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Skin deep

April 24, 2013

By now, we’ve all been warned about the dangers of BPA, triclosan, phthalates and other strange-sounding substances that seem to inhabit everything around us. Several times, after reading an article or listening to news report, I’ve attempted to eliminate all these substances from our home. And every time, I give up. They are insidious. After checking a few product labels, I’d sigh and realize I couldn’t throw away every bath and face product that I use. Still, over time, I think I’ve made improvements. Certainly, we choose BPA-free items for the kitchen and we don’t microwave in plastic. And, I’ve tried to phase in more all-natural products over time, especially where J is concerned. Overall, though, my focus on natural living had really fallen by the wayside.

Then, recently, a friend sent me a link to a Dateline story about BPA, Triclosan, and phthalates. The message is startling: A reporter allows scientists to test her family’s level of these substances in blood and urine as a baseline, then makes a concerted effort to eliminate the substances from her life. In just a few days, the family’s levels drop to near zero. To me, it felt like a real push to — once again — examine how we’re living.

I decided to use the Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep Database to assess our family’s skincare products. And, the results really surprised me.

First, the good news: the California Baby products I’ve been using for J are nearly as good as it gets — rated either 0 or 1 out of 10 (with lower numbers indicating fewer chemicals). These are a bit more expensive than many baby skin care products, but, evidently, well worth it. I’ll keep shelling out a few extra dollars to make sure his baths are chemical free (and they smell so yummy, too.)

Then, the surprises: A few things I’d picked specifically because I believed them to be “natural” weren’t so highly rated. My Burt’s Bees Citrus Facial Scrub was rated a 4 out of 10. Not the worst, but certainly not the best. It turns out the scrub contains fragrance (which most often indicates phthalates) and some extracts that could contain triclosan. Also, my Cetaphil Gentle Skin Cleanser, a very mild face wash without fragrances, was rated a 3. It contains parabens — another hormone disruptor with a potential link to breast cancer. Finally, my Dove soap (which I also assumed would be mild and natural — it’s just soap) was also a 4 out of 10. It contains fragrance and another chemical that’s new to me: BHT. Yikes, these chemicals are everywhere.

So, what to do now? I’m happy that our worst offender was a 5 of of 10 (Neutrogena Wet Skin spray on sunscreen – darn, so easy to use), so we’re making progress. I’m going to continue to spend the extra money for California Baby stuff for J — and I may even buy the $40 sunscreen this year (does it have gold flecks in it?), which is rated a 2. And I’m going to make some immediate changes to my own products. The database has a feature where you can search by product type, so you can immediately see the best-rated face washes, toners, shampoos, etc.

I also like to hear what my friends Lauren and Farrell over at Sister Disco are using. They are both really into natural products, and have posted about their favorite natural products a few times (spurring some of my earlier product-clean-out-attempts.) Read their recommendations here, here, here and here. And even some recommendations for natural deodorant, if you dare.

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