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  • Writer's pictureMary Shackelton, MPH, ND


Be Wary of Natural

Years ago, there were very few options available to those of us who wished to reduce our exposure to fragrance and other unwanted chemicals. We could buy soap at the grocery store and suffer through the “Irish Spring” scent not knowing there would soon be a tidal wave of new products that were safer for us and for the environment. Now there is choice upon choice when it comes to choosing great products in every area of our lives from dish soap to candles, from shampoo and conditioner to mascara.

A word about being “faux green,” also called “greenwashing”—don’t let marketing and packaging fool you as it has me so many times. Because there is a bigger market for cleaner products than ever before, companies are making false label claims hoping you do not know the difference. The manufacturers might claim “ all natural fragrance” which is somewhat of an oxymoron. There is no such thing as fragrance that is natural- by definition manufacturers can say “fragrance” but it might contain up to 300 different chemicals that make up that fragrance.

All natural ingredients is a big seller but if you look closely, you might find that the label contains many ingredients that do not exist in nature but are manufactured- thus they are not natural. A recent trip to a store in my home town Boulder Colorado which has a healthy vibe, a environmentally concerned demographic and a foot forward in the world of natural, a woman told me that the products they were selling were “clean”. I grabbed a bottle of perfume curious as to how they did it, and sure enough, it was like every other perfume in terms of its ingredients. Fragrance and other ingredients that we are trying to avoid in order to steer clear of phlalates, paragons and other unwanted chemicals. The packaging however was very clean… clean lines, simple and attractive. So in her mind, the ingredients matched the outside of the package. I did a quick tutorial for her letting her know this product was not clean in any way.

The number one rule and habit to create: read labels before you purchase any product. It is still legal to call a product “Organic Plant Lotion” even if it has absolutely no organic ingredients in it. It is also legal to call a product “green,” even if it includes a lot of fragrance. These labels are enticing to someone who wants a cleaner product but taking a closer look at the ingredients will reveal if it is truly clean or not. In order to demonstrate that a product has met defined organic standards, it has to have a seal such as USDA Organic. That seal guarantees that at least 95 percent of the ingredients are organic. Don’t be fooled by the packaging.

The ingredients in most products are often difficult to pronounce or recognize, how do you know if something is truly natural and safe? If you are unsure if your product is safe or not, there is a great resource that can help. It takes the guesswork out of all of your questions for every single product that you currently use. It is the Environmental Working Group website. They have created and extensive data base of every single product you use that are personal care products to cleaning products. “skin deep” database allows you to search for the product in question and it will rate the product for you in terms of it’s safety. It will share research articles about the ingredients found in the product and will give it a “green” light if it is safe or a “red” light if you should avoid it. For fun, type in your sunscreen, lipstick and body moisturizer and see if they are worthy of your use or not. Over time, this tool will help you clean up your beauty, skin care and household cleaning products and you will be reducing your exposure on a daily basis to unwanted and hidden chemicals. Buy smarter and you win!!!

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