Do you know what triclosan is? What about diethanolamine? Propylene glycol? Don’t feel bad if you’ve never heard, of nor can pronounce, these words. They are chemicals that are most commonly found in toiletries such as toothpaste, hand soap, and shampoo. Most of us are not familiar with these foreign sounding substances, but we are likely in contact with them and other obscure-to-the-general-public, multisyllabic compounds on a daily basis. The issue isn’t that they may be hard to pronounce, of course, but that they may very well be toxic for your health.
For instance, while triclosan is a powerful antibacterial and antifungal agent used in things like detergents and hand disinfectants, studies have shown it to be linked to a disruption of both hormones as well as proper muscle function. Furthermore, when it first came on the market in the 1960’s, it was even used as a pesticide. So, you can clean with it, kill bugs with it, then, guess what? You can put it in your mouth. Yes, it’s also an ingredient used in some toothpastes. As multitasking of a chemical as this seems, does it raise a few red flags in your eyes too? In hospitals, triclosan may work wonders in surgical scrubs and on the surface of catheters and surgical sutures, keeping harmful pathogens at bay, yet, a good question to ask ourselves may be: does my mouth (or hands, or body) really need that same potency of antimicrobial action?
Other common chemical additives like diethanolamine, DMDM hydantoin, phthalates, propylene glycol, and various parabens to name a few, pose similar and other risks. Studies have shown diethanolamine (or DEA), which is commonly added to soap, to be linked to kidney and liver cancer. Propylene glycol can cause allergic reactions and eczema. And so on.
We know the importance of reading labels on our food products so that we can steer clear of questionable ingredients such as artificial dyes and preservatives that we don’t want contaminating our bodies. Yet it’s important to remember that our skin, the body’s largest organ, has the amazing ability to absorb what has been put on top of it. (That’s why certain medications, such as ones for pain or motion sickness, may be administered topically, via a small “skin patch,” which is gradually soaked in through the epidermis and into the blood.) Thus, it would make sense to be just as vigilant about reading the ingredient label on anything we want to put on our skin as well, whether it be in the form of a lotion, serum, soap, or toothpaste.
Thankfully, there are a growing number of natural toiletries on the market which are made out of non-toxic, skin-loving ingredients. And if cost is an issue, a simple fix is to make your own. Generally speaking, you don’t want to put anything on your body that you couldn’t eat. There are numerous online instructions for do-it-yourself deodorant, face cleanser, shampoo, and the like. Most recipes call for ingredients that can be found in your local grocery or natural food store. This includes things like coconut oil, baking soda, various essential oils, and bentonite clay. All these products can be healthy and effective components in a safe-for-the-body cleanser. Some people even go hardcore and use nothing but water for everything—hair, face, body, and teeth. Most of us, however, like a little something to assist in getting the job done.
As far as bad or questionable ingredients to stay clear of, the list of chemicals and their side effects is long and varied. The best thing you can do be proactive is to read labels. Any words you don’t understand? Look them up. Find out what it is, what it does, and then ask yourself: is there a better alternative? Can I make it myself using safer ingredients? Or, do I even need this product?
Note, too, that just because something is “natural” doesn’t mean it’s safe, effective, or good for you personally. Beeswax is natural, but may not be a good idea for someone allergic to bee stings. Also, some “natural” substances may start out that way, but after processing become something entirely synthetic and potentially harmful.
It goes without saying that just because someone was able to mass produce it, box it, and stick a pretty label on it for the populous, doesn’t mean it’s any good.
So in the end, the bigger issue obviously isn’t: Can I perfectly articulate this chemical name? But rather, Can I eat it?
Here is a list of some good ingredients and what they can do for you. And yes, you can eat most all of them.
- Aloe Vera—is an excellent, soothing moisturizer for skin. It can also be used to condition hair.
- Beeswax—contains vitamin A and is beneficial for both skin and hair. It’s often found in lip balm.
- Baking Soda—is alkaline and a low abrasive when used in toothpaste.
- Bentonite Clay—is rich in minerals and is a wonderful addition in toothpastes to lower acidity. Bentonite clay is also used in facemasks to tone skin and draw out impurities.
- Cocoa Butter—is a highly stable fat that can provide a superb moisture barrier for skin. It has also been linked to a decrease in dandruff when used in hair.
- Coconut Oil—is a natural, antibacterial agent. Obviously, it’s not the sort to be used to disinfect hospital instruments, but it’s great for your mouth! Also, it’s a wonderful moisturizer, hair conditioner, and lip balm.
- Essential Oils—such as peppermint, cinnamon, and clove add great flavor naturally. Other oils, like lavender, rose, and tea tree add fragrance and benefit the skin in a variety of ways.
- Sea Salt—can tone and stimulate gums when used in toothpaste.
- Shea Butter—can be used similarly to cocoa butter. It has anti-inflammatory compounds that can be helpful for acne-prone skin.
- Sugar—is a natural exfoliant when added to face or body scrubs.
- Xylitol and Stevia—are natural sweeteners.
SIMPLE, DO-IT-YOURSELF TOOTH POWDER
- 4-6 ounce jar or container (I prefer something made out of glass that looks nice sitting out a shelf.)
- Baking soda
- 1-2 tablespoons of coconut oil
- 10-15 drops of food grade essential oil such as peppermint or cinnamon
- ½-1 teaspoon of sea salt (optional)
- Stevia drops to sweeten (optional)
- Fill your container with baking soda, leaving ½ inch to 1 inch of space at the top (to make room for other ingredients and stirring).
- Add sea salt, coconut oil, essential oil, and stevia. Stir until completely combined (a chopstick makes a great stirring tool for this). The consistency generally looks like wet sand but feel free to add more coconut oil—or even a bit of filtered water—to make more pasty. Tweak ingredients as desired. Thankfully, it’s not an exact science.
This should last a long time. A little goes a long way.