An eco-friendly bathroom doesn’t just start and end with purging all the plastic from your life. There are many other things to consider when moving toward a zero-waste lifestyle….like the ingredients in your favorite products.
Parabens, sulfates, sulfites, SLS… We’ve all heard of the big bad chemicals commonly found in personal care products and been warned to steer clear. But, what about the unsustainable, and potentially harmful, ingredients that are masquerading as ‘natural’ ingredients? Or, the natural ingredients that have a hidden, horrific impact on the ecosystem?
Believe it or not, there are a ton of unsustainable ingredients found in your favorite personal care and bath products that are petroleum products or are inherently damaging to the environment.
A couple of these sneaky ingredients may already be on your radar, but a few may surprise you. To help you make the best healthy personal care product decisions possible, I’m going to break down the top 5 unsustainable ingredients to avoid for a healthy and eco-friendly bathroom, and what ingredients to look for on the label instead.
5 Unsustainable Ingredients to Avoid in Your Personal Care Products
(and what to look for instead)
Personally, I’m a big fan of organic and all-natural personal care products, especially DIY. If I can’t pronounce what’s in it, I don’t particularly want to spread it all over my body.
But, there are those ingredients that I can pronounce but still don’t trust.
So, I take it a step further: If I can’t eat it, I won’t put it on my skin.
So, that brings us to a few of those no-no ingredients that are a toxic combination of inedible, unsustainable, and just plain gross:
Mineral oil is a major ingredient in the mainstream bath and body industry because it is cheap and easy to incorporate into any recipe.
While it is technically a ‘natural’ product, it is a colorless and odorless liquid distilled from minerals; most often it is a direct byproduct of petroleum refining.
One of the biggest culprits of mineral oil in your medicine cabinet is probably Baby Oil.
We ALL used it at one point in our lives. Either our moms slathered us up after a bath when we were kids or we used it as a tanning accelerant while soaking up some sun.
Now that we’ve gotten the nostalgia out of the way, ditch anything with mineral oil as quickly as possible.
Especially if it’s the first ingredient on the label.
TIP: Bath and body ingredients are listed in order of volume percentage. So, the ingredient that is listed first on the label is the ingredient that is most prevalent in the recipe.
For example; a label might only list 3 ingredients with water being first among them. That likely means that water accounts for more than 30% of the contents
Plus, many big-name lotion brands use mineral oil as a base ingredient to create a barrier on the skin that makes us believe that it’s softer when in reality it’s actually suffocating your skin with a layer of oil.
What to Look for Instead:
Castor Oil – If you love the slippery feel of mineral oil products, look for castor oil in the list of ingredients instead. This natural carrier oil is thick and viscous, providing much the same end result.
While palm oil is a natural and healthy ingredient found in your personal care products, the way that affordable palm oil is harvested is incredibly detrimental to the environment and the ecosystem.
Most notably; palm oil farming directly causes massive deforestation and habitat destruction
You may have heard that wild orangutan, specifically the Sumatran orangutan, are critically endangered and stand on the brink of extinction.
Clearcutting and deforestation efforts to pave the way for palm plantations are forcing orangutan out of their natural habitat and into civilized villages in search of food and shelter. If the animals don’t die in the fires set to clear the land, they suffer at the hands of the local population.
Most recently, the story of Hope, an orangutan mother, and her newborn baby, published by The New York Times opened the hearts and minds of consumers everywhere to the destruction of palm oil plantations.
But, awareness isn’t enough. Palm oil and palm kernel oil is found in nearly every single food and personal care product on the market right now.
Plus, palm oil and its derivatives are very sneakily labeled as various other ingredients that aren’t obvious. So, if you’re serious about avoiding palm oil, here’s a comprehensive look at what everyday products contain non-sustainable palm oil.
What to Look for Instead:
Coconut Oil – Coconut oil is a fabulous direct replacement for palm oil in cooking and bath and body. It is a very similar consistency and melting point, so many eco-conscious brands are making the switch from palm to coconut.
Ethically Sourced Palm Oil – You don’t have to completely forego palm oil altogether to make a difference. Look for sustainable or ethically sourced palm oil in the ingredients list. Many vegan brands work hard to make sure that their products have no ill effects on the environment and ecosystems that they come from.
Paraffin Wax & Liquid Paraffin
You’ve heard of paraffin dips? Yea, we all have. Paraffin wax is pretty widely used in the beauty industry. But, what you don’t know is that it’s actually a petroleum product.
Paraffin wax is a byproduct of petroleum, shale oil, and coal production and is known to clog pores and be generally bad for your skin and health. The liquid form of paraffin is also flammable, so there’s that.
Not to mention the impact that it’s production has on the environment!
But, tons of brands still use paraffin in their product line.
Most recognizably, you can find paraffin wax in candles, lip balm, lipsticks, diaper creams, eczema creams, and many ultra-dry skin treatments.
What to Look for Instead:
Ethically Sourced Beeswax – Some vegans have sworn off beeswax, but like palm oil, beeswax can be sourced ethically. Many ethical honey farms sell the refined beeswax, as it’s a natural byproduct of the process and must be removed from the hives.
Soy Wax – Soy is such a universal vegan replacement for many ingredients in this list. It’s great for personal care products AND candles (soy candles burn for so long).
Candelila Wax – This is a personal favorite of mine for DIY lip balms and solid perfumes. It’s a wax derived from the Euphorbiaceae bush native to Mexico. Coincidentally, the sap from this plant is toxic to humans and animals but the wax is awesome.
Fragrance can be found in nearly everything, even the products that are advertised as ‘fragrance-free’ or ‘unscented’. The fact is that most ingredients have an inherent scent of their own, which must be overridden to maintain the advertised scent or lack thereof.
The fact is that any product listing ‘fragrance’ or ‘parfum’ in their ingredients list is likely using a synthetic chemical scent derived from diethyl phthalate, and as we know, phthalates are bad news bears.
Typically, something listed as ‘fragrance’ or ‘parfum’ may be using any combination of over 3,000 recorded chemicals.to achieve the desired scent, many of which have been found to contribute to or exacerbate asthma symptoms or skin sensitivity.
What to Look for Instead:
Essential Oils – Essential oils are natural scents extracted directly from plants, most often through steam distillation or cold pressing. EOs are concentrated and are typically suspended in a carrier oil to ensure safety and longevity.
There are many different types of essential oils, and some are not recommended for topical use or ingestion, so do your research.
Hydrosols – Hydrosols are very similar to essential oils in that they are natural, steam-distilled extracts from plants, but they tend to be far less concentrated and are mixed with water. A common hydrosol you may have come across is rose water.
Absolutes – Similar to essential oils, absolutes are a concentrated scent derived from plants. Typically, absolutes are made from certain herbs and plants that don’t take well to steam distillation and are made with a solvent extraction process. Common absolutes are rose and jasmine.
Found in tons of common bathroom products like lip balm, lotion, Vaseline, and Vick’s Vapor Rub, petroleum jelly is a naughty ingredient hiding in plain sight.
A cousin of mineral oil, petroleum jelly has many of the same characteristics and drawbacks. It is non-water soluble and acts as a barrier on the skin to both keep existing moisture in and keep any more moisture from getting in. While many people like this because it technically helps chapped skin (lips) heal, it also prevents the skin from breathing.
Plus, the European Food Safety Authority has determined that Mineral Oil Aromatic Hydrocarbons (MOHA) are possibly carcinogenic, with Vaseline brand products being the biggest culprit.
However, petroleum jelly is one of the only petroleum refining byproducts that doesn’t hide behind a fancy name and is easily recognizable on labels.
What to Look for Instead:
Unfortunately, there isn’t a true replacement for petroleum jelly, but some close natural alternatives are unrefined coconut oil, shea butter, and cocoa butter.
Waxelene is another option that combines several natural ingredients for a more ‘Vaseline-like’ consistency.
Then, there are those ingredients that aren’t necessarily ‘bad’ for you or the environment but are non-vegan and are often a byproduct of the meat and fishing industries. But, those are a whole new can of worms that we’ll unwrap at a later date.
Is Your Bathroom Harboring Unsustainable Ingredients?
Now that you know what to look for, is your bathroom a cesspool of naughty, unsustainable ingredients that are bad for you and the environment?
Mine, too. Ugh.
Luckily, we can do something about that by being aware and bringing awareness to others, checking labels, and being cautious about what you bring into your home.
Personally, I’ve known about some of these ingredients for a while and have avoided them like the plague. But, there are others that I didn’t realize were harmful and I will definitely be avoiding them in the future.
As always, if you loved what I had to say or if you have a question or comment about a specific ingredient, feel free to leave me a comment below. You can also follow the discussion by joining the FB community or subscribing to the blog.