Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Confused about Chemicals?

Welcome to the April 2012 Carnival of Natural Parenting: Kids and Personal Care
This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Code Name: Mama and Hobo Mama. This month our participants have shared stories, tips, and struggles relating to their children's personal care choices.

There are new chemicals being created every day.  Every day, there seems to be a new discovery about a chemical we have been using for a decade or two.  (BPA, anyone?)  Inevitably, that new discovery tends to be bad for us.  In the wake of these new discoveries, a sort of hysteria develops and for damage control, companies often argue that everything we eat and touch is a chemical.  Or they argue that we need chemicals and the good from these chemicals outweighs the bad.  Then there are those chemicals that natural parents deem as "acceptable."  Saponified oils, for example.  Many parents new to this whole perspective might feel like this is hypocritical or at least a little overwhelming.

In my personal philosophy, man-made chemicals are not bad by definition.  There are many chemicals that have been used for thousands of years and do not appear to pose a threat to our bodies.  To me, these have been tested over many generations and have not inhibited fertility, clearly.  These are the kinds of chemicals I am personally okay with.

According to this new video, the cosmetics industry is essentially a dumping ground for new chemicals.  Animal testing is often employed because they don't know whether these chemicals cause drastic, obvious, permanent changes, like blindness or burning.  The industry is largely unregulated and many carcinogenic and hormone-disrupting chemicals do make it into packages.  Additionally, the ingredients names like "sodium lauryl sulfate" and "polysorbate," which does not mean anything to the average parent.

Fear not, however; there is a place where you can search by either ingredient or product and find out what these ingredients mean and if the products you currently use are safe for you and baby.  Environmental Working Group (remember the dirty dozen?) put together a database to terse these things out.  Their data comes from PubMed, the FDA, and many other sources, and lists over 69,000 products and thousands of ingredients.  It gives each ingredient a rating, and then an overall rating for the product.  Users can also input ingredient lists from unlisted products and find out what the site rates it at.

Chemicals to avoid (4 or higher):
Fragrance:  This (yes, recognizable!) word is a catch-all for the smelly stuff that goes into a product.  This is considered a trade secret and the chemicals used here do not need to be disclosed.  The chemicals used here commonly cause biological interference, for example, allergies and neurotoxicity (brain fog... among others).

Parabens:  Typically used as a fragrance or preservative, the concern for this set of chemicals is endocrine disruption and immune disruption.  This is because they often act like estrogen in the body.  They are a set of chemicals, so anything ending in -paraben is included in this group and it is a good idea to avoid all of them.

Aluminum:  This particular link concerns an aluminum compound that is often used in antiperspirants.  Aluminum itself is often loosely linked to Alzheimer's disease and Parkinson's disease.

Chemicals that have withstood the test of time (also 1 or less):
Castile Soap: these soaps were once made by mixing fats and coals from a fire.  They are the original soap.  A favorite brand among parents is Dr. Bronner's Magic Soap.  This can be used for everything from washing hair and body to scrubbing the floors.  It does tend to leave a scum, but that can easily be removed by using the following safe chemical.

Vinegar: Its history goes back very far, and has been used for a number of ailments, including an elixir thought to keep away the plague.  You can use it to remove any buildup on your hair, and to clean your bathrooms.

Sodium Bicarbonate (aka baking soda):  This chemical's history is also vast, as far as back as ancient Egypt. Besides using it for baking, it is great as a brightener in laundry (HE- compatible), a mild abrasive for your bathroom, and you can brush your teeth with it!  (Fluoride free!)  Here are some great suggestions for uses of this chemical.

While chemicals are always to be approached with caution, there are some that are safer than others for our bodies, just as there are some foods that are safer for us to eat than others (ie, don't eat poison ivy).  Sound information and a personal decision on that information is what is the most important aspect of making natural decisions.

Jaye Anne

Carnival of Natural Parenting -- Hobo Mama and Code Name: MamaVisit Code Name: Mama and Hobo Mama to find out how you can participate in the next Carnival of Natural Parenting!
Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:
(This list will be live and updated by afternoon April 10 with all the carnival links.)


  1. I love the cosmetics database! It is my #1 research tool when trying to decide what to buy. And ty for the Dr. Bronner's recommendation - my goal this week is to make my own sudsing soap, and I see Dr. Bronner's on sale through Frontier. It will be on my list!

    1. I'd love to see that recipe for sudsing soap!

  2. I love Dr. Bronner's - I've always hated the scum that it leaves behind though. Good to know that vinegar rinses it clean! Do you have any recommendations for using the two for bathing the kiddos? I've been using Aveeno for dry skin recently with Joseph and Abbey both, but thnking about the fact that the fragrance ingredients don't have to be listed makes me feel uneasy.

    I've found that the Dr.B's leaves a film on hair and leaves skin a bit rubbery. Do you think a vinegar rinse would remedy that?

    1. Amy,

      I have also noticed that hair tends to get tangled with Dr. Bronner's. I like to make a dilute solution of vinegar (1 part vinegar to 3 or 4 parts water) and spray it in Bella's hair once a week and I leave it for about 15 minutes. This has cut down on tangles.

      As for dry skin, coconut oil is my go-to product for everything. I use it for lotion, diaper cream, face cream and even in my hair. Any organic cold-pressed oil would be great for skin. Just be careful not to use olive oil after the vinegar rinse or your kid will smell like a salad!

      Jaye Anne

  3. Thanks for explaining it so clearly! It can be confusing when people distill something complex into the one term "chemicals," so it helps immensely to tease apart what chemicals and substances are beneficial or harmful.

  4. Thanks for all this information! And don't forget the one cleaning product that no one is allergic to -- water! It's amazing the things you can clean with just water and elbow grease (or, in the case of my son, soaking time).

    1. That's a great point! Water is an amazing cleaning agent! It is my go-to facewash :-)

  5. You have an excellent awareness of environmental chemicals - I also steer clear of chemical cocktails that sound so harmless. My mum gave me a great little book "The Cleanhouse Effect: Hundreds of practical, inexpensive ways to reduce the use of chemicals in your home" by Robin E. Stewart, that has many alternative ways to harsh cleaning products (a little of topic but very relevant to being concious of environmental hazards). Your post is totally up my alley :)