This article was written in 2015. The information below is still relevant and shares my awakening to the truth of what I was putting on and in my body. For my post updated perspective and my current practice, read: My Natural Personal Hygiene and Preventative Health Care, published in 2023.
Not that long ago I had an entire cabinet full of products to put on my body. Shampoo, conditioner, body wash, deodorant, lotion, cologne, soap, face wash, astringent, toothpaste, mouth wash and chapstick are a few of the things I can remember, but there were more I’m sure. I thought I needed it to look good, smell good, feel good, and be healthy. I also thought since well-known companies made it, that it must all be safe. I assumed I couldn’t really go wrong with a US American brand sold in a US American store. Everything changed when I started doing a little research. I learned that I’d been persuaded to buy stuff I didn’t really need and had been lied to about the true effects of their products.
The big moment for me was in early 2012 when I watched The Story of Cosmetics. After watching that short video and doing some more research I took almost every body care product I had in my house and set it on the curb. I decided I would either replace it with a natural alternative or just not replace it at all.
I learned that all of the body care products I had in my house were full of toxic chemicals that had absolutely no benefit. Not only did they have no true benefit to my well-being but also it turned out that many of them actually had detrimental effects. When I read that only 11 percent of the 10,500 ingredients the FDA has documented in products have been assessed for safety I realized that the United States isn’t trying that hard to protect me at all.
My Listerine for example was full of harsh chemicals. I could stop right there and just say, why in the heck would I want ANY harsh chemicals in my mouth at all, but to give you a little more information I’ll continue. Listerine includes Poloxamer 407 as a detergent, saccharin, which causes bladder cancer in animals, fluoride, which is a systemic poison, sorbitol, synthetic colors, aromas and flavorings.
My lotion for example, contained “fragrance” which it turns out can be one or more of 200 different chemicals, which companies do not have to disclose. Fragrances have been associated with a range of side affects, including headaches and allergic reactions.
My Chapstick for example, had petroleum derivatives in it. Why would I want petroleum, derived from the same stuff that makes our gasoline, on my lips? Petrolatum has been linked to breast cancer. Menthol, camphor and phenol created a cooling, soothing sensation on my lips but it turns out they actually dry my lips in the long run. Chapstick was not treating the issue of my dry lips at all but actually making them worse.
My antiperspirant deodorant worked with aluminum based compounds, which plug the sweat ducts blocking the body’s ability to sweat. There is some science (not conclusive) that says this can be linked to cancer or Alzheimer’s. Even if that science is not true, I still decided I didn’t want to use the stuff. I realized that my antiperspirant deodorant prevented my body from sweating, but I never thought about the fact that that keeps the sweat, and everything that it contains, inside me that my body is trying to get out.
These are just a few examples, but I learned that it goes on and on and on. Most of the mainstream products on the shelf today are full of harmful chemicals, both to the person using it, the natural environment, and animals. Many of these companies test their products on animals, which is obviously not good at all. We don’t need to be rubbing products on the skin and in the eyes of mice, rats, rabbits, and guinea pigs to see if it will hurt them. And all of these toxins end up going down the drain into our water supply and leak into the natural environment. There are just so many issues associated with making these products with chemicals and in turn pumping our bodies full of these chemicals.
Even leaving aside the negative health and environmental impacts of the toxins in the products there were some basic things that I realized through this experience as well.
I realized the human body does not need, nor want all of these products in it and on it. Our bodies have developed over millions of years without this stuff and just because it was invented in the last couple hundred years does not mean the body needs it now.
Most of the products are only a temporary solution to the problems. Deodorant for example, can mask odors temporarily but can often make the odor problem worse in the long term. Lotion may make the skin smoother while it’s on but the chemicals can alter the basic flora of the skin causing your skin to be drier in the long run. Body wash takes away smells and dirt, sure, but with that, our natural body oil and beneficial bacteria that protects our skin is stripped away too. And chapstick, well we already discussed that. It actually makes lips more chapped!
I learned that it might go as far as some of these companies being corrupt. They may intentionally make the issues we are dealing with worse with their products so that we need to go back and buy more. If it’s not corruption, it’s a lack of understanding of how their products work. Either way I want no involvement with that.
By opening my eyes and expanding my mind, I realized there is a natural alternative to all the products on the big box shelves. I learned that I don’t need most of this stuff to look good, smell good, and feel good. I learned that I absolutely don’t need most of it be truly healthy. Now that I’ve gone back to the basics, my personal hygiene is so much healthier and enjoyable than ever before. I have a mere handful of items that I use, all of which are natural, and cause much less destruction to the environment and other animals. This also saves me a lot of money. I probably spend less than $50 per year on my personal hygiene. Here’s what I use now:
-Toothbrush, toothpaste and floss. Right now I brush with Jason Powersmile or auromere Ayurvedic toothpaste. Both of these keep my breath really fresh and my teeth white. However, I think my teeth stay the whitest by eating whole unpackaged foods and avoiding drinks with tannins such as coffee, red wine, and some teas. I also never smoke cigarettes and I brush just about every morning and every night and floss a handful of times per week.
–Dr. Bronner’s Soap. I use this for washing my hands and on a rare occasion will use some on my body. A small bottle lasts me a half-year or so because I use very little. I fill my soap up in bulk at the co-op so that I can use the same bottle over and over.
-Coconut oil. I use this as a natural moisturizer for my skin and also a few times per week I swish some around in my mouth. Also occasionally my girlfriend will style my hair with it when she wants me to look spiffy. Our skin is flourishing with living bacteria that work symbiotically with our skin and coconut oil does not negatively affect this flora.
-Essential oils. I use lavender for scent and relaxation, tea tree oil as a natural antiseptic, and Texas Cedar wood for scent.
I gave up showering over two years ago. It started with a bike ride across the United States, turned into a year without showering and now I have no desire to hop in a shower at all. Instead I just swim in a natural body of water every time I get a chance, which is typically at least five times per week. I find my skin to be functioning wonderfully when I stay away from chlorinated water (i.e. the shower).
More important than all of these things is my diet. Food is my greatest source of natural personal hygiene. The entire body is completely interconnected so whatever you put inside it is going to impact the outside as well including things like dry skin, acne, breath, and body odor. I eat a primarily whole, minimally processed, local and organic foods. This isn’t expensive either because I eat a lot of simple foods like rice, beans, lentils and whatever fruits and vegetables are in season and priced well. Alcohol has the tendency to throw my body off so I stay away from it most of the time. I have just a few glasses of beer per month on average (See: Why I Quit Drinking Alcohol).
In college when I was using chemical filled products and drinking a lot of alcohol I had body odor, acne, dry skin or oily skin depending on the day, and plenty of other issues. Today with my natural hygiene I don’t really have any issues at all. I haven’t used deodorant in three years or so and I almost never have bad body odor. I hug hundreds of people per year and they’d probably mostly all tell you the same thing. My skin always feels great, with just occasional dryness. My breath is really fresh and my girlfriend will definitely stand testament to that. I just can’t say enough positive things about living naturally.
I hope that you are excited with the idea of freedom from the corporations controlling your health, the cabinets full of products, and the money involved with all of that. And I hope you are excited at the idea of keeping all these chemicals off your body and out of the environment. I’m sure most of you won’t want to do exactly as I have done, so I’ve written some tips for you on how to Take Back Your Body! I recommend you start with one thing at a time and go from there. Each day you may find yourself more and more excited with your progress, which can make the next change easier to accomplish. Expect a transition period too. Some of these things could take some time but your body will likely adapt to your new way of life. Here are some of my suggestions:
Be comfortable in your own skin. Accept your body the way it is. You are wonderful just the way you are! No body is perfect. Be confident with who you are and people are likely to gravitate towards you more anyway.
Use natural cosmetics and body care items. Buy things that have only a few ingredients and ones that you can understand. A decent bet is to go to your local health food store or co-op. To be very sure, check products online with Environmental Working Group’s Cosmetics Database.
Cut back on your usage and the number of products you use. Go natural, simplify and save money! You likely don’t need as many items or as much of them as you might think. Get back to the basics.
Be ok with a little odor. Of course good hygiene is important but a little smell is natural. It can even be sexy!
Put wholistic food into your body. Your body reflects your diet. Aim to eat primarily whole, local, unpackaged, organic foods and avoid processed, industrial, plastic-wrapped, pesticide-sprayed food. Eat an abundance of nutritiously dense foods including plenty of fruits and veggies. See my guide here.
Pay attention to your body. It is a complex organism, but if you start to pay more attention you will likely naturally tune into your body and start to understand it more.
Treat yourself with natural medicines and remedies. Don’t jump right to the pills. There are so many natural ways to heal yourself including acupuncture, massage, essential oils, herbs, and positive thoughts. Prevention is the key.
Remember the human body is natural. Your butt, breasts, nose, fingers, ears, poop, earwax, sweat, and snot all have a function and a purpose. Embrace it, accept it, and give gratitude for your body.
Exercise. The body wants to be used and functions much better with movement! Daily physical activity are likely to increase your levels of happiness. It doesn’t have to be strenuous either. Walking and bike rides are excellent!
Get ample rest. Most doctors say 8-9 hours of sleep and I agree. Bottom line is making sure you are getting enough sleep so that your body can function well. Turn the screens off at least an hour before bed to get a good nights rest.
Drink plenty of water. Hydration is absolutely key for your body to do what it needs to do.
Spend plenty of time outdoors breathing fresh air. This is a basic necessity for the human body. Fresh air and sun on the skin also helps to keep you smelling good. It’s usually your clothes that trap in the odor so expose that skin to the fresh air!
Kick off your shoes and go barefoot. Just like the palms of your hands, the soles of your feet are very sensitive and help you to connect to the earth. Feet do not naturally stink; it’s shoes and socks that create a stinky environment!
Take fewer showers. They can strip away your natural oils and bacteria and the chlorine dries out skin.
Find some quality books or blog on natural personal hygiene. We all have unique scenarios and unique bodies. Do what is best for your body, not someone else’s.