Purchasing Natural Personal Care Products

How and Why You Should Purchase Natural Personal Care Products

“The simpler the better,” was Dr. Devra Davis’s shopping advice for choosing safer personal care products. With all the new data about cosmetic ingredients that has emerged in the past several years, I keep going back to that four-word sentence as one of the most important take-away messages. Simpler products, fewer ingredients, fewer unknown and unnecessary products and ingredients — that’s the gist of my personal shopping guidelines. Like Laura Jones, the former makeup diva who off-loaded her silver tackle box of high-end products, I too have switched to a small canvas bag of products that don’t smell like a synthetic chemistry lab. As an added bonus, a few months after I switched to natural shampoo, my skin cleared up. Some other simple shopping rules on my list: no synthetic “fragrance,” no estrogenic ingredients such as parabens or placenta, and no false advertising claims of “pure and gentle” products that may be contaminated with carcinogens. These few guidelines, unfortunately, eliminate many personal care products on the shelves of mainstream stores.

I don’t think of it as a boycott, exactly — more like a “girlcott,” which was another idea offered by Devra Davis. “Boycotts mean saying no. Girlcotts mean yes,” Dr. Davis explained. “Women are the main purchasers of products and take responsibility for what goes into the home. We can organize to change market forces by saying we don’t want cancer-causing products and we do want safer products. When enough women get together, we can make things happen.”


Keep It Simple

  • Eliminate unnecessary products — for instance bubble bath, especially for babies, is often a bath full of unwanted chemical exposures.
  • Use your nose as a guide — after switching to natural products, I found the smell of synthetic fragrance to be less appealing; sort of like when you drink a diet cola after not drinking one for a while and immediately notice the chemical smell.
  • Buy from companies you trust — many companies have high standards for ingredient safety, good social values and effective products; investigating the companies themselves rather than just the ingredients can be a simpler way to choose the best products.
  • Start with high-exposure, frequently used products — shampoo, face cream, deodorant and other products used in larger amounts. Lip and hand products that can be ingested are good products to switch first.

A note about standardized labeling: some companies, particularly European ones, use standardized labeling (called INCI) that requires chemical rather than natural names of ingredients. The INCI standards are good labeling practice, and ingredients are often explained in further detail on product labels or company websites.


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