How to Ditch + Switch to Nontoxic Products
Swapping to safer products is intimidating... not many have the ability to throw out all of their products and start from scratch.
Yet, ditching + switching IS a worthwhile endeavor.
Many women come to learn, usually through their own struggle (this was my story), that many beauty, skincare, and household products contain ingredients that are hormone disruptors. These ingredients throw the body off balance and may cause PMS and other menstrual disorders, acne, infertility, insomnia, etc.
In addition, the European Union bans 1,400 ingredients while the United States bans a measly 30. That is not a typo... 3 - 0, thirty. Plus, there has not been a major federal law updated in the personal care industry since 1938 - that is over 82 years ago!
To put it bluntly, no one is looking out for your health in this space. It is not okay to assume that the products you are using are fine or even evaluated for safety on humans because they aren't... however, YOU CAN take the safety of your products into your own hands.
Please know that this will be a journey. Expect to continuously learn and swap as you have new knowledge and budget allowances. I've been on this nontoxic adventure since 2015 and still find areas of improvement.
But at the end of the day, every switch matters.
Here are 5 steps/strategies to help you ditch & switch to safer products.
ONE: Evaluate the most harmful.
Use a resource to help you decipher which products in your home are the most harmful. Get started by replacing those ranked highest (as your budget allows).
Pro Tip: Spend a weekend going through your home evaluating your products. Write the ranking with a marker on the bottom of the product for easy recall.
Perhaps in the same day (or one area at a time.. i.e. shower, bathroom, makeup) pull out all of your products and sort them into categories based on rankings. Then, make your shopping list for what you need to swap!
How to Evaluate
My favorite is the Environmental Working Group (EWG). They have a website (ewg.org/skindeep for personal care products) or app called Healthy Living Powered by Skin Deep and Food Scores. They also have a Build-Your-Own report which is really, really helpful. The EWG is a non-profit, non-partisan organization dedicated to protecting human health and the environment. They have SO many guides: the personal care guide mentioned above, but also one for cleaning supplies, water quality, pesticides, food scores, sunscreens, and more! They aren't perfect, i.e. can't calculate how much of an ingredient is used in a product, but they are pretty transparent.
There is another popular app called the Think Dirty app. While it has the same idea as the EWG, this one has some flaws, too. It ranks products that have potential allergens higher indicating they are "dirty"... but if I'm not allergic to < potential allergen >, the product containing it wouldn't be harmful to me. Preservatives also score high on this app - but I'll be the first to admit that I don't want anything nasty growing in my products! If a product has water, it MUST have a preservative in it (even if just a small amount) and there are safer preservatives on the market (though we would all love to see even more!) Companies also do not have to disclose all of their ingredients in this app, which clearly presents an issue. In general, I recommend the EWG over Think Dirty (but you can use both to get an idea of your products).
Products to Evaluate
Skincare, makeup, shower, shaving, deodorant, teeth, cleaning, laundry, cookware, food, storage, water, drinks, drinkware, outdoor, fragrances, air fresheners, etc.
TWO: Use and replace.
After you replace the most toxic offenders, you can start to swap gradually as you run out of what you currently have. It is also helpful to consider what may be expired or needs to be thrown away (I'm looking at you eyeshadow palettes and lipsticks from college!).
Use the work you did in step 1: check the rating on the bottom of the product. Usually, if it is a 3 or less and I really like the product, I will continue to purchase said item. However, if it's ranked 4 or higher or I am not in love with the formula, I'll try something different.
THREE: Avoid specific harmful ingredients.
Make a list of 3-5 harmful ingredients that you will make an effort to 100% avoid - these will be your personal non-negotiables. I suggest making these ingredients that are easy to spot on labels, so you can skim through in the aisle of Target and make an easy decision to shop or put back.
One ingredient I absolutely tell everyone to avoid is fragrance/parfum. Here's a blog post on the topic.
Others to avoid:
Parabens (isopropyl-, butyl-, isobutyl-): these are easy to spot on labels because paraben is listed with a prefix
Phthalates (DBP, DEHP, DEP, etc): fragrances fall under this category too.
Polyethylene Glycol (PEG compounds)
BHA & BHT
Sodium Lauryl Sulfate and Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLS, SLES)
Retinyl Palmitate (Vitamin A Palmitate)
When I was switching to safer, I relied on Beautycounter's Never List (especially the short version) to help me steer clear of worst offenders. I liked that it had a condensed list (~17), with explanations of why, and where the ingredient was commonly found.
FOUR: Let brands do the work for you.
If you find a brand that you really enjoy - their products and their standards - stick with them!
This is what I did. I tried countless "safe," "natural," "nontoxic" brands and really disliked the performance of many... which was disheartening. I had spent a lot of money, time, and effort and didn't have much to show for it.
Today, 80-90% of my skincare/makeup products are from Beautycounter. Not only do I love the performance, but I also am passionate about the mission, appreciate the transparency and safety (1,800 harmful ingredients avoided), and enjoy being part of the advocacy work for change in DC... and it's a B Corp! If you'd like to give this brand a try, please email me - email@example.com.
I do have some Ilia (eyelash primer), Honest (mascara - though it irritates my eyes in the summer), and Goop (scalp scrub) products as well. I've heard good things about W3ll People though haven't tried them yet myself.
Credo Beauty + Follain are two curated beauty stores that have their own safety standards for what they sell. In addition, Sephora has a "Clean at Sephora" label for brands that adhere to this seal. These are accessible ways to start shopping safer.
FIVE: Stop judging.
Do not judge anyone else's non-toxic journey and stop judging yourself. Again, this is a journey.
I've been sharing about this topic for many years now and have been living in the "holistic" space for just as long and I cringe when I hear comments made about women getting their nails done, dying their hair, using plastic, etc. Don't point fingers (with your words or even in your mind).
Eyes on your own paper - everyone is on their own journey with unique needs and budgets that allow for this journey to go at different paces. I am giving you permission to switch at your own pace, but allow others to do the same.
Living as an example and being a role model is the best way to influence those in your own life. Don't pester and put yourself on a pedestal for your work here. Share your experience to inspire others to ditch and switch, too. Be a kind, informative resource and help when asked.
I hope this was a helpful guide to swapping over your products to nontoxic. To get information like this delivered right to your inbox every Tuesday, sign up here!
If you are looking specifically for swaps for a baby, check out this resource.