The other day while reading The Non-Consumer Advocate, I saw the funniest little video about cleaning products. It made me laugh out loud — and I do mean loud — and had me nodding my head in agreement too. Here’s the video:
Are you giggling yet?
Don’t worry, I’m not going to jump up on an environmental soapbox and tell you all about the evils of harsh chemical cleaners, and I really won’t peek under your sink and tsk-tsk my way across the myriad bottles and boxes of toxic goop to be found there. I’m just going to share my story.
This little video has made me realize how much our house has changed over the last three years. We’ve gone from having a massive assortment of cleaning products and shampoos and conditioners and soaps and skin creams and facial cleansers to having so few products that I can count them on my fingers and not run out of fingers. And yes, that includes getting rid of shampoo. The change was initiated by health issues — severe allergic reactions involving four straight months of itch and discomfort and red skin and unsightly raised bumps that turned out to be a reaction to the chemicals in the stuff around us. Immediately we began to change our habits, and slowly but surely we’ve been making more changes and realizing that we truly don’t need all the overhyped toxic goop we’re told we need — and in fact it really isn’t that good for us in the first place.
We began with the laundry. First we switched to perfume-free and phosphate free detergent, then dryer balls instead of dryer sheets. We also immediately switched to hypoallergenic body soaps and stopped using bubble bath and bath gels and tub tints and all those other fun things kids like to add to their bathwater. While the allergy issue didn’t go away, at least it stopped getting worse. Since those changes obviously weren’t drastic enough, we moved to an organic castile-soap laundry soap from Nature Clean whose ingredient list is impressively understandable. It lists things like “water” and “palm kernel oil” and “baking soda” instead of multisyllabic and unpronounceable mystery chemicals like most other laundry detergents. It is also hypoallergenic (hurray!), non-toxic (double-hurray!) and completely biodegradable.
With the allergic reaction under control for the first time in months, I felt like patting myself on the back and cheering. We sailed along smoothly for a few days… until the hug. Suddenly, it was back. The tender skin under your chin and around your neck, the side of your face, your ear, the palms of your hands, the insides of your arms… all those places where a child touches the clothing of the adult they just hugged were fiery red and itchy and painful within minutes of hugging a parent who had grabbed a not-recently-worn t-shirt out of the drawer and thrown it on. So began days and days and days of laundry, with every single textile in the house getting washed in Nature Clean and dried without any chemical additives whatsoever.
That night, I sat on the edge of the bathtub with a puddle of gentle baby shampoo in my hand and I wondered. Did I dare use it? What was in it? No, really, what was in it? The ‘gentle’ and ‘perfume-free’ laundry soap had turned out to be a problem and really, soap is soap, and shampoo is really just soap for your hair… what was in the puddle of shiny yellow shampoo in my hand? It was scented, it was not marked hypoallergenic, and the label had all sorts of over-syllabled words that were just gibberish to me. I rationalized my way through it, thinking “we’ve always used it, it’s always seemed fine… surely it will be fine to use it. Won’t it?” But the doubt remained.
About a week later, I attended a workshop by a Bare Organics rep who just happens to be a friend of a friend. It was eye-opening to say the least. It also left me with a list of resources, things to read, websites to visit, and a video to watch: ’10 Americans.’ It gave me chills and had me questioning everything. At the end of the workshop, there was a table laid out with some of the products Bare Organics sells, including a shampoo bar. Organic shampoo, with ingredients I could understand, scented with rosemary, and no unpronounceable toxic chemicals anywhere. Essentially, it is a natural castile-based bar soap that works great on body and hair alike. I bought a bar, just to try it out.
Of course, I knew, the way everybody knows, that your hair needs shampoo to get the dirt and oil out, and conditioner to put the oil back in. I had never before thought about what shampoo is made of, nor how toxic it really is. And then, there was the fear of change… Would a bar of soap really work? What about the conditioner? I had never really thought about what goes into shampoo and conditioner, or when they were invented (not that long ago, as it turns out), or what people did before shampoos and conditioners became necessary ingredients in our bathroom soup. Was this going to work?
That night, I tried it out on the kids, and I almost cried at the results. Actually, if I am to be completely honest with you, I did cry. You see, their hair came out shiny and lovely and clean, with just the delicate scent of rosemary, but that’s not the part that made me cry. What made me cry was that as I was towelling them dry, then 4-year old B exclaimed “Mommy! I’m not itchy AT ALL! My head doesn’t itch! My head doesn’t itch!” and then proceeded to dance and skip all around the narrow bathroom with a huge grin on her face.
My darling girl had been itchy her entire life and we had no idea. She had never known a single day without itching, and so she didn’t know that it wasn’t normal to itch like that. That normal people don’t walk around itchy all the time. That heads aren’t supposed to be uncomfortable balls of itchiness sitting on top of your shoulders. It took us so long to figure out that she was reacting to the chemicals we slathered all over her body daily because she had never, ever in her life known differently, and so it never occured to her to complain about it. I cried. I felt like the worst mom in the universe.
And I immediately threw out all of the kids shampoos, and mine too. S’true. We don’t ‘poo anymore. Not even a little ‘poo. We use water, and plain organic soap, and an apple-cider vinegar solution once in a while as a conditioner, and sometimes epsom salts or baking soda.
One thing I’ve noticed since going no perfume and no ‘poo is that things smell differently. My nose isn’t overwhelmed by the smell of my own clothes and hair, and so I’ve become more sensitive to the smells around me. I notice flowers just by walking by them — no need to bend down and stick my nose right in, I can smell them from where I stand. I can smell the weather in ways I never could before. When the temperature gets down below 5 degrees (which it has been at night lately), the air smells differently. It smells… cold. Crisp. Fresh. Clean. Rain has a smell. Rain has a myriad of smells, in fact, depending on whether or not the lightning is flashing, how hot is has been outside, and what is in bloom and getting tossed about by raindrops. Sunshine has a smell, warm and rich, just begging you to play outside.
My windows are open more since we stopped using ‘poo, because the scent of nature is just too delicious not to invite indoors, even if it does mean you’ll need to wear a sweater or curl up under a blanket. I haven’t turned the furnace on yet either, and I’m trying to delay that as long as I can in this cold climate of ours. We’ll be stuck behind closed doors and windows enough this winter, why hurry it along?
Today, when I watched the Shiny Suds commercial, I laughed out loud when that poor woman came face to face with her shiny suds, but as the video went on to show her lathering up with mounds of bubbles running down her legs, I thought “they’re only telling half the story!” It’s true that the toxins in the cleaning products you use persist long after the cleaning is done, and that they are absorbed into the human body through our skin and our respiratory tract as we go about our daily life (asthma, anyone?)… but it is also true that the very soaps and shampoos and conditioners that she goes on to use are just as bad. They’re full of toxins and allergens to make them creamy and make them spread easily and make them suds nicely and make them last longer, as well as god-knows-what chemical nastiness hidden under the catch-all terms “fragrance” and “parfum,” almost totally unregulated in today’s cosmetics industry. The shiny suds commercial is only half the story.
Here’s the other half:
For more information about the other half of the story, check out these resources:
Skin Deep cosmetic safety database
And, finally, the video ’10 Americans’ (in 3 parts)