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I’m on a never-ending mission to swap the chemicals in my life for healthier alternatives. My body care products are a top priority and I want all their ingredients to be from plants and minerals. It’s a worthy goal, but when I first started on my journey, it felt impossible.
There are a number of reasons why my switch to (truly) natural body care was not as easy as I’d hoped… at least not at first. For starters, even Whole Foods carries products with questionable ingredients. Sure, they’re better than conventional supermarket and drugstore brands, but you still have to read the label. You also have to have the time and patience (I am blessed with neither) to scan your potential buys into EWG’s Healthy Living App to figure out which impossible-to-pronounce ingredients are rated healthy — or not.
Then, when you do find the healthiest products, there’s the matter of cost.
Fortunately, over time I’ve found plenty of alternative and DIY options, which we’ll get to in a minute. First, let’s look at why you may not be able to find what you’re looking for right off the shelf.
This article covers:
- The challenge with healthy body care products
- Easy DIY alternatives
- Simple (and often ‘single’) ingredient swaps
- Hair spray/gel
The challenge with healthy body care products
First, labels can be deceiving, so truly healthy products can be difficult to find. If you walk the hair and body care aisle of most supermarkets, you’ll see an endless assortment of pretty labels with pictures of aloe and lavender, all coupled with claims of “natural” and “dermatologist recommended”.
Then you flip the label and see chemicals that are known skin irritants, such as cocamidopropyl betaine and sodium laureth sulfate. Or you’ll find chemicals that have been flagged for possible organ toxicity, such as certain polyethylene glycols (PEG-8 Distearate or, as in the above example, PEG-20 almond glycerides) and Benzyl Alcohol. The list goes on. And on, and on…
Natural alternatives can be pricy
While you still have to check the ingredients on the products you buy from Whole Foods (and other healthier markets), you can absolutely find healthier alternatives there. However, do be prepared to pay more than you would for conventional brands. I wish this wasn’t the case, but the reality is that chemicals are cheap, easy to produce, and they don’t spoil as botanical ingredients do.
By contrast, plants have to be cultivated and nurtured over time. They need time, attention, and acres of land to grow. Plus, they are subject to hurricanes, drought, and other whims of Mother Nature that don’t apply to chemical labs. To top it off, most of the healthier, plant- and mineral-based products out there are made by smaller brands that don’t benefit from the economies of scale that larger companies enjoy.
It’s not easy for these smaller companies to compete with the big labels. I truly want these more thoughtful brands to succeed and I buy their products whenever I can. But let’s face it, a high price tag is a high price tag and it’s not always in the budget. So, along my journey to a healthier lifestyle, I’ve also found affordable ways to get — or make — the natural products that satisfy my high standards for quality.
And that quality, by the way, is not dictated solely by price.
High price doesn’t mean high quality
Just because you pay more for a product with a pretty label, doesn’t mean it’s healthy. There are plenty of fancy pants products — at fancy pants department stores and boutique shops alike — that are filled with harmful chemicals. These brands are essentially selling low quality (in my book), toxin-filled products with high price tags and elegant labels. Don’t be fooled!
La Mer is a great example. Their famous (and famously expensive) Creme de la Mer is full of some wonderfully healthy botanical ingredients (sunflower oil, sesame oil, and seaweed/algae extract)… alongside some pretty harmful junk.
Ingredients such as fragrance (hormone disruptor), methylisothiazolinone (high allergen, possible neurotoxin), and petrolatum (from petroleum) do not scream “quality” to me. (See their full ingredients ranking in EWG’s Skin Deep Database to see what you get for $150 to $200 per ounce – yikes!)
Always check the ingredients, no matter whose name is on the label, how natural or high-end their branding appears, or how healthy the store or online shop is where you found it may be.
Easy DIY alternatives
One great way to save some money AND ensure your body care products don’t have chemicals is to make them yourself. There are a zillion recipes out there and some are definitely easier to make than others. But you can usually make them in bulk and divvy them up into smaller containers.
Since natural ingredients do go bad, you’ll want to refrigerate or freeze what you don’t immediately need. Or for fun, you can throw a DIY party and split everything up with friends. This way, you can share in the cost of the ingredients and nothing goes to waste.
DIY natural body care recipes on Pinterest
Pinterest is an amazing resource for finding DIY body care. I’ve been gathering healthy and (mostly) easy recipes as I come across them and will continue to add to these boards over time.
I’m posting the Pinterest boards here for your convenience. Let me know which you end up trying and whether you love or hate them!
- DIY natural soap and shampoo
- DIY natural moisturizer
- DIY natural deodorant
- DIY natural oral care
- DIY natural face masks & body scrubs
- DIY natural ointments and cures
Simple ingredient swaps
We often don’t need multi-ingredient products, DIY or otherwise. An easier way to save on healthier hair and body care is to use just one or two individual ingredients without having to actually make anything. Here are a few examples.
Plant oils as a moisturizer — a single ingredient!
Plant oils are nutrient-rich and highly moisturizing for your skin all on their own. You can add a few drops of organic or wildcrafted essential oil to any of the nutritious carrier oils below if you like, but it’s not necessary. Either way, it’s best to buy all your oils (carrier or essential) as organic, if that’s in the budget.
- I’ve read countless testimonials by folks who suffer from acne that oil-free moisturizers weren’t helping their skin and switching to pure grapeseed oil was the one thing that finally cleared the pimples.
- Jojoba oil is known to be deeply conditioning for both hair and body.
- Sweet almond oil is great for massages and can be really helpful if your skin is prone to rashes.
- Avocado oil is thought to lighten age spots and other pigmentation issues.
- Sesame oil has anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties, making it great for acne-prone skin. (Blend it with almond oil if the scent is too strong for you.)
Nutrient-Rich Plant-Based Oils by Plant Therapy
Natural shampoo and conditioner — no poo!
I haven’t yet tried what’s called the “no-poo method“, which is short for saying the “no-shampoo method”. However, I have several friends who love love love it and it’s on my (ever-growing) list of things to try. The short of it is that you can wash your hair with baking soda that’s been diluted in water. Then follow it with a conditioning apple cider vinegar rinse (also diluted), which neutralizes your hair’s pH.
No-poo’ers find they only have to wash their hair a few times a month. In between baking soda washes, some will detox their hair with bentonite clay and occasionally do a deep conditioning hair mask with coconut oil or jojoba oil.
It can take your hair a couple of months to adjust to the no-poo method, so ponytails and hats may become your friend. But if you can stick it out, your hair will (they say) be detoxed and gorgeous in no time.
Also read: Want Healthier Hair? Try a Healthier Shampoo
Witch hazel as an aftershave or toner
For a clean, fragrance-free aftershave or skin toner, simply dab on some all-natural witch hazel and call it a day. Witch hazel comes from the bark and leaves of the hamamelis virginiana, which is a plant that is native to North America. It is a traditional skin healing astringent, long known to help with acne, insect bites, poison ivy, and more. Some manufacturers add a synthetic fragrance or alcohol to their witch hazel, so do check the label to make sure it’s pure.
Aloe in place of hair spray or hair gel
In place of hair spray or gel, just dab a bit of aloe vera gel and style, as usual. You can also use aloe as a pre-wash to help with dandruff, or as a post-wash in place of conditioner.
Toothpaste / tooth powder
I haven’t used regular toothpaste in years. Instead, I use a natural tooth powder made from baking soda, coconut oil, and activated charcoal that I buy from a guy at my local farmer’s market. If you’re a DIY’er, you could use just baking soda plus activated charcoal. Add a tablespoon or two of coconut oil, if you prefer more of a paste than powder, plus a few drops of peppermint, clove, and/or cinnamon essential oils.
Some folks worry about the taste of the baking soda, but honestly, it doesn’t taste like much of anything. Maybe it has a teensy tiny bit of bitterness at first, but you won’t notice it after a couple uses. And I have to say is that my teeth feel like I’ve just been to the dentist… every single day. I also don’t wake up with a nasty film on my tongue anymore.
Of course, I don’t just brush my teeth, I also brush my tongue, the roof of my mouth, inside my cheeks, my gums, and inside my upper and lower lip (opposite my gums). It only takes a few extra seconds, but what a difference it makes!
I’m a fan of plain ol’ hydrogen peroxide as a mouthwash swish. It doesn’t taste like anything and I like that I can feel the fizzy bubbles doing their job. I also keep a small spray bottle of organic peppermint essential oil with me for a quick mouth spritz after meals and throughout the day.
Since ancient times, salt has been used to preserve foods, because it naturally prevents the growth of bacteria. For the same reason, salt bars have become a popular, all-natural deodorant for those looking to remove toxins from their lives.
Do note that the salt does not prevent us from sweating; rather it creates an environment where the malodorous microbes cannot survive.
There are two types of deodorant salt bars. One I have used and feel confident recommending: Himalayan salt stones. Many in the natural world use the other type, crystal salt stones, but I find it a bit dubious and personally wouldn’t use it. Here’s a bit of context…
Himalayan salt stones (recommended)
I dig Himalayan salt stones. The salt is naturally sourced, then sanded and polished into different shapes. To use it as a deodorant bar, simply wet it, rub it on your hands, and then rub your hands onto your armpits to transfer the salt.
You definitely don’t want to rub the salt bar directly onto your armpits or other soft-skin areas, especially with freshly shaved skin. Been there, done that, regretted it. Salt is salt and it does scratch and itch! Applied properly, you can use the salt anywhere on your body that sweats — feet, back, crotch, wherever.
Also, it’s best to apply the salt to freshly washed skin, because it’s NOT going to do a great job of neutralizing the bacteria that has already built up. What it WILL do is prevent new bacteria from stinkin’ up your pits.
Crystal salt stones (not recommended)
Despite being popular in the world of natural living, I wouldn’t use crystal salt stones myself and would not feel comfortable recommending them. To be fair, they may be perfectly safe. But maybe not. I couldn’t find studies either way and I’m not taking my chances.
Folks claim the crystal salt stones are more effective than Himalayan salt and that may be true. When you find this type of salt in premade deodorants in stores, it will often be listed as either ammonium alum or potassium alum. Both of these natural mineral ingredients are rated well on the Skin Deep Database (here and here), yet you usually don’t see either called out directly on the ingredients label.
Instead, you’ll usually see them listed as “potassium mineral salt” or just “mineral salts”, presumably so the brand can steer clear of using the word “alum”. I find this lack of transparency unsettling.
Aluminum is the ingredient that most folks already know to avoid in deodorant and I’d be willing to bet that a fair percentage of crystal salt customers would think twice before buying an alum-containing product if the brand were more forthcoming about what TYPE of salt it really is.
If for some reason, you can’t use salt as a deodorant (it can be itchy on sensitive skin) or you don’t find that salt stones work for you, there are still plenty of natural-ingredient deodorants to choose from. Many aluminum-free brands use activated charcoal and/or baking soda as a key ingredient in their deodorant since they can safely and sensitively neutralize odor and absorb moisture. Obviously, you’ll want to check their other ingredients as well, to make sure they don’t contain unwanted synthetics.
Do note that natural deodorants often include tea tree oil, which is great for taking care of the smelly bacteria, but it can be bothersome for some.
Baking Soda is Aluminum-Free
Baking soda is and always has been aluminum-free. It’s baking powder that can contain aluminum. When buying baking powder, always look for “aluminum-free” on the label. When buying baking soda, you’ll sometimes see the words “aluminum- free”, but that’s only because the makers know how often people confuse baking soda for baking powder. If your baking soda does NOT say “aluminum-free”, it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t have any aluminum in it.
Be nice to your body AND your wallet
Some of the ingredients we discussed (like baking soda, olive oil, coconut oil, and essential oils) can be used in multiple body care recipes, as well as in home cleaning recipes. So yes, it may be an adjustment to switch over from your go-to products, but it won’t take long before you see the benefits — both with your hair and body, as well as with your wallet.
It’s also worth noting that while the transition to single and DIY products is already fairly easy, it gets even easier over time, as they become part of your daily routine. Plus, it’s incredibly satisfying to drop the commercial products in favor of simple ingredients. And if you’re DIY’ing, it is so much fun to craft your own products and customize them exactly the way you like!