It’s been around a decade since I started looking for natural products and trying to eliminate as many chemicals from our home as I could.
To begin with, it was about protecting the kids (isn’t that always the first motivation for women to make changes?)
Later though, it became about my health as well – reducing risk factors that contribute to cancers and other ill-health – and more simply, I just didn’t want chemicals around our home, especially once I had done some research into them.
What I read I found quite shocking and sad. Humans are so incredibly clever but often we’re too smart for our own good – as is the case with the use of chemicals.
The chemical overload
You might assume, and I think most of us do in some way, that governments and regulatory authorities are protecting us, but it really is a case of buyer beware. We know cigarettes are bad for us right? Yet you can still buy them at the supermarket. Just because something is on a shop shelf doesn’t mean it’s not harmful in some way.
We have to take responsibility for our own exposure levels – and decide for ourselves what we’re willing to accept and be OK with, and what we’re not – and not rely on the hope Big Brother is doing it for us.
Chemical use globally really took off after 1930 and now infiltrates every area of our lives, and while we go about our day-to-day business – from our morning shower, to playing with the kids on the floor, to preparing meals, to driving in traffic – we’re oblivious to both the amount of exposure and the associated risks.
It’s not that we don’t care because who would willingly expose themselves or their loved ones to potentially harmful substances?
It’s that the proliferation of chemical use has happened largely unhindered and without due diligence or even questioning – it’s been described as a ‘human experiment’ and become a ‘normal’ part of daily life.
In America, it’s estimated there are more than 80,000 chemicals approved for use in commercial products, while in Australia, the figure is 60,000, although many may not be used at all. Either way, it’s a shit-tonne of chemicals that could be or are used in up to an estimated 96 per cent of commercial products, from furniture and household cleaners, to food items, skincare and cosmetics, and clothing. The vast majority of these chemicals have never been tested for long-term health impacts.
Fortunately, thanks to the internet, we are waking up to this and more of us are educating ourselves and taking action to both lower exposure and drive fundamental change that may, hopefully, have a profound positive impact on the health of future generations, as well as the environment.
Why we need to think about it
We come into contact with chemicals in pretty much every area of our lives. From wiping them over our skin in the bathroom, to wiping them over all the surfaces of our homes, spraying them through the air and eating food that has absorbed them or consumed them or been made with them. We breathe them in when you sit on the couch or paint the fence.
They’re everywhere, and while our bodies work hard to protect us through a daily detoxification process, some chemicals are bioaccumulative – they are unable to be broken down or removed. These PBTs – persistent bioaccumulative toxic chemicals – are used in some pesticides and find their way into the waterways and environment, and therefore our food chain and our bodies.
Scientists know that the increased exposure to chemicals over the past four decades is having a detrimental impact on human health, in particular reproductive health, but they’re also linked to asthma and behavioural issues in children, hormonal problems, infertility, cancer and neurological problems.
Chemicals like phthalates are used in both plastics and some cosmetics and personal care products – they’re so widespread it’s virtually impossible to avoid them.
Women I think are particularly vulnerable because we use the greatest number of cosmetics and toiletries, and because we do the majority of cleaning at home, so our exposure is potentially higher on a day-to-day basis.
Of course, then there’s the risk to our children, who with smaller bodies have a higher concentration of exposure than we do.
Swapping to natural products
I know some people who love the smell of bleach in the morning – old habits can die hard, and when you’ve grown up associating the smell of disinfectant with a clean house, it can take some undoing.
Others are worried it takes a lot of effort to change – feeling overwhelmed at how many changes need to be made, which I completely understand. Simply researching the topic takes time, let alone trying to choose natural products that work, aren’t a waste a money and fit within a budget. I know because I’ve been working on it for years!
A friend recently asked me for some ideas on what I use, which is how this post came about. So don’t freak out about your exposure – but to get started keep in mind these two things:
- Start in the area you use the most chemicals – even if it’s the only space you swap to natural products, you will have had the biggest impact you could have; and
- Replace one product at a time – each small step will eventually get you where you want to go. Trying to do the whole thing in one hit will simply overwhelm you and likely sabotage your progress.
My favourite natural products
As I mentioned, this was the first area I really paid attention too after a girlfriend invited me to an Enjo demo when my children were teeny tiny.
Watching my daughter crawl around the floor when she was a baby, I’d notice how black her hands and her pants would get on the knees and legs, and the floor was clean! Or at least I thought it was.
It was actually covered in a coating of chemical residue left behind by the mop.
I find the term household ‘cleaner’ such a contradiction in terms – how are toxic chemicals clean? Many of these products come with a ruddy great hazardous chemical warning sign on the bottle or label, and still we don’t twig.
We know they’re poison because we take the precaution to keep those harmful chemicals and products out of reach of children (as it tells us to do on the label), but then we take those same chemicals and spray or wipe them over all our home surfaces.
You don’t have to swallow chemicals for them to be harmful. They are absorbed through your skin, through contact and smell – when you smell that bleach in the bathroom, and the fumes make you feel sick and you feel the need to get out and away, that’s your body telling you that it detects a threat and the chemical you’re using is not good for you.
Then we wash and rinse those chemicals down the drain and out into our waterways and environment.
The good news is that it is SUPER easy to switch to a better option.
My preference is Enjo – I’ve been using the microfibres for more than a decade and can’t imagine I’ll ever change. The fibres leave a clean, dry surface – bacteria cannot grow under those conditions.
This is the main reason I prefer them over non-toxic household products. Any substance you wipe or spray onto a surface will leave a film, which attracts and holds dust, dirt and germs. The residue creates a dirty surface whereas microfibre cleaning doesn’t and surfaces stay cleaner for longer.
The other reason I prefer them is the reduction in waste. These fibres last years – so there’s no bottles, no refills – so more environmentally sustainable.
It was a significant investment at the time, but I started with the floor cleaner and then added room by room but I haven’t bought cleaning products for around a decade – not even sponges or cloths – so the system has more than paid for itself.
You could also switch to non-toxic products, or to using bicarb, vinegar and essential oils. I tried the bicarb and vinegar for a while but found it was still sticky, and honestly, I had to use elbow grease and as I’m lazy when it comes to cleaning, the ease of Enjo was much more my style.
There are also other brands of microfibre cleaning systems as well but as I haven’t used them, I can’t comment on their effectiveness.
This was an area I started to tackle just over five years ago and I have to say, natural products have come a LONG way since then.
Deodorant was one product I wanted to change ASAP – this is a substance you are applying directly to one of your major detoxification exit points, and straight above glands and lymph nodes. You’re meant to perspire so commercial antiperspirants are blocking that process, as well as introducing chemicals and aluminium to a sensitive area of your skin. Making the switch here can take a real shift in mindset if you’re accustomed to the dry feeling.
I avoid anti-bacterial anything – you don’t need that stuff. We’ve been conditioned through marketing to feel like we have to fight germ warfare at every turn at home – those anti-bacterial chemicals (antimicrobials) are pesticides – chemicals used to kill the neurological systems of living organisms (hello, we are living organisms too!).
You can achieve good hygiene by simply washing your hands with soap.
Exposure to everyday germs is not a bad thing for you and your kids – it helps build a strong immune system. Your home is not a hospital or operating theatre – you aren’t trying to avoid staph or flesh eating bacteria. So flick the anti-bacterial brainwashing, and just practice good clean (and sensible) fun.
As for a long hot soak in the tub, as nice as the bubbles might seem, you’re essentially sitting in a toxic wash that is being absorbed super quickly into your pores thanks to the steam and hot water. Same for your kids.
Prior to that though, I used only baking soda for over a year and wouldn’t hesitate to going back to it. Some people find they get a rash after a while, but I never have. I just dust it on.
Soap and hand wash – I buy homemade soaps from a lady at my local farmers’ markets. Look for products that use essential oils and not ‘fragrance’ (see below). The vast majority of ‘fragrances’ are made from petroleum derivatives.
Toothpaste – We use a variety and most recently I’ve been trying one from the My Magic Mud activated charcoal range It’s black, so looks a bit freaky when you use it. I’ve also used baking soda and coconut oil and was perfectly happy with that. It’s my fall back if we have no toothpaste. I was mindful of not overdoing the baking soda though as it’s an abrasive and I didn’t want to wear down the tooth enamel too much.
Shampoo and Conditioner – I’ve tried a few without much love and will admit I’m still using a chemical-loaded one from my hairdresser. See, no-one’s perfect.
Bath time – Coconut oil or some other natural oil, Epsom salts for a hit of magnesium and essential oils like lavender or frankincense. Add a glass of wine and a book and it’s a happy day!
Hand sanitizer – Even though I don’t use them, if we’re travelling I pick up a mist from my local oil shop. It’s an anti-virus blend made with tea tree oil and eucalyptus oil which have antibacterial and anti-viral properties and smell incredible. You can pick up similar items at good healthfood stores.
Be mindful #organic doesn’t mean what you think it does. Unlike food, the cosmetic industry (including toiletries) isn’t regulated when it comes to claims of organic, so a company can brand a product as organic simply by having only a small amount of an organic ingredient in amongst all the chemicals. So buyer beware.
I look for the most natural ingredients and products I can.
Make up – I absolutely love Evohe and have been using it for years now. All natural, and a small company with sustainability at its core, the products are lovely – light on the face but with good coverage.
Cleanser – coconut oil and a warm cloth, or Evohe.
Moisturiser – Evohe and organic rosehip oil. I use rosehip oil daily and have found it fabulous for my scars – I have a heap on my face from skin cancer surgery.
Lipsticks – luk beautifood has a range of Lip Nourishes (read my piece on Luk founder Cindy Luken here). Most recently I’ve tried Neek which stays on well. And for a daily moisture hit, it’s Hurraw lip balms.
Perfume – I use essential oils mostly now, or a spray from Vanessa Megan. Admittedly, I still miss perfume. It’s been the one thing I truly miss having but commercial perfumes and fragrances are a no-go if you want to avoid chemicals.
I don’t use air fresheners and now find the smell of them irritates me and makes me feel sick. Actually, anything with synthetic fragrance does this to me now. Overuse means you can become desensitised to them, but when they’re not a part of your daily life, you notice how easily you are irritated by them. It’s the same effect when I occasionally have to walk down the cleaning aisle of the supermarket – it’s almost overwhelming how strong I find the smell.
Incense is another thing to think about – I’ve always burned it outside but am now very aware that the cheaper sticks are chemically laden. You can look for varieties that use essential oils instead. They’ll typically be hand rolled and more expensive, but probably a good idea particularly if you’re going to burn them inside, or in close proximity to you or others.
I stick to candles and essential oils but even then you have to be aware of what you’re buying. With candles, make sure they have been made using essential oils and not fragrances, and with the oils, ensure they are in fact essential oils and not fragrances. The cheap varieties will say fragrance, rather than oil, and there are some particular ‘oils’ that actually aren’t oils.
Candles – My absolute favourite candlemaker is Jas Kechel at Lemon Canary. She’s become a darling friend, but her products are simply divine, just like her. She pours each and every candle with love and imbues them positive energy and intentions. Pure soy and essential oils, it’s like treating yourself to a gift every time you light a wick.
Essential oils – I pick these up from a couple of places – a shop in Burleigh with a qualified aromatherapist and I do also have a wholesale doTerra account (I don’t sell it, just order for myself when I need to or choose to). With essential oils, be mindful of taking medical advice, or any advice, on their use from people who aren’t properly qualified. Do your own research and seek advice from properly educated people. Who you buy them from is your business, but take your advice on usage seriously. I have a friend who sells them: she’s a nurse and someone I know does her research, so whilst I will at times seek her advice, I always, ALWAYS, do my own research and make an informed decision on their use, especially when it comes to how I use them with the kids. I do this too when it comes to medicines, so fair is fair.
I use EOs in my office and in the kids’ rooms – over winter, we use a cold and flu blend that I’ve used now for years whenever they pick up a cold bug and I swear by it to help them get over bugs faster. As mentioned above, I also use them as a perfume – again be mindful of what you use on your skin.
I won’t include a big long list. Suffice to say I buy organic or spray-free produce mostly from the farmers markets; only organic or pasture and grass-fed meats; only organic dairy if we have it at all; and always, always organic googy eggs, or those from a friend’s backyard chooks.
I buy little in the way of processed and packaged foods but when I do I look for organic, quality and those with as few ingredients as possible.
There is no way to become completely chemical-free. They’re just so prevalent now you would have to live in a bubble to avoid them.
However, you can make simple swaps and changes to reduce exposure and give your body a better chance of cleaning up those that make their way into your system.
You don’t have to overload yourself unnecessarily.
If you’d like more help switching to natural products and a lower chemical load, check out the wonderful Alexx Stuart’s courses on her site Low Tox Life. Alexx has spent years researching this stuff and developed a course to help you understand step-by-step the why and how to become low tox (as opposed to no tox).
- PS There are NO affiliate links in this post.