a stay-at-home mom, it doesn't matter to me if I happen to have slightly sweaty armpits, but if I were still teaching it might be a different story.  I think of all the times I was sitting in close contact with students, helping them with a problem - I would have been really self-conscious about sweaty pits.  I guess what I'm saying is, you have to do what you are comfortable with and if ditching antiperspirant makes you nervous, then don't sweat it!  There are other ways you can lighten your toxic load.

Skin Care - Here's an easy one.  After reading the ingredient lists on the back of most body lotions, I was disgusted.   Instead, I started using coconut oil as my body moisturizer.  It works great - goes on easily and absorbs quickly.  It does not leave you feeling greasy or slimy.  There are two kinds of coconut oil you can purchase - refined or unrefined.  Refined coconut oil is odorless if you don't care for the subtle coconut smell.  Unrefined has a very mild coconut smell and is the healthier choice if you are also going to use your coconut oil for cooking.  That's right, you will usually find coconut oil in the baking aisle with all the other cooking oils.  I usually purchase coconut oil in large half gallon containers and transfer a small amount to a separate container to use for body care.  Coconut oil also makes a fantastic massage oil and is great for removing eye makeup.  I love having such a multi-use product! 

Sunscreen - This is a personal care item that I feel needs a major overhaul in my life and anyone else who has small children.  Infant and children's bodies are less able to detoxify themselves, so we must be extremely careful what we put on their skin.  Many sunscreens are full of toxins and more and more studies are discovering that some sunscreens are actually contributing to cancer development, instead of preventing it!  So what do you do?  Is it more dangerous to wear sunscreen or not wear it?

Fortunately, there ARE safe choices out there.  If you have about 10 minutes, it would be extremely helpful to read this post by Katie from Kitchen Stewardship.  In her typical, uber-thorough fashion, Katie has personally tested many natural mineral sunblocks and has rated them in an organized fashion.   I'm so thankful for her dedication and diligence in testing these products and sharing her results with the rest of us.  When it comes time to purchase my next bottle of sunblock, I will surely be re-reading her recommendations and scoping out the suggestions on Skin Deep.  Remember, it's ok to look to others for advice, but ultimately, YOU must do your own research.  We must take responsibility for our own choices, not depend on others to do the thinking for us.  Right now, we are using Lavera brand Sunblock, which gets a "3" rating on the EWG Skin Deep site - I'd prefer a product with a score of "1" or "2".

 Most of us are used to using sunscreen, which is absorbed into the skin (and the bloodstream) and is easy to spread.  However, many sunscreens are full of toxic ingredients.  Making the switch to sunblock (usually has zinc oxide as the main ingredient), which sits on top of the skin, instead of being absorbed is a little tough, I will admit.  It's messy, can be hard to rub in/spread and can stain dark clothing.  But it works.  And usually they are a safer choice.  So I choose mild inconvenience over toxins.  I know parents all over are groaning inside "You mean that spray-on sunscreen is no good? That stuff is a life-saver!  Do you know how hard it is to get my kids to stand still to put on sunscreen?!?"  Yes, I know. I feel your pain.  I used to use that stuff too and I thought it was the best thing since sliced bread.  Now that I know what's in it, I can't bear to use it anymore... and it makes me sick to think I put that on my kids for years. 

I was asked the other day about my sunscreen philosophy and to be honest, we avoid using it as much as possible.  Of course, I don't want my kids to get sunburned.  However, after much reading and researching about epidemic of vitamin D deficiency in this country, I'm reluctant to slather my kids with sunblock every day.  We NEED to get some sunlight on our skin, every day if possible.  It doesn't need to be much, even 20 minutes will suffice.  I want to make sure my family is getting their vitamin D.  Thankfully, our backyard has lots of shade mixed with sunshine, so my kids naturally get a good balance of sun and shade while playing outside.  We tend to avoid being outside during the hottest parts of the day.  If for some reason, we are in direct sun during peak hours, of course we are going to use sunblock and hats.  For more info about the importance of vitamin D, click here.

I've also been doing some reading along with the vitamin D deficiency that suggests one of the reasons people get sunburn is because of lack of adequate amounts of Omega -3 fatty acids (check out a post about it here). Vitamin D needs to be paired with fat in order for our bodies to fully absorb and synthesize it.   Omega-3 fats are fats such as cod liver oil or fish oil, flax seed and oil, olive oil, hemp oil, coconut oil, etc.   Interestingly, the meat (and fat) of pastured animals contains significantly more Omega-3 fatty acids, as opposed to the Omega -6 rich conventional, confinement raised animals.  Our bodies need both types of fats, but the ideal ratio is 3:1 of Omega-6 to Omega-3.  The average American consumes a ratio of 15:1, due to our over consumption of corn, soy and canola oils (check out the ingredients list on processed foods - almost all contain one or more of these oils).  Some say that this imbalance of fats is also contributor to rises in cancer, autoimmune diseases, inflammatory diseases, depression and a host of other problems. I think more research need to be done before I'd totally promote this idea, but in the mean time, it makes good sense to make these changes in diet anyway... and if it helps to prevent sunburn, it would be a total bonus!

In my next "Getting Personal" post, I will share the rest of the personal care items I have changed... and I think that will be the end of this series!  Have you made any changes?  What items do you love to use???  What are your thoughts on sunscreen/sunblock?

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