Avoid Those Dirty Looks

How many personal care products do you use? What’s in them? A long list of unpronounceable ingredients? What are they really doing to your skin, your health, and the environment?

Readers, it really is time to come clean on the personal care product industry. It’s estimated the average Australian woman uses 12 different personal care products every day including cleanser, moisturiser, shampoo, conditioner, fragrances, and makeup, containing a total of about 168 chemicals. It’s estimated Australian men use around half the number of products, but this is increasing.

My friend pointed out that she’s not eating the products she uses, so what’s the problem with putting them on her skin? Plenty, it seems. Skin has millions of pores; tiny openings on the surface through which these substances are absorbed into the body. The personal care product industry uses over 10,500 unique chemical ingredients which many consumers assume have been tested for long-term safety. What actually happens is many ingredients are tested individually for short-term reactions like skin irritation, but not tested for long-term safety. What is also not tested is the cocktail effect of exposure to multiple chemicals within the one product; an effect which may be increased with the use of many products.

Some of these ingredients (like formaldehyde and coal tar) are carcinogenic (cancer-causing) to humans. Others, like parabens and phthalates mess with our sensitive hormonal systems. Some are toxic to the nervous system and some (like fragrances and sodium lauryl sulfate) can irritate the skin and cause dermatitis.

Like your gut, your skin has a microbiome. This is a busy community of trillions (yes, trillions!) of organisms like bacteria, viruses and fungi that live on its surface. These good guys work tirelessly to fight infection, heal wounds and help your immune system. Ingredients in personal care products can disrupt this community which can cause eczema, psoriasis, acne and rosacea. Have you heard of triclosan? Initially made as a pesticide, triclosan then started being added to products like toothpaste and soap to kill disease-causing bacteria, to aftershave and makeup as a preservative and to deodorants and body sprays to fight odour. Imagine the effects of triclosan on your skin’s microbiome.

So, what to do? Time to instigate a clean regime. Use less products. Read product labels. If a product contains a list of unpronounceable ingredients, ditch it, especially if it’s going to be sitting on your skin all day like a moisturiser or covering a large part of your body like body lotion.

Find cleaner brands. Be aware that industry labelling regulations are lax and companies make all sorts of unsubstantiated claims their product are “all-natural” or “organic” or “eco.” Organisations like the non-profit Environmental Working Group ( are a trustworthy resource for information about clean brands.

If it’s a bit overwhelming, start with simple changes. Try using a shampoo bar instead of shampoo and conditioner. Better for your skin and far less packaging. Use soap and water to wash your hands or try the recipe on this page to make your own safe hand soap.

Make positive changes, keep your looks clean and your skin (and the environment) will thank you.

DIY Safe Foaming Hand Soap

Castile liquid soap (unscented)

Purified (filtered) water

Tea tree oil (or favourite essential oil)

Foaming soap dispenser (you can use one you’ve previously bought and used-up)

Funnel (optional)

Using the funnel, pour enough castile soap in soap dispenser to fill it about 1/5 full. Fill the rest of the dispenser almost to the top with water. Add 2-3 drops of the essential oil. Screw the lid on, shake and use.

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