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Let me introduce myself. My name is Mark Sisson. I’m 63 years young. I live and work in Malibu, California. In a past life I was a professional marathoner and triathlete. Now my life goal is to help 100 million people get healthy. I started this blog in 2006 to empower people to take full responsibility for their own health and enjoyment of life by investigating, discussing, and critically rethinking everything we’ve assumed to be true about health and wellness...

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June 02, 2008

Dear Mark: Primal Personal Products?

By Mark Sisson
53 Comments

Skin Care ProductsDear Mark,

What are your thoughts on using personal products such as lotion, deodorant, or even toothpaste? I use these daily, but it certainly doesn’t jive with my “caveman diet” philosophies.

Thanks to reader Steve for his question. It’s true, old Grok wasn’t exactly getting facials and eyebrow waxings at the spa over yonder. While he might not have been the dusty, grungy figure he’s often made out to be, he was undoubtedly rumpled and unkempt by our standards. Alas, we find ourselves in a much different age, an era of rather obsessive personal sanitization (if you ask me) and more attention to “product” than to health. Nonetheless, few of us are happy to take up residence in a backwoods shack. We’ll readily make compromises to live among the rest of civilization. But, when it comes to lotions, soaps, deodorant, etc., how can we be healthy in the primal sense but still accepted by contemporary, “polite” society? Call it the modern caveman’s/cavewoman’s dilemma.

The skin is an organ, after all. It’s our first line of defense against pathogens, toxins, etc. It’s porous, permeable. It interacts with the world and substances it comes in contact with – whether it’s clean, pure water from a mountain stream or the infinite variety of petroleum compounds (and worse, oh so much worse) found in everything from lotion to aftershave to makeup.

Shower

Bathing/showering:
I’d recommend it. Your spouse, co-workers, kids and others will thank you for your efforts. Jokes aside, a simple shower with some basic soap suffices pretty well by itself without the help of every pine fresh, floral or citrus-musk, natural woods, rainforest cloud scent that they pump into all the body washes, specialty shampoos, bubble baths, colognes and personal sprays (don’t worry, I’m not touchin’ that one!) they try to sell us these days. One shower indulgence I’d recommend: a shower/bath filter to get rid of the chlorine. Sure, you’ll fork out a little money for it, but you’ll save it over time with less conditioner and lotion. No more dry skin and hair? Hmmm. Guess Grok had it good in some respects. And it’s possible you’d be giving your lungs a break. There’s some concern regarding the daily inhalation of chlorine during showers.

That deodorant/anti-perspirant in your medicine cabinet? That’s a little trickier issue. When it comes to deodorant, I’d use what you need to but proceed with caution. A daily shower is enough for some people, but most of us need a little extra help in that department. Aluminum salts, in addition to other common ingredients (like dyes and fragrances) in anti-perspirants/deodorants, can irritate the skin, causing inflammation and tenderness. In fact, two popular ingredients, neomycin sulfate and cobalt chloride, were found by Mayo Clinic researchers to be among the top ten causes of allergic contact dermatitis.

A more serious concern with anti-perspirant/deodorant is the aluminum content in anti-perspirant products. (The aluminum is there to clog the pores and prevent the release of sweat from the glands.) It’s true that the human body doesn’t need or use aluminum, and enough of it can cause aluminum toxicity (which can result in neurological damage, osteoporosis and kidney malfunction). However, unless you find yourself snacking on that stick of Old Spice or Soft and Dry, you don’t have reason to worry about getting near any level of aluminum toxicity. Claims also abound regarding its connection to Alzheimer’s and breast cancer. To date, no significant studies with accepted methodology support either claim.

Yet, I’d add a wrinkle to this issue. It’s commonly (albeit not universally) believed that the aluminum compounds in anti-perspirants are unable to pass through the skin to begin with. However, the growing number of physicians and health advocates suggest that aluminum compounds have a much higher chance of being absorbed when they’re applied to freshly shaven skin. This concern somewhat bolsters (but doesn’t, of course, prove) the breast cancer claim, particularly because directly beneath the armpit area you find the lymphatic system, which is connected with breast tissue. My ultimate recommendation: avoid anti-perspirants if/when you can and definitely delay using them for a day if you shave the armpit area. If you’re going to go the “deodorant” route, use only 100% natural scents due to the dangers of phthalates (chemical plasticizers that are part of synthetic fragrances).

Lotion

As for lotions? A bit of coconut oil can work wonders. Some people swear by olive oil for hair conditioning. In terms of other products, I’d boil it down to ingredients. Phthalates are found in close to all conventional and even some “natural” personal products. They’re known cancer causing agents and can result in serious birth defects. Do you see “fragrance” on the label? Drop it like Grok would a torch he picked up from the wrong end. Does the product say unscented? Still, check the label. In all likelihood, there’s still some kind of masking fragrance. The only safe fragrance is a 100% natural extract.

Another set of ingredients to avoid at all costs: the parabens. Methyl-, propyl-, butyl-, ethyl-, consider the whole family a lot of bad seeds. They’re known endocrine disruptors, these preservative hooligans that inhabit the majority of conventional soaps, shampoos, lotions, makeup, and sunscreens.

A few other common “offenders” to steer clear of? Methylisothiazolinone (MIT), toluene, mineral oil, paraffin, and petrolatum, DMDM hydantoin, diazolidinyl urea, imidazolidinyl urea, quaternium-15, and bronopol, -eth compounds, coal tar (to name a few). But take a look at the ingredient label of anything you pick up. Anything “primal” about it? A mind-boggling laundry list of chemical compounds that all run together? Are your eyes totally glazed over yet? Yes, it’s enough to make you rethink that backwoods shack possibility.

Soap

Instead of hearing just what to avoid, here are a couple resources that actually offer some suggestions for what to buy instead. National Geographic’s Green Guide publication tests and analyzes numerous personal care (and other) products for human health as well as environmental impact.

Also, be sure to check out the Skin Deep database compiled by the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics for more information on common ingredients as well as less risky alternatives to conventional care products.

The simplest rule of thumb for modern primal living is to use as few products and as little of them as possible, but what this means to each of us will vary by personal aesthetic, professional expectations, and other factors. Personally, I use a little sunscreen if I’ll be out all day and some lip balm from time to time. I use about the most basic toothpaste on the market. Look for the most natural products you can find. If the “crunchy” stuff isn’t up to snuff, use the conventional products but go old school and keep it simple. The more new-fangled ingredients and additions to the formula, the more questionable its effects on your body.

Thanks, as always, for your questions. And I hope you’ll share your own recommendations and thoughts.

savor soaps, .snow, slight clutter, LuluP Flickr Photos (CC)

Further Reading:

A Sanitized World is a Healthier World?

8 Unusual Uses for Hydrogen Peroxide

DIY Household Cleaners

That’s Fit: Deodorant Linked to Breast Cancer?

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53 Comments on "Dear Mark: Primal Personal Products?"

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Judy
Judy
8 years 3 months ago
We err on the side of “less is better” here. Yes, we shower, shave, etc., but we’re not obessed with it. My boys, this time of year, play outside a lot, but also play in the water hose and the kiddie pool, and so if they are getting rinsed off outside every day, they might not get in the bathtub for weeks. I think, especially for kids, soap is mostly unnecessary and plain water does the job pretty well. We’re looking for the most natural products we can, and once I run out of my shampoo and conditioner, I’m going… Read more »
Huckleberry
8 years 3 months ago
I use coconut oil as a moisturizer and I love it. I sometimes mix a little vanilla extract in, but usually just like the simple scent of it plain. Another simple, natural bathing product: make your own salt scrub. Take a coarser salt, like kosher salt, and mix with your favorite good oil. You can add a natural extract scent if you want, or leave it plain. Rub it on and rinse off. The salt clears off dead skin layers and the oil moisturizes. It’s the same stuff you can buy for large amounts of money, only without the large… Read more »
Rough Ian
Rough Ian
8 years 3 months ago
I’m 100% against the hand lotions (can we include hand sanitizers in there as well?). Beyond the toxicity of the chemicels you’re smearing across your palms, the lotions act to temporarily soften the skin, only to leave the skin more cracked and dry once the lotion wears off (usually less than an hour). Thus the cycle begins of using more and more hand lotion, and needing more and more hand lotion to smooth out skin that dries out from the use of unnecessary hand lotion. The same principal works for Tums. The more Tums you take, the more Tums you… Read more »
32Simon
32Simon
8 years 3 months ago

What about the modern ubiquitous hand sanitizer? I’ve heard mixed things…

Rita S
3 years 3 months ago

Most hand sanitizers have an ingredient called Triclosan, which is a derivitive of herbicide, which makes it an endocrine disruptor. We avoid anti bacterials in our household, and send our own homemade “santizer” with our daughter to school and tell her to avoid the toxic sanitizers.
I have mentioned and sent reports on the ill effects of triclosan to teachers, who really go no further on it.

Kristin
Kristin
3 years 2 months ago

Would you mind sharing your recipe for a homemade sanitizer? I’m intrigued! 🙂

Crystal
Crystal
8 years 3 months ago

I use a chlorine filter in my shower and it works great. I am much more aware of the chlorine smell/taste when I’m not at home.

I use quality aloe vera as a moisterizer, especially in the summer. Baking soda is the best skin exfoliant! I’ve been using it for years.

I found a good shampoo/cond. -the basic ingredients are aloe vera, coconut oil, avocado oil, essential oils and smells great.

Valerie
Valerie
6 years 8 months ago

Baking soda is also a great deodorant 🙂 and an awesome shampoo too (and … it’s fabulous for so many other things as well)! – use vinegar or lemon juice as a conditioner to untangle long hair. I’m freaked out to read all the stuff in personal products. Maybe I’m just afraid of what I don’t know 😀

Aaron
8 years 3 months ago

32Simon,

We did a post on hand sanitizers awhile back. Check it out:

http://www.marksdailyapple.com/immune-system-strength/

Lamarr
Lamarr
8 years 3 months ago

I have heard that hand sanitizers are not a good idea, that it weakens the bodies natural defenses against bacteria. I would love for someone to either corroborate this claim or refute it based on facts not opinions. I would also like to say that I agree, using hand lotion daily is counter productive, but there are good products out there to be used sparingly.

speedingwaif
8 years 3 months ago

Women especially should steer clear of parabens, a common type of preservative. Most conventional products are chock full of them. Parabens act as estrogens in the body and can cause serious consequences, from endometriosis to estrogen-related cancers.

Sara G
8 years 3 months ago

Crystal, I’m curious what the name of your shampoo/cond is, it sounds great!

Crystal
Crystal
8 years 3 months ago

I found mine at the health food store but if not here is a website: http://www.drchristophers.com
It is under specialty items and it is called, BFC Shampoo. It lists all ingredients. I’ve only tried their shampoo/conditioner.

Kaitlin
Kaitlin
8 years 3 months ago

Some of you may find the Environmental Working Group’s Cosmetic Safety Database helpful.

Unfortunately, a lot of pure oils, like olive oil, jojoba, etc., break my skin out like crazy. And salt scrubs. And most hair conditioners . . . I’ve only had success with Paula’s Choice, and she has a lot to say about the cosmetic and body care industry’s misleading uses of the word “natural”.

Rita S
3 years 3 months ago
I find the http://www.skincancer.org/ more helpful in that it is based more on science than EWG listing of individual ingredients. I’ve also dug into this topic and have found one ingredient can have the same name, whether it comes from animal, chemical or plant -and therefore not all, though the same name, are the same. I wonder if the reason you have trouble with pure oils is that they are not necessarily pH correct for the targeted purpose, and the brain then sends out signals to compensate one way or another. I have run into a number of people with… Read more »
markus
markus
8 years 3 months ago
shaving foam is a con i have fairly sensitive skin and used to get only slight reddening with “sensitive” shaving gels – however, i get no reactions whatsoever if i just use warm water all gels or foams strip the skin of its natural oils, even if it replaces them with other oils – there contain some alien agents it is a complete myth that you need to use any application shave – in may experience – just make sure you use warm water on your skin first and rinse the shaver in warm water before using it. Also, many… Read more »
Sonagi
Sonagi
8 years 3 months ago

Scientists have listed a number of reasons to explain the huge differences between breast cancer rates among Western women and Asian women, among them diet, weight, and genes. Reading about the anti-perspirant link, I was reminded that Koreans, Chinese, and Japanese traditionally don’t wear deodorant because their underarm perspiration is relatively odorless.

Rita S
3 years 3 months ago

Interesting that you mention this…I found that when I am eating a CLEAN lifestyle – avoiding processed, sugars, gluten, soy, dairy, caffeine, etc. that I no longer have odorous perspiration. I remember my first intro to a CrossFit workout while on the elimination eating plan and absolutely no stink – just goes to show how we smell what we eat!

Ronald
Ronald
8 years 3 months ago
I used to shave with shaving cream. But once I had read about an article on shaving cream being a racket I had to find out the truth for myself. It turns out shaving is better without the cream. Get out of shower, position one’s self in front of mirror and then shave the facial hair in less than 15 secs. The first week, I was afraid to hurt my skin so I put on soap on my face. After about 1 or 2 week, I stopped with the soap and went raw with wet skin/razor blade. Results in faster… Read more »
camille
camille
8 years 3 months ago
i have to add to this that i stopped ushing shampoo and conditioner a year ago and my hair looks better than ever. sodium laureth-sulfate (found in most soaps and shampoos) strips your skin and hair of natural moisture and then conditioners with silicone and other “one” products covers it in “moisturizing” film. what’s the point? i now use a natural bar soap (from health food store) followed by a rinse of a rosemary-infused (just float the rosemary in there for a while then strain out) apple cider vinegar and water mixture, and then rinse again with water. sometimes if… Read more »
Lisa
7 years 8 months ago

It’s post like these that get me thinking and rethinking about this issue. I feel the same way, that all these products we use are HORRIBLE for us! From lotions, hair products, face products, etc. I just dunno about all of those chemicals…

Karin
Karin
7 years 4 months ago

Tom’s of Maine has some nice stuff that’s a bit more natural. The licorice flavored toothpaste is awesome!

trackback

[…] Dear Mark: Primal Personal Products? – June 2 […]

trackback

[…] Coconut oil consists of about 92 percent saturated fat and is therefore nearly solid at room temperature. It can be used in cooking, but is also a common ingredient in home remedies and skin care products. […]

Nellie
Nellie
6 years 6 months ago

Don’t use soap on your skin unless it’s actually ‘dirty’! (and by that, I mean visibly soiled/smelly)

Your skin is covered in all kinds of wonderful acidic bacteria which is also called your ‘acid mantle’. These little buggers protect you from potentially harmful other little buggers. The problem is, soap is very alkaline. If you remember chemistry, you know that bases neutralize acids. In other words, soap strips your skin of it’s natural defenses, leaving you susceptible to all kinds of badness… Not to mention, giving you dry skin.

trackback

[…] Dear Mark: Primal Personal Products – Primal soap? Primal deoderant? Primal toothpaste. Learn about the chemical and natural elements in you hygienic products; what to use and what to steer clear of. […]

trackback
6 years 3 months ago

[…] Dear Mark: Primal Personal Products – Primal soap? Primal deoderant? Primal toothpaste. Learn about the chemical and natural elements in you hygienic products; what to use and what to steer clear of. […]

trackback
6 years 3 months ago

[…] come back to taunt us in the mirror. We live a modern existence full of systemic traps: pollution, personal care products, stress, lack of sleep, and climate controlled living to name a few. Nonetheless, we needn’t sit […]

trackback

[…] we really need any of the personal products that line our medicine cabinets. If we ditched the creams, conditioners, gels, cosmetics, deodorants, sprays, and powders for a week, would our lives fall apart? Would anyone else even notice? (Probably not.) Would we […]

neil
neil
6 years 3 months ago
Used to be an every day shampoo and shave guy. Went to shaving 3 days a week instead of 7. With shampoo, I went to every other day, then every 3rd day, then once a week, then just conditioner and finally no products at all. My hair has never been more manageable or free of problems. I just rinse daily with cold water and towel dry. I also gave up deodorant and just use an alcohol based hand sanitizer in my arm pit area that has eliminated all body odor. This primal stuff is just too easy!!!
Betty
Betty
6 years 2 months ago

I have not used deodorant, toothpaste, perfumes, etc for over a year, and my breath is better than it used to be, no body odor whatsoever, unless I am doing extremely heavy work on a hot day (I live on the edge of the Mojave Desert) and when that’s the case, I hop into the shower and rinse off. My medicine cabinet contains dental floss, hydrogen peroxide (to rinse), baking soda (for cleansing everything), a potassium alum ‘crystal’ (inhibits bacterial growth) instead of deodorant… and coconut oil for conditioning/basic health. I have never felt better!!

trackback

[…] a later date.  However, if you have your diet dialed in, take a look at some suggestions posted by Mark’s Daily Apple for alternative products for personal care.  National Geographic’s Green Guide site has a […]

rich
rich
6 years 2 months ago

There are other chemicals such as triclosan and triclocarban that can possibly cause hormonal problems.

I just learned that my Irish Spring soa[ contains triclocarban and my Old Spice deordorant contains triclosan.

Just ordered some castille soap and going to use baking soda for everything else.

trackback

[…] on websites Mark’s Daily Apple (for example, this one) have repeatedly highlighted that it’s not just what goes into our bodies that matters. The […]

D
D
6 years 5 days ago

I don’t know whether this will get any answers/even get read, as it’s an old entry, and I hope no-one’s mentioned it already, but I find that if I leave my ‘pits alone when I shower, they leave me alone during the rest of the day! Meaning, I just give them a quick rinse, but NO SOAP. I used to have all sorts of problems with sweating, and now I’m almost (I’m sure I could, but I haven’t quite dared to yet) ready to give up deo. Based on this, I’m also REALLY tempted to try ‘poo-less…

Take care!

Sachit Gupta
Sachit Gupta
5 years 11 months ago

Anyone have recommendations of what brand of to buy for all these products?

Dharma_Punk
Dharma_Punk
5 years 5 months ago

I highly recomend Dr. Bronners unscented pure castil soup. It works awesome and isn’t overly expensive. For hair conditioner I use a dime sized drop of Jojoba oil and rub it through my hair before blow drying. I get many comment on how great my hair looks. I only shower every couple days, and because of my generally clean diet I don’t usually stink, but on rare occasion I use a natural mineral salt crystal that seems to work rather well.

Katia Saenz
Katia Saenz
5 years 4 months ago
When I found out of all the bad chemicals in personal products, I checked the ingredients in my supply closet and donated everything harmful. I now use Dr. Bronner’s castile soap, for my body and my hair. (I also use a body brush, long strokes on extremities, brush upwards towards your heart, it improves circulation. I am experimenting with hot/cold showers.) I bought a huge bottle at Target and Trader Joe’s and use a little bottle when I travel. I also use it to had wash my delicates in the sink. I have hyperhidrosis, so I sweat more than normal… Read more »
Wenona
Wenona
5 years 4 months ago

Katia, you could check out realpurity.com

jacqui
jacqui
5 years 2 months ago
I’ll just add my two cents worth. For deodorant I’m using a homemade “stick” with equal volumes of coconut oil,cornflour (oops is that allowed!?) and bicarb soda. Melt them together gently on the stove-top and then pour into the corner of a plastic bag. Hang it somewhere so the mixture stays in the corner and allow it to set, it will form in a cone shape, keep it in the bag to store.Just wipe on gently after your shower. At the moment here in Aussieland it is winter so there is no problems with it melting at room temp. In… Read more »
andi
andi
4 years 6 months ago

Jacqui, thanks for the deodorant tip – I use something very similar as toothpaste; coconut oil, bicarb soda and peppermint oil. Persevere with the no shampoo route, I’ve been “poo” free for 18 months now and my hair is the best it’s ever been. Just a quick rinse with warm water in the morning and no product required. I used to use a gallon of conditioner and frizz serum in the old days. If I go swimming in the public pool I rinse with a little diluted cider vinegar which helps get rid of the chlorine.

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4 years 10 months ago

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4 years 9 months ago

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Tomás
Tomás
4 years 6 months ago

I heard something about baking soda hurting the enamel of your teeth, the outside coating. Anyone had any issues with that?
Also i have tried the no-shampoo for 3 years now, but every now and again i feel like i have to wash it with shampoo since it gets greasy. I tried with the baking soda but it gets dry and brittle, and the vinegar still leaves it a bit gluey, like i put hair gel. Any help would be appreciated. 🙂

Ruth
Ruth
4 years 3 months ago

If you haven’t recently shaved, white vinegar makes a great deodorant. I just apply with a cotton ball. I may need to reapply later in the day – depending on my activity, the weather, etc… so I carry around a small bottle of white vinegar and some cotton balls in a plastic sandwich bag in my purse.

Srinivas Kari
Srinivas Kari
4 years 3 months ago

The aluminium in deodorants basically works by blocking the natural chemical pathways in the body that are responsible for sweat production. Aluminium is a killer and I stay away from it. A safer alternative is to use essential oils and baking soda (home grade/food grade). They are extremely effective deodorants.

Srinivas Kari
Srinivas Kari
4 years 3 months ago

There are chlorine filters available in the market that filter the chlorine in showers. They’re a cheap and practical solution to the chlorine problem.

Ian
Ian
3 years 11 months ago

I thought I would add that when I switched away from anti-perspirants, my omnipresent sweating problem disappeared. As did my deo-stained shirts.

Going to try some more natural products soon, starting with soaps.

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hello!,I really like your writing very so much! percentage we keep in touch more about your article on AOL? I require a specialist on this area to unravel my problem. May be that is you! Taking a look forward to look you.

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[…] a roll-on. Your choice. There’s some concern over whether it contains aluminum or not, but I don’t think it’s a huge issue unless you’ve just shaved your armpit and thus opened up a route for transdermal […]

Trina Felber
2 years 4 hours ago

I just found this post! It is very well written and informative. Education and knowlegde is the best defense for self-preservation and personal health. Be responsible and read the labels. I started my company (Primal Life Organics) because I believe in feeding the skin real food. Toxins and chemicals can cause cellular mutation and disease. I make over 100 healthy skin care products from real food sources so the cells can function properly. A healthy, nourished, well fed cell is better equipped to fight disease! Way to go Mark! You rock!

trackback

[…] back to taunt us in the mirror. We live a modern existence full of systemic traps: pollution, personal care products, stress, lack of sleep, and climate controlled living to name a few. Nonetheless, we needn’t […]

trackback

[…] a roll-on. Your choice. There’s some concern over whether it contains aluminum or not, but I don’t think it’s a huge issue unless you’ve just shaved your armpit and thus opened up a route for transdermal […]

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