Confession: I ADORED every moment of my wedding but hated every minute of planning. Imagine Daria trying to feign excitement about pastel shoes. That was me. For the last 8 months, since my wedding I’ve unsubscribed from all the bridal email lists, given away old decor, and generally tried to rid my life of reminders of how stressed out I was for pretty much three months leading up to the wedding.
Until last week, when I was browsing a magazine stand and caught a glimpse of a gorgeous wedding gown on the cover of a magazine and for a split second, I really wanted to buy it. Then a sudden rush of sadness came over me when I realized; damn, it’s all over. And since then, I’ve found a new appreciation for the whole process. One of the things I am most proud of is the fact that we were able to make our wedding zero waste. And people get really excited when I tell them about it. So in honor of my first “I miss my wedding” feels, I want to share my experiences and tips for reducing wedding waste and encourage brides to think about the environment along with the all the other important stuff. Why, exactly?
Well, the average wedding creates 600 pounds of waste and emits 62 tons of CO2. Gross. “You shall now live happily ever after, with a quarter ton of trash and the ghosts of 1,000 wilted flowers haunting you” *sad Earth emoji*.
It’s common knowledge that a wedding can cost the same as a downpayment on a house, yet the romance of it all keeps the wedding industrial complex chugging along, year after year. While the financial costs are weighed, what’s usually not discussed at the start of planning the biggest party of one’s life is how awful weddings are to the environment. The purchase of hundreds of flimsy, made in China favors and decor (c’mon, be honest, do you even know where your favors of weddings past are?), a massive carbon footprint from extended families’ cross-country flights, thousands of pesticide-ridden flowers, often flown in, creating more emissions for a few hours of use, and bags on bags on bags of trash.
I’m not saying halt ALL the weddings. They offer a place for two families to meet and come together during a very special time. But I think, and even the non-hippy dippy lot of you might agree, that the level of consumerism that results from planning a conventional wedding has become out of control, distracting from the original reason you wanted to throw a celebration; to bask in the celebration of two people making a beautiful, sacred commitment.
Immediately after we got engaged, I told my husband that if we have a “traditional” wedding, it needs to be done with minimal environmental impact. We also had a shoestring budget which forced us to prioritize where we could splurge. Creating a green wedding means stepping outside of the traditional norms and aesthetics which have been peddled by companies making billions off of stressed out brides feeling the need to keep up with the Jones’ (and the Jones’ wedding board on Pinterest).
Understand that you can do a lot to reduce your impact, but may not be able to do everything, and that’s okay! For instance, our wedding was in L.A. which meant most of our guests had to fly out. So we opted to focus on reducing our waste, instead.
If more couples demand sustainable wedding options, vendors will start to offer eco-friendly options and services, changing an entire industry! As a former stressed-out bride, I know how many things you are expected to juggle and to make it easier, I’ve offered some tips to help you reduce waste which can also reduce costs and give you and yours that guilt-free post-nuptual glow.
Communicate your eco-friendly goals to each of your vendors
This is huge. If you are trying to go zero-waste or just trying to reduce your impact in small ways, tell prospective vendors this as early as possible, even before you book them. It makes it so much easier when everyone is on the same page. Sometimes the vendors will have been hired for a green event in the past and they can give you ideas. I was really lucky to have a venue that was already eco-friendly and vendors that were really supportive of our zero-waste goal.
Create a green plan of action for the day-of
The day-of will be hectic and the last thing you want to happen is have your eco-plans ruined because you weren’t prepared. If your main focus is reducing waste, the biggest challenge will be sorting it properly. Set out three waste bins; label them for trash, recycling, and compost (make sure to buy compostable trash bags). For some guests, it may be the first time they have to separate their waste so you may even want to have a monitor to help guide the guests, if you don’t have wait staff.
Let all wedding/catering staff know about your zero-waste goal. That way, if they are removing guest’s plates and trash, they can sort compostables and recyclables. We also asked our MC to work in an announcement about the green wedding, which helped guest separate their trash and to also spark conversation about waste, etc.
Reduce: pare down that guest list
Reducing the size of your guest list is the first and most impactful way to green your wedding and saves a ton of money. You don’t need to green something if it doesn’t need to be made in the first place: less food, less travel, less invitations, and reduced resources to make the goodies and favors. I recommend it from a waste-reduction, financial, and a pratical standpoint. We had about 50 people at our wedding and it was perfect. We were able to spend time with the most important people in our lives and our families had time to bond with one another because each event was intimate. This is the best way to minimize waste, preventing the per-person trash being needed in the first place.
You know the message: reducing paper means reducing the amount of trees cut down. Even producing recycled paper requires water and energy. This was a point of contention and a learning experience for us. At first, I was insistent upon having e-Invitations. But I discovered that marrying a Southern man means entertaining some customs like sending paper invites. We compromised by designing our own simple paper invitations and requested that guests RSVP electronically using a feature offered on our Appy Couple wedding website.
Another idea is to send seeded paper invitations. How fun is that? If you do go the paper invite route, eliminate outdated and unnecessary extras like inner envelopes and tissue paper.
Consider eco-friendly alternative to flowers
Instead of flowers on each table, we used potted succulents and our local guests were able to take home a plant that grows. The only fresh cut flowers were in my bouquet, minimizing organic waste.
If you decide to use plants, try to plant something region-appropriate for example, air plants and drought-tolerant species in arid climates.
Borrow or reuse decor
Sites like Tradesy and OnceWed are great places to look for used decor and even dresses.
Does it seems like everyone around you is getting married, or you’ve attended what feels like your 376th wedding of the year? Ask recently married couples if they have any items they’d be willing to let you borrow. Most of the time they are happy to get rid of box of wedding stuff and send it to a good home!
Another thing to consider when looking at venues is to factor in how much you’ll have to spend on decor. Our venue was the pricier of locations we looked at but it was already so beautifully decorated so we didn’t need to add much, minimizing costs and potential waste.
Be kind to the Earth and your ‘maids
Do you really need new matching dresses, clutches, earrings, shoes, etc? Trust in the fabulous taste of your best girls by giving them a color palette and style guide and let them choose their own dresses. This also lets them use items they already own, reducing the need to buy new stuff. If they do have to purchase a new dress, encourage them to buy something they’ll actually wear again. They will thank you for this. I had two bridesmaids and loved seeing their personalities expressed through their gorgeous dresses; it made for more interesting photos, too!
Planning a wedding on a shoestring budget in L.A. is tough; like make you want to curl up in a ball an cry woe-is-me tears, tough. One of the most challenging things was trying to feed everyone within our budget. We decided to book a food truck because it was more cost-effective. But then, I thought, there’s no way we could have reusable dining ware, so we decided to supply the food truck with compostable plates and cutlery. We ordered our items from the fun and stylish Susty Party and they looked really nice! Guests were even reusing their plates when returning to get seconds; they were that durable.
Compost at your wedding: you can do it!!!
One of the huge generators of wedding waste is leftover food. Of course, please donate meals before you compost! There are most likely local food banks and shelters that would love to accept your tasty food.
Before you buy compostable items you’ll need to find a place that will take your compost. Your venue’s waste hauler may pick up compost, and if so, problem solved. But like most cities as of now, collecting compost is not the norm so you may have to do some hunting for a set up that is equipped to handle the type of compost your wedding will generate.
A few things to consider:
- Will your menu contain meat and dairy? If yes, then you will most likely have to find a commercial compost facility to accept your waste (like a major waste hauler company). Most small compost setups, like those in schools and in backyards, do not accept meat, cheese, and shellfish items because they turn rancid and attract pests and animals.
- All compostable products are not created equal. Some compost products will indicate that they are made for commercial compost facilities meaning that they will not breakdown fast enough in a small backyard set up. If you are buying compostable items for your wedding, make sure you whether they’ll need to go to a commercial facility.
- Check out non-profit composters in your community. If you’re serving a vegetarian meal, they would probably be happy to take your compost. If not, still ask the staff; they will most likely be able to offer you some guidance and point you in the right direction. I talked to a couple neighborhood compost organizations, and even though they couldn’t take my waste, they were jazzed about our plan and were really eager to help!
For all you Angelenos, here’s a list of my awesome vendors that help us with our green wedding!
Day-of planning: Chapter One
Compostable dinnerware: SustyParty
If you are looking for a green wedding consultant, or just want to discuss ideas, I would love to help! Click the ‘contact me’ section of this site and I’ll get back to you!
Have questions or more suggestions for brides? Leave a comment!
A few readers have asked about products and D.I.Y.s that will help with acne situations. I struggle to answer these questions simply because acne is a symptom of a larger internal imbalance. Based on my research and reading more holistic approaches to managing acne and blemishes, this is a two part problem: there’s the stuff you put on the outside that can either soothe or aggravate acne, but the more important part is dealing with the underlying causes which are diet and stress levels because they affect hormones, on which this post will focus. In part II, I’ll provide topical oils and products that can help clear up the skin. It’s a long one, so grab a beverage and settle in.
I have been rather lucky; I’ve never dealt with serious acne, even as a teenager. I did deal with a moderate case of cystic acne about two years ago in my late twenties. My attempt in this post is to pool my research and to share what worked for me, which I learned from holistic approaches.
Most skin care products formulated to eliminate acne can worsen the condition, due to the drying ingredients. The skin is slightly acidic and most mass-produced products mess with the pH balance or completely strip skin of its natural oils, sending the skin into panic mode. While what we put on our skin is very important to combat environmental damage and to retain moisture, topical products are only a fraction of the cause of most acne cases.
Most dermatologists and Western doctors do not treat the skin as an integrated system and will prescribe detrimental drugs like peeling agents, Accutane or, for women, birth control pills to “fix” hormonal issues, while completely ignoring the underlying cause(s). With this method of treatment, blemishes on the facial skin are managed temporarily, but the food allergy or the high-stress lifestyle only continues to fester in the body in other ways. More pollution has been added to the body from these serious, disruptive medications or chemicals that may bring another set of side effects into the picture. Now, we have a toxin masking one symptom, only to push the sickness to cause harm in another part of the body.
Yes, you are what you eat, and it will show up on your skin. Many naturopaths and Ayurvedic practitioners will say that acne begins in the gut. The overproduction of sebum and bacteria is just the effect of acne. Because our skin is a sensory organ, it is constantly processing what comes in and out and is the best way to tell if someone is healthy at first glance. You’ve seen it: the person that has naturally glowing, dewy skin…that’s a reflection of a healthy internal ecosystem. When we ingest toxins or foods which are difficult for our bodies to digest, this shows up on our skin because what happens in our gastrointestinal system directly affects our hormones. The profound relationship between the food we eat and hormone balance is just now being understood. The resulting inflammation, toxicity, etc. is the root of the problem.
I was surprised to discover that acne is very much a U.S. problem because of the prevalence of processed foods in the average American diet. The rest of the world doesn’t consume it in the large amounts that the typical American does. There are hundreds of studies that show relief of participants’ acne conditions when placed on a low-glycemic diet (no grains, sugars, processed foods, etc.). This is because our bodies are more efficient at digesting complex carbs. Many scholars are starting to believe that it has more to do with one’s environment than their genetics. Although, some will tolerate dairy and grains, or even if they have trouble processing, it may show up as another ailment like weight gain or IBS, rather than blemishes.
The other main acne trigger is our emotional well-being.
During the last six months of grad school, I dealt with cystic acne, those pimples that form underneath the skin and stay there for a solid week or so. There’s nothing you can do except wait it out 🙁 It was the pits. This horrible bout of adult acne happened because I was constantly stressed, neglected my body, and ate poorly. After graduation, I got back into a routine of eating and exercise/yoga and I haven’t had a cystic pimple since. However, I did have some serious scars from those suckers. I researched natural ways to fade scars and hyper-pigmentation and found out about rosehip seed oil, which I’ll talk about in part II.
The condition of the skin reflects what’s going on inside our bodies. Any imbalance, or lack of self-care will show up on your face in a few days. I still experience normal hormonal breakouts that coincide with my cycle, but I only get one or two spots around the jawline, and they are manageable and go away within a couple days.
What to Do?
1. Check your hormones:
Identifying any hormone imbalances can clue you and your doctor in on not only why you’re experiencing adult acne, but other issues. If you have insurance, ask your doctor to check for imbalances during routine blood work to identify or rule out any serious issues, like a thyroid problem.
If your tests come back “normal” and you still feel “off”, then definitely listen to your gut and look into seeing an alternative medicine practitioner, like an acupuncturist. Most major cities offer sliding scale practices, so those of us without this coverage can still seek the benefits without going broke. If you’re in L.A., try this wonderful place!
Whatever you decide, I also would recommend the book Balance Your Hormones, Balance Your Life by Claudia Welch. She describes the symbiotic functions of hormones and writes about how stress, food and synthetic medication and hormones wreak havoc on the hormones of modern women. She also offers solutions rooted in Ayurvedic, Chinese, and Western medicine. My mind was blown after reading this and is must-read for every woman.
2. Exercise your lymphatic system
The lymphatic system does not have a pump, like the cardiovascular, so the system can be sluggish and not working to purge toxins and junk out as efficiently as possible. If you are sedentary, so is your lymphatic system.
– Exercise – take a vigorous Vinyasa flow class
– Drink water – this will help flush out nasties
– Dry brush – the nodes sit just underneath the skin, and the long, exfoliating strokes encourage blood flow to the area.
3. Clue in to your skin
From the lovely athletic line and my former employer (yay!) Lorna Jane blog, the location of the breakout can clue you in on whats going on internally. For example, cystic acne is more hormonal and stress related. While topical solutions may help temporarily, there’s probably an imbalance of some sort happening.
Chin and jaw line: Hormonal, especially when the spots go down the neck.
Forehead: Bowel congestion and constipation.
Between the eyes: Liver
Cheeks: Various causes, including genetic
Back: General toxicity and candida
Whiteheads on the face: Can be digestive
Large cysts on the face (without heads): Indicates a hormonal imbalance
4. Eliminate known acne-causing foods
While some people say that detoxing is a great idea to get rid of acne, I’m not a fan because this is not a sustainable solution. Yes, your acne may subside, but you then have no idea which foods were triggering the blemishes.
Instead, there’s so much literature that supports eating a low-glycemic or dairy-free diet. Grains and dairy can cause inflammation and therefore trigger bacteria, which shows up on your skin.
– Try cutting out grains for a week. If that doesn’t help, try cutting out all dairy.
I’ll post part two next week, filled with blemish and scar-reducing products and DIYs that have worked for me.
Now that I’m 30, I can dole out pearls of wisdom, telling tales of my youth to anyone who will listen, and no one will bat an eye. Like the 90-something year old dude who lives in my neighborhood and crosses the street whenever and where ever he pleases, people just kinda let him do his thing. He’s earned the right to make you late to yoga.
I’ve done my own hair for about 23 of my years on this Earth and I’ve got epic tales of trauma suffered by my hair: knots, awkward layers, bangs, heat, chemicals, and that one time I thought it would be great to let my friend in beauty school give me peek-a-boo highlights to be edgy. Yup, my hair fell out. I’ve earned these pearls of wisdom through trial & error, burns, sweat and tears. My hair and I are finally buddies, and have been for the past 4 years. Readers, why don’t you sit on Mia’s virtual knee while I give you a few tips I’ve learned along the way…
The Five Curly Hair Commandments
1. Get your hair cut by a stylist that specializes in curly hair
If you follow one thing on this list, please, for the love of the Battlestar Galactica Gods, DO THIS! Getting your curls properly shaped will make styling so much easier, minimizing the amount of time you need to spend on your hair.
Ask questions about their process before they take the shears to your hair. If a stylist wants to cut your hair while it’s wet, or god forbid, straighten it, then cut it, save your money and walk out of that salon; they don’t know what they’re doing.
A curly stylist who is good at their craft will know how to layer your hair, cutting each single curl to lay nicely while also factoring in shrinkage. Yes, you’ll have to pay upwards of $100-$150, but it is so worth it.
Finding a good curly hair stylist means researching and asking around. My stylist is certified in the Deva Cut technique, and you can find a certified stylist in your area. If you think you’ve found the one, look for before and after pictures of their clients. A reputable stylist should have an online portfolio or be able to direct you to pictures of their past work on social media. See someone in your coffee shop with great curls? Ask her where she gets her hair done! It’s not weird 🙂
2. Comb/detangle only while in the shower
Hair should be soaking wet and have conditioner applied to minimize breakage. NEVER attempt to comb or detangle outside of the shower unless your hair is more wavy than curly. Always use a wide-tooth comb or pick, never a brush. Set your part while detangling in the shower to minimize any fiddling you have to do to style, once outside of the shower. Once out of the shower, immediately apply styling products to soaking wet hair. Now, hands off until it’s dry. This is the secret to minimizing frizz and getting hair to air dry in perfect corkscrew coils.
3. Do not use products containing synthetic silicones
If you’ve read my post about 10 ingredients to avoid, you know how gross silicones are. But for those with tangles that rival a drunk branch party in the Amazon, this one is still the most tempting commandments to break. Yes, silicone-laden products feel great when applied in the shower and you can whisk your comb through hair. When I do sin and use a silicone product, my hair might look good for one day, but for the next three my curls are limp and weighed down (not in a good way). My hair also feels dry because strands are coated with the plastic-y stuff, preventing moisture from getting in. I then have to use a clarifying shampoo, which dries out my strands, creating a vicious cycle. DON”T BE FOOLED by this witchcraft in a bottle.
If it’s slip you’re looking for, try my conditioning go-tos: Kinky Curly Knot Today, Rahua, or Rare El’ements
4. Use shampoo/clarify periodically (with sulfate-free, natural, clean and gentle products, of course)
You are probably inundated with bloggers/websites preaching the gospel of shirking shampoo for the rest of time. I tried it, but guys…there is such a thing as too much shea butter. I know, I know: blasphemy. Yes, I still co-wash, but no longer swear off shampoo.
Even natural products can build up, especially when using super moisturizing products with rich butters and oils usually incorporated into formulas for curly hair. When my hair is not responding to anything, I know it’s because it needs a deep cleaning. I shampoo with either Rahua, Acure or Rare Elements then spray my ACV solution from roots to ends, let it sit for about 3-5 minutes, then rinse out. While there are great D.I.Y. shampoos out there, just be careful using these if you have colored hair as ingredients like baking soda can dull color.
5. If you color your curls, you MUST stop using heat
I made the decision to get highlights in May at my wonderful organic salon, The Local, in North Hollywood. They use an organic color system (in this case, organic meaning not as harsh as traditional formulas and ammonia-free) which swayed me to switch things up. When I had virgin hair, I could get away with using a curling iron to perk up lazy curls around my face sometimes 2-3 times per week and even straighten my hair about once or twice a month. But with this decision, I knew I would have to stop using any heat. I’m so happy with my color and with weekly deep conditioning, my curls remain soft and healthy. I know this would not be the case if I were up to my old habits. Again, the technique for applying color to curly hair is completely different from straight, so make sure to find a colorist that has experience working with curls.
Do you have a commandment to add to the list? Leave a comment; I love learning tips from other curlies!
The Model Health Show podcast, hosted by Shawn Stevenson, is so incredibly empowering and enriching. Just like other clean beauty advocates, I am constantly on a journey to figure out what is best for my body in the eating and exercise departments. This podcast supplements this process. He talks about fitness, hormones, diet and everything in between, (you guys, he has one about pooping! tee hee, giggle). He approaches these issues in such a unique way by incorporating research from emotional, environmental, and even human evolutionary perspectives, all with a splash of holistic vibes. While I am not a huge podcast person, after listening to an episode of TMHS, I always come away with new knowledge or a different perspective on an issue I thought I knew all about (gluten-free diet!). And surround sound with Shawn’s dulcet-toned voice doesn’t hurt, either 🙂
My personal favorites:
How sitting can destroy your health
How to improve your self-esteem, build confidence, and strengthen your body image
Why you can’t loose weight (the TRUTH)
Healthcare vs. Sickcare: Why preventative care is safer, smarter and cheaper
I’ve had time to reflect on my natural hair journey and know that I am not alone in recalling traumatizing, yet sometimes comical, childhood experiences. In my teenage years, I was led to believe that my hair that was the problem, not the products I was using. I never took a step back and thought about why I couldn’t find any products on the shelves that gave me what I needed. This blog allows me to educate others, preventing them from having to go through the same long process I did when making the choice to love their curls (which I will expand upon in my very personal post about my natural hair journey). You, me, and millions of other women have made the same choice. Textured/curly hair is having a renaissance and is shifting beauty paradigms.
The story that curly-haired women tell themselves is changing for the better. We’ve all heard the narrative of women loathing their curls, deeming it as uncontrollable, with a mind of its own. I’ve noticed that when someone compliments my hair, they will follow up with something like, “but do you like your curly hair?” The stigma attached to curly hair began largely in the ’60s when Latina, Black, Jewish, Greek, and women of other cultures with ringlets and darker hair straightened it to fit in to American perceptions of beauty and what was “appropriate” for the workplace. This stigma still lingers today, and is often the reason women choose to alter their curls.
Up until about 5 years ago, one would walk down beauty aisles in big box retailers or drugstores and pick up products marketed to those with curly hair. You’ll likely find phrases like “tame unwanted frizz”; “control troublesome hair”; “for thick, unruly or curly hair”. Why has this negative marketing approach worked for so long? My hair is not a toddler in the terrible twos. After associating hair with such negative adjectives from childhood to adulthood, no wonder it’s easy for women with textured hair to think that something is inherently wrong with their appearance. Women are tired of this message and it is a conscious message driven by many sources that is received unconsciously by young, impressionable girls and women trying to fit into a feminine archetype that is completely fabricated.
Those girls have grown up and many of them are choosing to shed their past habits of spending hours every week ironing, straightening, tugging, and taming and have embraced the beautiful texture that takes minutes to do and often saves money. Women are 90% more likely to wear their hair with its natural texture than they were five years ago. More importantly, embracing natural hair is more than ditching a flat iron: it’s an empowering lifestyle change, making a statement, especially for those growing out a relaxer or other chemical treatments, that you are becoming more…yourself. Successful curly hair brands that were founded by mostly women with curly hair, understand the empowerment factor that is often overlooked by conventional beauty brands.
Conventional beauty brands have failed because they formulate and market based on skin color, not hair texture.
In the past, hair care aisles have been segregated in to an “ethnic” aisle and an “everyone else” aisle. Walk into the “ethnic” aisle and you’ll find products, aimed mainly at Black women, consisting of relaxers and chemical-laden goop, ignoring the diversity of textures of Black hair, let alone the millions of other multicultural women that were not being represented on the shelves. The days of categorizing hair products by skin color is over.
By 2025, 50% of the U.S. population with be multicultural. That’s a lot of beautiful people with awesome hair coming into the world. It’s why brands that started small and organically, like DevaCurl and Ouidad, are now each worth upwards of $35 million per year. This revolution has garnered attention from Silicon Valley. The social media and networking site, Naturally Curly draws over 1.6 million unique visitors monthly and raised $2 million in funding in 4 years, catching the attention of investors like Patron and Paul Mitchell.
Sites like Naturally Curly (and of course, May Day Glow), are so popular because women are looking for a community and solutions. And while huge beauty brands are trying to cash in on this surge of demand, its the smaller companies, like Mixed Chicks and Miss Jessie’s, that still hold most of the market share. And surprise, surprise; brands that once would have been placed in the ethnic aisle, now featured prominently on end-cap aisles at Target are being used by people with wavy, curly and tightly coiled hair (i.e., Asians, Caucasians, Latinos, etc.). This has opened up the market to those who would have avoided or missed these products based on the outdated product placement method used by retailers used in the past.
This demonstrates that the needs of curly and multicultural hair are no longer considered niche. If you have curly hair, or style curly hair, odds are, you have insider knowledge to connect to the needs of your market. Amazing brands arose from the frustration of lack of products delivering the moisture, slip, and hold that curls need. No, Pantene, I can’t add a couple of spritzes of silicone-heavy leave in conditioner and comb my partially-dry hair if I want to be taken seriously as a human and not have the hair of a time-traveling cave woman. Big personal care brands have missed this because formulas are created and manufactured based on outdated categorization and oversimplification of what it means to have wavy and curly hair.
This is an empowering time because start-up businesses, many from meager beginnings in household kitchens, have disrupted the pattern of a billion dollar industry. Curly hair no longer means choosing between mineral oil-based putty and chemical-laden straightening products. At long last, the large spectrum of curl textures are being recognized and millions of women see themselves represented on the shelves. The economic power of women with textured hair can no longer be denied and it will be exciting to see how this power changes how textured, natural hair is represented in media. It also means that little girls, and their mothers, with 2,3, and 4 type curls will love and care for their hair, or whatever she chooses to do, she has the power to feel like she is enough.
I am beyond excited to spread the news about Think Dirty, an app that will quickly scan personal care products and list the potential toxicity of that product and offer clean, natural alternatives! Label checking is now painless, with all the information you need in one place.
The founder, Lily Tse, motivated by her family’s history of breast cancer, wanted to create a tool that allows consumers to easily research the chemicals and risks that come with using a product and to offer safe alternatives.
Scan a product’s barcode and a safety rating is generated, along with detailed information about any carcinogenicity, reproductive and developmental, and immunotoxicity risks associated with each ingredient. The best part is that cleaner alternatives to the product queried are offered.
With over 68k products listed, I went to town with this app in my bathroom and was able to get ingredient information on most of the products I scanned. If the product is not in the database, the app allows users to submit products. Brilliant!
A review of their methodology shows that the folks at Think Dirty have done their research, tapping into an advisory panel ranging from techies to health professionals to makeup artists. I trust/love this app so much and I hope you will, too!
Download it to your iPhone in the AppStore.
When I tell people about my blog, one of the first things they ask is why I care so much about natural beauty. Yes, I love beautiful shades of makeup and a great, toxin free hair day. But this is so much more than aesthetic value; It’s about protecting our bodies and the environment from exposure to harmful chemicals.
It’s about sending the message to big beauty industry that they can not continue to sell products with toxic ingredients linked to cancer then hold a 5k to cure it.
Just like other grassroots movements, it starts with one person saying, ‘I want something better’.
Changing the products we put on our bodies is happening the same way. If every person switched out one of their chemical-laden personal care products for a natural one from a up-and-coming small company, think about the message that would send to a billion dollar industry.
It is sad, but in order to protect our bodies, the burden is on consumers to check the labels prior to buying. The ingredients are so controversial and some have even been banned in other countries, yet they are so commonplace that the general public assumes that they have been tested at length and are safe. Think the FDA ensures safe products on the market? Not true.
The FDA regulates the accurate labeling of a product but has no authority to require safety, monitoring, or environmental testing prior to the product reaching the consumer market. The FDA’s main informant of ingredient safety is the Cosmetic Ingredient Review. That’s a step in the right direction, you say? Not so fast. The CIR is funded by the Personal Care Products Council (PCPC), funded by big industry which lobbied to prevent California from passing the Safe Cosmetic Act, in 2005, which would have required companies to label products with a warning that it may contain potentially hazardous ingredients, increasing transparency.
The chemicals that we are exposed to over a lifetime accumulates in the blood and tissue, affecting both male and female reproductive wellness. They are linked to lingering in children’s bodies, causing developmental and reproductive issues. Using one product, one time with sulfates and pthalates in it will not likely cause harm.
However, clean cosmetic advocates are concerned about what the cumulative, gradual exposure to toxins from multiple products, multiple times a day, for decades, will do to the body.
It is tough to control your environment – you may have to walk to work in a smog-filled city or live in near busy highways. Why encounter even more harmful elements in an already highly toxic environment?
I’ve provided a list of some of the most common toxic ingredients to avoid in your personal care products along with natural alternatives. This is, by no means, a complete list of all toxic stuff out there but it’s meant to give readers a jump start to familiarizing yourself with what to watch out for as you start to read ingredient labels.
Warning: initial “what the hell have I been putting on my skin?” shock my set in; this can be a good thing. Take this knowledge and arm yourself with it. Keep ingredient notes in your phone and pull them up when you are shopping for household and personal care items. Share the information with family and friends, suggesting natural alternatives.
Just Say No: The Toxic List
Ingredients to avoid: petrolatum, mineral oil, propylene glycol, mineral jelly, petroleum jelly (vaseline), paraffin, propylene glycol, toulene, benzene
This is an extremely cheap and common petroleum derivative which is found in the majority of drugstore skincare products. You guys…petroleum is refined crude oil. Yes. The fact that these petroleum derivatives are still present in most mass market beauty brands and even in baby products BLOWS MY MIND. Putting a fossil fuel on your body was never, and will never be, good for you or the environment. Petroleum molecules sit on top of the skin, acting as a barrier, preventing the skin from breathing. Even if there are a couple good-for-you ingredients in the mineral-oil based lotion you use, the skin can’t let in any of the benefits because the mineral oil is acting as a barrier. There is zero skin nourishment taking place.
This stuff is comedogenic (literally suffocates your skin) and can cause pimples and blackheads. While there is conflicting information about the risk of using mineral oil and cancer risk, I choose to side with common sense and not put an oil derivative, no matter how refined it is, on my skin.
Natural Alternatives: Look for ultra-moisturizing products with natural butters and oils. A couple of my favorite are coconut oil and shea butter
Ingredients to avoid: ammonium laureth sulfate, ammonium lauryl sulfate, sodium laureth sulfate, sodium lauryl sulfate
These are harsh, sulfur-based synthetic detergents, many sourced from petrolatum, which strip hair and skin of moisture and oils produced by your scalp.
The most common of these is sodium laurel sulfate. We have been conditioned (pun intended) to think that squeaky clean equals better performing products and this is reason why the same chemical companies making your dish detergent and toilet cleaner love to add the same harsh lathering agents to their shampoos and body washes. They are cheap to make and provide the consumer with the lathering action they think they need. Yes, you will have the squeaky clean feeling, but all that signals is that natural oils, like sebum, (the oil produced by the scalp) has been washed away, leaving skin dry and hair dull and prone to frizz due to the ionic imbalance.
Natural Alternatives: For shampoo and body care: look for plant-based cleansers. I’ve had success with coconut oil-based formulas. For household cleaning you can make your own non-toxic cleaning solutions with plain ol’ vinegar, baking soda and essential oils. If you buy, look for plant-based cleansers like those derived from coconuts. Make sure there is a complete list of ingredients listed on the bottle; any truly natural company will be 100% transparent about what’s in their products.
Ingredients to avoid: sulfates, parabens, crude oil-based ingredients, any ingredients with the clauses, ‘PEG’, ‘xynol’, and ‘oleth’
This chemical is a manufacturing by-product of crude oil-derived ingredients, including sulfates and phthalates. It can be removed, but many manufacturers skip this step, writing if off as low-level of exposure. After public demand, Johnson and Johnson reformulated their “No More Tears” baby shampoo to remove 1,4-Dioxane because its interaction with other chemicals in the formula resulted in formaldehyde as a byproduct. According to Center for Disease Control studies, here are the effects of long-term, repeated exposure: “The substance may have effects on the central nervous system, kidneys, and liver. This substance is possibly carcinogenic to humans.” Why risk it?
Ingredients to avoid: anything ending in “-paraben”. The most common forms are methylparaben, propylparaben, butylparaben, or benzylparaben.
These are chemical additives used to prolong the shelf life of a product and prevent microbial growth and can be absorbed by the skin, digestive system and blood. Parabens have been linked to endocrine disruption by mimicking estrogen, strengthening the suggestion of the link to reproductive toxicity and breast cancer. According to Environmental Working Group, a study found that traces of multiple types of parabens were found in breast tissue samples of 19 of 20 women with breast cancer, demonstrating that paraben molecules are in fact absorbed by the body and accumulate in breast tissue. Another study found that higher concentrations of parabens are found in the axilla quadrant of the breast (closest to the armpit). Did I mention that parabens are major compounds in antiperspirants?
Natural Alternatives: Many natural products use natural sources of tocopherol (vitamin E) as a preservative which I use in many of my DIY recipes. Grapefruit seed extract and rosemary oil also have antimicrobial properties. Most natural products have a shorter shelf life than dirty products and this is a good thing. Think of it like the benefits of eating fresh food versus frozen
5. Synthetic and Coal Tar Dyes
Ingredients to avoid: “FD&C” or “D&C” colors or “C.I.” followed by a five digit number
These dyes, petroleum-derived chemical cocktails, are everywhere from our food, toothpaste to eyeshadow. Some dyes identified as carcinogenic have been banned by the FDA but there are many still in use, like Yellow #5, which is banned in some European countries due to its link to cancer, ADHD, and migranes.
Natural alternatives: look for fruit and vegetable-pigmented cosmetics or mineral colors such as Titanium Dioxide and Iron Oxides (make sure it’s non-nanoparticle)
Ingredients to avoid: Sodium laureth sulfate, PEG compounds, chemicals that include xynol, ceteareth and oleth, BPA, Diethyl phthalate (DEP), Dibutyl phthalate (DBP), fragrance
These chemicals, also referred to as plasticizers, are different classes of chemicals that are so ubiquitous, used in everything from detergents, carpeting, cosmetics, to perfumes and air freshener to hold synthetic fragrances and are also added to most plastics, including childrens toys, furniture, and carpeting to make products softer and more durable. There has been a growing amount of concern surrounding children’s vulnerability to phthalates, interrupting hormones and affecting reproductive ability in adulthood. These chemicals are also known to mimic hormones, raising concern about increased breast cancer risk. As a result of this research, three types of phthalates were banned by congress in 2008, and are also banned in in the EU and other countries. However, since there are thousands of chemicals in this class, manufacturers now replace the banned type of phthalate with another type that’s just as concerning.
Natural alternatives: Reduce risk of exposure to phthalates by eliminating plastics from your home and choosing products in glass packaging, when possible. Use unscented products or products using naturally-derived fragrance from essential oils.
7. Synthetic Fragrance
Ingredients to avoid: just ‘fragrance’ or ‘parfum’
What’s in the ingredient “fragrance”? Tulips, lilies, roses? Not at all. These are cheap synthetic chemicals manufactured to smell as close to a rose as the lab can get, without the cost of using actual roses. There are now 3,000 different chemicals of different classes (everything from phthalates, sulfates, parabens, and more) that can be classified as fragrance and you don’t get to know what you are spritzing on your neck. This is because companies are not required to disclose the chemicals in their products if it is considered to fit under the umbrella of ‘fragrance’ because it is protected as trade secret, essentially the intellectual property of the company.
Natural Alternatives: Pure essential oils scent natural products. Any truly natural company will indicate whether the scent is sourced from essential oils. If only ‘fragrance’ or ‘parfum’ is listed, it is most likely synthetically-derived and not a natural, green item.
8 & 9. Oxybenzone and Benzophenone in Sunscreen
Commonly used in most conventional sunscreens, these chemicals penetrate the skin, enter the bloodstream and mimic estrogen. These can also trigger allergic reactions and harm delicate aquatic life.
Natural alternatives: Mineral sunblocks made with titanium dioxide and zinc oxide and can be used, but clarify that they are larger, non-nanoparticle. Small nanoparticles can be absorbed by the skin and possibly enter bloodstream.
This chemical is a harsh antibacterial added to soaps, household cleaners, even toothpaste and thousands of other products found around the house. Exposure is so common that it found in the blood, urine and breast tissue of people around the globe. Studies show that there is no added benefit to triclosan over plain soap and water. In fact, a study by the FDA found that the widespread use of triclosan has also contributed to the evolution of “superbugs”, bacteria that is resistant to antibacterials, now a major public health concern. Even the America Medical Association recommends not using triclosan at home. And with this antibacterial being washed down the drain and into waterways, it is killing aquatic life, toxic to many plant species. Update- triclosan is now banned in Minnesota and others states are looking to do the same! *clap clap*
Natural Alternatives: Stick with warm water and bar soap, like Dr. Bronners with tea tree, a natural antibacterial.
When in doubt about an ingredient or a product, look it up using Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep database for more information about potential health risks. I’ve also compiled a great Resources page with links to videos, books and other websites that offer more information about toxic chemicals and how to create a non-toxic beauty routine and home!
The initial adventure into the world of natural, DIY products can be overwhelming and by the time you’ve stocked up on the ingredients you think you need, you’re left with a medicine cabinet full of products that may or may not work and an empty wallet. I urge all newbies to start with these basics before dropping a hundo on the .0001 ounce of essence of rose-infused dragon fruit pheromone that some blogger wants you to buy to make the ‘perfect’ facial serum. But if dragon fruit pheromones did exist, I would definitely want to see what happens if I put it on my face.
I’ve whittled down my cabinet of ingredients to must-haves for readers looking to explore DIY lotions and potions. These ingredients perform wonderfully on their own and are beneficial for most skin types.
– Organic, unrefined coconut oil – If you can only afford one thing on this list, invest in a really good quality jar of coconut oil. It is so incredibly versatile and can be used on its own for so many tasks. Here’s 101 uses!
– Argan oil – Amazing for skin, hair, face, just everywhere. I would love to roll around in a large quantity of it, if I could. I use it alone as a facial serum or mix a few drops with my moisturizer. For hair, I apply it to my ends for conditioning and shine. Techinally a carrier oil, but I have to single it out because it covers so many skin bases: moisturizing, anti-aging, and soothing all from high concentrations of vitamins A and E.
– Carrier oils – My favorite is jojoba as it is the most similar to the sebum produced by human sebaceous glands. I’ve also used grapeseed (balances oily and sensitive skin) and sweet almond (normal/combination skin). All offer different benefits for different skin types.
– Rosehip seed oil – Great by itself as a facial serum or as an added boost for DIY skin care
Shea butter – great for thick, curly, dry hair. A main ingredient in my go-to deep conditioner. I apply as lotion when my skin is feeling extra dry.
These should be diluted with a carrier oil or butter
Lavender – This EO is divine by itself and pairs well with other scents. I rub one drop on my palms and then give myself a massage along my temples right before bed to calm down. I also add 3-4 drops to my homemade conditioner and lotions.
Tea tree oil – add to store bought or homemade hair conditioners for a stimulating scalp tingle. can also be used for medicinal/healing properties
Peppermint – take your DIY lip balm to the next level by adding a couple drops of this for a wintry tingle.
Do you have a most-loved natural ingredient that’s missing from this list? Let me know! I’m curious to find out what works for others.