These are chemicals you probably aren’t too excited about in common personal care products like shampoos, conditioners, deodorants, sunblocks, and makeups – you know, the stuff you’re covering yourself in everyday. Cosmetics manufacturers use these ingredients to improve their product’s ability to clean, moisturize, beautify, or improve an odor, but they often do lots of other bad stuff in the process. So the question is, do these products need these chemicals to work like we want them to, or are there alternative products that manage to use more natural and/or less harmful ingredients while still getting the job done? Indeed, there are, and today I’m going to share my findings with you.
Now, it’s fairly common for people to switch over to a Primal lifestyle and find they just don’t feel the need for all the lotions, creams, concealers, and other body care products they used to wear. Some even ditch shampoo, deodorant, and soap altogether. Still, though, that’s not everyone. I regularly received reader requests for safe cosmetics recommendations. So let’s look at some of these safer alternatives. I’ll try to include every possible category that falls under the “cosmetics” umbrella, but if I miss anything, don’t hesitate to let me know in the comment board.
When I say makeup, I refer to all those products people put on their faces, around their eyes, on their lips, and beside their noses. Powders and rouges and those sorts of things. Can you tell I know what I’m talking about? Anyway, the following brands are guaranteed to be free of the problem ingredients mentioned last time (plus most others).
100% Pure – They produce makeup and other cosmetics using food-grade plant-based ingredients (it’s safe to eat, so it’s probably safe to put on your body). They’ve also come up with their own preservative system to replace parabens, using a complex blend of herbs, vitamins, and antioxidants in place of industrial antimicrobials.
You’ve got your lotions, your creams, your face washes, your moisturizers, your body washes (isn’t that just a fancy name for soap?), and anything else that goes on your skin.
Weleda – Weleda grows the bulk of their ingredients in their own biodynamic gardens. All in all, they’ve got acres of gardens scattered across the world, including Germany, Netherlands, Brazil, New Zealand, and Argentina. This allows them to grow hundreds of species of medicinal plants from a variety of climates.
Dr. Bronner’s – No, it’s not Dr. Bonner’s. It’s Bronner, and it’s made with all organic ingredients, mostly oils, including coconut, olive, peppermint, and jojoba. I don’t think you need much else other than this stuff. You can use it as regular soap, hand soap, shampoo, and even toothpaste. Just be careful with the liquid peppermint soap on the, ahem, sensitive areas of your body. You might want to dilute it. Dr. Bronner’s slightly crazy tendency to rant and rave on his bottles also makes for fantastic shower reading.
Suki – Drawing on an impressive list of plant-based ingredients, Suki makes “skincare systems” for every skin type.
Indigo Wild – They’re best known for their Zum Soap, made from goat’s milk, but the rest of their rapidly expanding skin care line is safe and effective.
Primal Life Organics – This is a skincare line made by a Primal/paleo adherent who’d been making personal care products for years before she decided to make a business of it. Everything is paleo, gluten-free, and vegan.
Trillium Organics – Trillium Organics is organic, obviously, with a line of non-toxic body care products, but they also make treatments for specific conditions, like acne, rosacea, eczema, dermatitis, and diaper rash.
Speaking of soaps, what about replacements for anti-bacterial handsoaps containing triclosan? As I said last time, triclosan actually is quite effective at targeting bacteria. If your hands are crawling with roving bands of disease-causing microbes, then, yeah, a triclosan blast will take care of them and leave you “better off.” Problem is all the other terrible stuff evidence suggests it does to our health. Luckily, we have this stuff called “soap and water” that does a fair job at cleaning our hands when they’re dirty.
Research shows that triclosan-containing hand soaps are “no more effective than plain soap at preventing infectious illness symptoms and reducing bacterial levels on the hands,” even when you’re talking about something as pernicious and deadly as C. diff. There’s also that fact that triclosan kills the bacteria, thus providing a powerful selective pressure for future evolution of antibiotic resistance, while soap and water wash the bacteria off your hands and down the drain. Unless it begins selecting for clingier bacteria who can hang on to human skin better, there’s no danger of antibiotic resistance developing from basic hand washing with regular soap. Overall, basic soap is still best. Since some bacteria exposure is important for health, you probably don’t want to kill it all outright.
There’s an argument to be made in favor of going entirely without shampoo, but that doesn’t work for everyone. Some folks need/want shampoo and conditioner, only without the parabens and other toxic chemicals. People, even Primal people, also have the funny desire to style their hair into shapes, to stand in front of the mirror, tousle it and puff it up and make it stay in place. To look good, in other words (and not just naked). If you’re spraying your entire head with a mist of potentially toxic liquid to do that, you definitely want a safer option. Here are a few companies making hair products you can also use to style your hair, clean your hair, and make a good salad dressing.
Yarok Hair – All the regular bad ingredients are absent from their line of shampoos, conditioners, and hair styling products.
DIY hair wax – This recipe uses beeswax and coconut oil to create a styling, moldable hair wax free of any toxic or unpronounceable ingredients.
All of the cosmetics I’ve already mentioned can technically be used by men, but the average male won’t be applying much lipstick, mascara, or age-defying lotion, however edible and natural it may be. They are more likely to use “men’s products,” however. By men’s products, I refer to shaving products, beard care, cologne, and skin care targeted at men.
Eco-Beauty Organics – Men’s products are not their main focus, but they do offer a nice selection of aftershaves, lotions, and shaving creams.
OM4 – Organic Male makes organic skincare for men. This is a nice change of pace, since most other completely non-toxic men’s products are an afterthought for companies who focus on women.
Etsy – You can find some decent men’s colognes (plus other cosmetics, for that matter) on Etsy, like this one.
A decent homemade alternative to shaving cream, I’ve found, is a half teaspoon of really good extra virgin olive oil. The dogs (and Italian food buffs) you meet will, however, attempt to lick you.
The alternative to chemical UV-filters are physical filters. You’ve got shade – umbrellas, clothing, hats, a roof over our head, that sort of thing that we all know about – and then you’ve got the physical filters that we apply to our skin: zinc oxide. These are the white shmears you see on beach-goers’ skin from time to time. You might have just thought they were really, really bad at rubbing in their sunblock, but they were just avoiding oxybenzone by using zinc oxide.
Zinc oxide is the most effective and safest UV-filter. It’s a purely physical filter, meaning it sits on top of your skin and prevents UV damage, acting as a physical barrier. It’s just as effective as a chemical filter like oxybenzone without the side effects. If you’ve already got enough unfiltered sunlight for the day’s vitamin D needs and want some UV protection, zinc oxide is your best, safest bet.
Badger Balm – All their products are good, but the sunscreens are the most renown. They are very thorough with the science behind their sunscreens, and they run regular tests to confirm the safety of their zinc oxide formula. Best of all, they’ve managed to minimize the whitening without increasing the potential for toxicity.
Kabana Skincare – Another good sunscreen source that uses zinc oxide. They’ve even got a formula with added vitamin D, presumably to make up for the UVB you’re blocking. Not sure if that actually works, but it certainly can’t hurt.
Mexitan – They don’t just make non-toxic, zinc oxide-based sunblock. They also offer recommendations for beach resorts and produce safe self-tanner.
Some folks claim they can go without anything under their arms as long as their diet is “clean” enough, but I don’t know. I’d say it’s good practice to have something on hand, just in case your confidence turns out to be hubris. If you don’t want the aluminum, artificial fragrances, and other nasties found in regular products, you’ve got plenty of choices.
Primal Pit Paste – The best deodorant ever. It’s coconut based, so you can probably eat it in a pinch.
Barring a product, you can also throw together your own:
Coconut and baking soda – Mix roughly equal parts of coconut oil and baking soda. It’s a bit goopy, especially in warm weather, but it gets the job done. I hear that adding some arrowroot flour or cornstarch will reduce the goopiness.
Obviously, this is far from being a complete list of all worthy alternatives. The demand for non-toxic cosmetics is only growing, and new companies are constantly emerging to address it. Be sure to leave your personal favorites in the comment section so that others can check them out.
If you’re curious about the products you use, or a new one that you’re considering, enter it on the Skin Deep database to learn about the safety (or toxicity) of its ingredients.
Mark Sisson is the founder of Mark’s Daily Apple, godfather to the Primal food and lifestyle movement, and the New York Times bestselling author of The Keto Reset Diet. His latest book is Keto for Life, where he discusses how he combines the keto diet with a Primal lifestyle for optimal health and longevity. Mark is the author of numerous other books as well, including The Primal Blueprint, which was credited with turbocharging the growth of the primal/paleo movement back in 2009. After spending three decades researching and educating folks on why food is the key component to achieving and maintaining optimal wellness, Mark launched Primal Kitchen, a real-food company that creates Primal/paleo, keto, and Whole30-friendly kitchen staples.