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To be Green and Beautiful

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Being kind to Mother Earth with responsible, environmentally friendly choices has been the mantra of my peers since the days of Woodstock, but this way of life has been second nature to my son’s twenty-something generation. It has been wonderful to see how “being green” has changed from a rebellious attitude by a small group of people to the large, accepted movement it has become today. Those of us from the 70's moved to the country to build our own energy efficient house and cultivate organic gardens, where as most colleges today offer vegetarian and vegan food, organic food is easily available, hybrid cars are in demand, and more. 

Now, it is much easier to make wiser, ecologically correct choices when it comes to the foods we eat, the cars we drive, and the appliances we use. More manufacturers are complying with the growing demand to “go green.” As consumers, we need to develop the habit of thinking more about what we purchase. You probably think a lot about the food choices you make, but have you thought about the personal care products in your bathroom? Most grooming products have been made to provide results without much concern about possible harm to our bodies as well as harm to the environment caused by questionable ingredients, wasteful packaging, and inefficient manufacturing practices. This carelessness is about to change.

As you ponder the reliability of the cosmetics in your home, you should know that the U.S. government does not certify the safety of these items with the same resolution they regulate the foods we eat. Since the FDA (Food and Drug Association) is not required to regulate the personal care products industry, no one is monitoring possible health risks or environmental pollution. In addition, no real label requirements are enforced. Even when the word “natural” is used on the label, the cosmetic in question can still contain toxic, un-natural substances. If that is not scary enough, because of the lack of regulation, not all ingredients are necessarily identified. For example, some harmful chemicals may be hidden in hand lotion because they are only listed on the label as fragrance, a catchall phrase that includes synthetic and questionable substances. Before you take that next beauty product to the cash register, be smart and read the label with a new understanding. Remember that what is bad for your body may also be bad for our planet.

I recommend various ingredients to avoid, beginning with something called phthalates, which are so harmful that they are actually banned in Europe. Found in fragrances, shampoos, soaps, nail polish and moisturizers, these chemicals are thought to be carcinogens and may cause harm to the reproductive system as well.On the label, they may be listed as DBP (dibutylphtha- late) or DEP (diethylphthalate). If you see such an ingredient on the product you have selected, put it back on the store shelf.

Other compounds that must be avoided are known as parabens. Used as preservatives, they are listed on labels as methylparaben, propylparaben, ehtylparaben and butylparaben. Found to be carcinogenic, research has demonstrated they increase the risk for breast cancer. Look for skin care products that claim to be paraben free.

Be particularly alert when buying soaps and shampoos. Sudsing agents such as SLS (sodium laureth sulfate) have been implicated in skin irritations, hormone imbalances, and may even be carcinogenic. Take your time and read labels.

When I first moved to Florida from rural Maine in 1980, I began to use nail polish religiously. After many years of wearing dark heavy coats and snowmobile boots, it was easy converting to brightly colored, light clothing. Coordinating my wardrobe with my nail polish was fun and exciting. I had fallen in love with color. However, the fumes from the nail polish and especially the nail polish remover made me feel sick. It was a short love affair. Nail polish is notoriously toxic! Known to contain formaldehyde (a carcinogen), toluene (can damage our nervous systems), and phthalates (men- tioned earlier), nail polishes and removers may cause more harm than good. But things are changing. There are some new attempts by manufacturers to create nail products with less harmful chemicals. Go out of your way and look for these better polishes. 

In fact, a new paradigm shift is beginning to take place in the cosmetic industry. A new generation of ecologically conscious and socially responsible companies is springing up with the goal of creating products that can be nourishing without causing harm to our bodies or to Mother Earth. It is now possible to be green and beautiful. Look for products containing USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) Certified Organic ingredients. Organic plants are grown without the use of harmful chemicals that pollute the earth or cause harm to our bodies. When using shampoo or a facial moisturizer made with organic ingredients, we are using a much safer product to use than those that are loaded with artificial chemicals and additives.

By supporting the organic movement, you help to nurture Mother Earth. Farmers who grow the organic botanicals benefit because they are not exposed to harmful fertilizers. Their land is not polluted, the nearby waterways are not exposed to toxic run-offs, and ultimately, the product you apply to your skin will not be toxic. It’s an ecologically sound chain of events. Look for products with the USDA Certified Organic logo. When that is not available, look for products that state the percent amount of organic ingredients used. The larger that percentage betters your chances of getting a purer product.

As you are thinking about which skin care product to purchase, have you given any thought to those organizations that provide the raw materials? Many of the herbs, flowers, and botanicals used in skin care products are grown in developing nations. These farmers work under very tough conditions and often are very poor. In order to protect these small farmers and small farming cooperatives against exploitation, there is a movement called fair trade in which the Fair Trade Association negotiates deals that ensure these farmers get fair wages for their crops. Look for the Fair Trade label to ensure that you have chosen a product manufactured in a respectful and socially conscious way.

Another factor to consider is packaging. Most of these items are packaged in fancy bottles and attractive boxes meant to call out to you. However, look again and think about how wasteful all the packaging might be. Is the box made from recycled materials? Is there too much packaging around the product? Ecologically minded companies are now packaging their products in more earth-friendly ways. Even using plastic containers can make a difference. At one time,plastics were considered to be of major benefit to our culture. That was then, and now we see that it is a very polluting substance, from its manufacturing to its disposal. Made from petroleum, plastic manufacturing creates air and water pollution. Workers in plants where PVC is made (Poly Vinyl Chloride), the most toxic of all plastics, are known to have a high incidence of liver cancer. Plastic containers are not biodegradable, and when buried in landfills, will last forever. They should be recycled. Always look at the bottom of the plastic container and choose those stamped with number one or number two because these are recyclable.

I predict there will be major changes in packaging as green- friendly containers are being developed. Already, there is a new plant-based alternative. Made of corn or sugarcane, these containers do not pollute, are very energy efficient, and not toxic.

When you take a shower next time, or stand in front of your mirror as you apply your morning moisturizer, take a second to think about what went into that product you are using. Is this company doing all it can to act in an earth-friendly and socially conscious way? Choose wisely, and you can make all the difference to help save the earth by supporting the green movement. 


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