Toxicity and Hygiene


I typically do not give the hygiene and cosmetic products that I apply to my skin much thought, as they have become part of my daily routine over time. I wake up, wash my face, brush my teeth, apply deodorant, and so on. Every 2-3 days I take a shower, during which time I apply various soaps to my skin and hair. For special occasions, I apply various cosmetics and makeup items to my skin (particularly my face). Most of these applications are habitual, so I do not often consider the larger implications that they might have on my body. Two weeks ago, I (along with my ecofeminist classmates) tracked my use of cosmetics and hygiene products for four days. This included everything I apply to myself throughout the day – soap, toothpaste, deodorant, and lip balm. Most of the time I do not think about these products, as their application is routine. However, this tracking exercise made me more aware of the sorts of products I am applying to myself and what they are made of.

Time Day Product Type Product Name Product Brand Name
6:55 PM Tuesday Hygeine Chapstick Burt’s Bees Beeswax Lip Balm
7:02 PM Tuesday Hygeine (shower) Shampoo Organix Teatree Mint Shampoo
Conditioner Organix Teatree Mint Conditioner
Soap Marie’s Soap Co. Forest Fresh bar soap
Face wash The Body Shop Seaweed facewash
7:16 PM Tuesday Hygeine Deodorant Tom’s of Maine Natural Lavendar Deodorant
9:17 PM Tuesday Hygeine Chapstick Burt’s Bees Beeswax Lip Balm
9:28 PM Tuesday Hygeine Hand soap Glycerine soap from Biodiesel shop
10:50 PM Tuesday Hygeine Chapstick Burt’s Bees Beeswax Lip Balm
1:33 AM Wednesday Hygeine Toothpaste Tom’s of Maine Natural Spearmint toothpaste
1:35 AM Wednesday Hygeine Face wash The Body Shop Seaweed facewash
9:06 AM Wednesday Hygeine Toothpaste Tom’s of Maine Natural Spearmint toothpaste
9:08 AM Wednesday Hygeine Face wash The Body Shop Seaweed facewash
9:12 AM Wednesday Hygeine Hand soap Glycerine soap from Biodiesel shop
9:12 AM Wednesday Hygeine Deodorant Tom’s of Maine Natural Lavendar Deodorant
12:03 PM Wednesday Hygeine Chapstick Burt’s Bees Beeswax Lip Balm
12:16 PM Wednesday Hygeine Dental Floss Desert Essence Natural Tea Tree Oil Dental Floss
1:15 PM Wednesday Hygeine Hand soap Glycerine soap from Biodiesel shop
6:21 PM Wednesday Hygeine Hand soap Glycerine soap from Biodiesel shop
12:47 AM Thursday Hygeine Facewash The Body Shop Seaweed facewash
12:29 AM Thursday Hygeine Toothpaste Tom’s of Maine Natural Spearmint toothpaste
12:31 AM Thursday Hygeine Hand soap Glycerine soap from Biodiesel shop
7:49 AM Thursday Hygeine Face wash The Body Shop Seaweed facewash
7:52 AM Thursday Hygeine Toothpaste Tom’s of Maine Natural Spearmint toothpaste
7:55 AM Thursday Hygeine Hand soap Glycerine soap from Biodiesel shop
8:01 AM Thursday Hygeine Deodorant Tom’s of Maine Natural Lavendar Deodorant
12:21 PM Thursday Hygeine Hand soap Glycerine soap from Biodiesel shop
4:36 PM Thursday Hygeine Chapstick Burt’s Bees Beeswax Lip Balm
6:27 PM Thursday Hygeine Hand soap Glycerine soap from Biodiesel shop
6:30 PM Thursday Hygeine Chapstick Burt’s Bees Beeswax Lip Balm
9:49 PM Thursday Hygeine Hand soap Glycerine soap from Biodiesel shop
12:31 AM Friday Hygeine Face wash The Body Shop Seaweed facewash
12:34 AM Friday Hygeine Toothpaste Tom’s of Maine Natural Spearmint toothpaste
12:37 AM Friday Hygeine Hand soap Glycerine soap from Biodiesel shop
9:04 AM Friday Hygeine (shower) Shampoo Organix Teatree Mint Shampoo
Conditioner Organix Teatree Mint Conditioner
Soap Marie’s Soap Co. Forest Fresh bar soap
Facewash The Body Shop Seaweed facewash
9:16 AM Friday Hygeine Hand soap Glycerine soap from Biodiesel shop
9:21 AM Friday Hygeine Toothpaste Tom’s of Maine Natural Spearmint toothpaste
9:25 AM Friday Hygeine Deodorant Tom’s of Maine Natural Lavendar Deodorant
9:30 AM Friday Cosmetic Hair product Deva Curl Moisture Lock Conditioner
9:40 AM Friday Cosmetic Face powder Bare Escentuals Bisque face powder
9:42 AM Friday Cosmetic Face powder Bare escentuals Foundation- mendium beige
11:47 AM Friday Hygeine Hand soap Glycerine soap from Biodiesel shop

I am surprised by and relatively happy with the list of products I used throughout the week.  I consistently used the same few products, and most were for hygiene (i.e. soap and deodorant) rather than cosmetic (i.e. make up).  I consider products such as soap, toothpaste, and deodorant necessities because they attribute to my cleanliness (as defined by the larger society which I am a part of). I do not consider most cosmetics, such as makeup, to be necessities, and are therefore an unnecessary cosmetic.  Also, I know where some of my products came from and how they were made (specifically the bar soap I purchase from the Farmer’s Market in my home town).  Other products I use are deemed “natural” or “organic” on the label, however there are no regulations for organic hygiene products and I would like to further investigate these products and the potential implications of their long term use.  I am not completely sure of my risk associated with the long term use of these products, as I am unsure of their toxicity. I feel confident in products such as the homemade bar soap and glycerin soap from Dickinson’s biodiesel shop, and I would like to feel confident in products labeled “natural” or “organic”, however I am not sure that I can completely trust that they will not expose me to anything toxic. The largest potential for toxicity that I think of when considering cosmetics and hygiene is from how frequently I apply them. For example, I apply lip balm about 5 times a day, and most other products such as my deodorant, face wash, and toothpaste I use at least twice a day.

I decided to investigate one of my hygiene products labeled “natural” more thoroughly. I use Tom’s of Maine brand fluoride whitening mint toothpaste on a daily basis, and the label considers it a “natural” product.  In class last week, I compared my toothpaste to the Crest toothpaste of another classmate using the cosmetics toxicity database at http://cosmeticsdatabase.org.  The database gave my natural toothpaste a toxicity of 2 on a scale of 1-10, while my classmate’s toothpaste was ranked a 5. I found this to be an extremely interesting answer to my question about whether or not “natural” products are really natural. The major difference between Tom’s of Maine toothpaste and Crest was the ingredient used for fluoridation -mine uses Sodium Monofluorophosphate while the other uses Sodium Fluoride. According to the cosmetics toxicity database, this key ingredient difference makes the Tom’s toothpaste less harmful than your average tube of Crest toothpaste.

The major concerns over both fluoride ingredients seem to be developmental impacts and their potential to be neurotoxicants. The fluoride in my toothpaste otherwise does not seem to have major concerns, such as its potential as a carcinogen, while the other fluoride toothpaste has more concerns such as the potential for it to be a carcinogen.  The major concern for me with my risk of using this toothpaste, though it seems to be mostly safe, is the increased exposure to fluoride that I face when I brush my teeth twice a day. This increased exposure could potentially cause the harmful fluoride to bioaccumulate in my body over time, increasing its toxicity in a higher concentration.  Beyond this concern, the Tom’s of Maine company appears to manufacture its products with a social and environmental awareness. According to the Tom’s of Maine website  http://tomsofmaine.com), their products are all made in one facility in Sanford, Maine, they source ingredients from within the U.S., they source workers from within the community around Sanford, they do not test on animals, and they use recycled packaging.  The website also states that Tom’s is overall committed to the community in which its workers live, and employees are given paid time to volunteer in their communities as well. Though there is not much detail on the conditions of workers in the facility, the website is very transparent about what ingredients are in each product, the purpose of each ingredient in the products, and where the ingredients come from.  The amount of detailed information regarding the ingredients, manufacturing, and packaging makes me, personally, feel rest assured about the larger implications of the toothpaste I use on a daily basis. While the product does come from Maine (roughly 500 miles), it is still manufactured and sourced within the U.S. (and at least on the same coast as where I live).  I feel confident that the environmental impact of my toothpaste is minimal, relative to the larger impacts that major brands such as Crest may have. I, however, do not have full confidence that the employees who produce my toothpaste are protected from exposures in their working conditions, but the ingredients used in manufacturing are considered less toxic than those in a conventional toothpaste.

While my research into my personal hygiene habits and my toothpaste made me feel warm and fuzzy, I do not have a completely clear conscience about cosmetics. I mentioned earlier in my post that the products I use on a daily basis (deodorant, soap, toothpaste) are hygiene necessities to me. However, these “necessities” are constructed by my social atmosphere, much as the heavy use of makeup and other cosmetics is constructed for others. Similar to the ideas Joni Seager expressed in the article “Creating a Culture of Destruction”, I have come to notice how large the implications of cosmetic use are in that this social construction causes great destruction. Because of the ways society has constructed my body, I am under the impression that I need to subject myself to the application of potentially harmful products, subject the environment to further degradation, and subject others to the exposure involved in manufacturing the products I use. The ideas of cleanliness and hygiene that myself and society have constructed for our bodies are perpetuating actions that are detrimental to the health of people and the environment.

Similarly to my uneasiness about my ideas of hygiene and cleanliness, the toothpaste comparison in class made me consider another factor in the cosmetic toxicity that individuals are exposed to – the cost of the “natural” products versus conventional products. My Crest-using classmate became horrified over the toxicity of her toothpaste, and commented that she had not purchased it, but rather that her mother bought it in bulk. This made me think about the role that privilege plays in exposure. I am lucky enough to have the choice to go to the local whole foods store and purchase environmentally friendly / less toxic products (which are often more expensive than conventional products), but many other people cannot do this for various reasons. Due to constraints on time, knowledge about toxic cosmetics, and money, most people are not able to make this choice for themselves. Similarly, those who end up working in more toxic conditions in factories that produce toxic products are often unaware of the exposures they face or continue to work in those conditions because of money. I am fairly confident in the choices I make as a consumer for which companies I support (trying to buy local or environmentally friendly products when I can), however I am now second guessing the standards that I construct for others when I use these products overall.

Time Day Product Type Product Name Product Brand Name
6:55 PM Tuesday Hygeine Chapstick Burt’s Bees Beeswax Lip Balm
7:02 PM Tuesday Hygeine (shower) Shampoo Organix Teatree Mint Shampoo
Conditioner Organix Teatree Mint Conditioner
Soap Marie’s Soap Co. Forest Fresh bar soap
Face wash The Body Shop Seaweed facewash
7:16 PM Tuesday Hygeine Deodorant Tom’s of Maine Natural Lavendar Deodorant
9:17 PM Tuesday Hygeine Chapstick Burt’s Bees Beeswax Lip Balm
9:28 PM Tuesday Hygeine Hand soap Glycerine soap from Biodiesel shop
10:50 PM Tuesday Hygeine Chapstick Burt’s Bees Beeswax Lip Balm
1:33 AM Wednesday Hygeine Toothpaste Tom’s of Maine Natural Spearmint toothpaste
1:35 AM Wednesday Hygeine Face wash The Body Shop Seaweed facewash
9:06 AM Wednesday Hygeine Toothpaste Tom’s of Maine Natural Spearmint toothpaste
9:08 AM Wednesday Hygeine Face wash The Body Shop Seaweed facewash
9:12 AM Wednesday Hygeine Hand soap Glycerine soap from Biodiesel shop
9:12 AM Wednesday Hygeine Deodorant Tom’s of Maine Natural Lavendar Deodorant
12:03 PM Wednesday Hygeine Chapstick Burt’s Bees Beeswax Lip Balm
12:16 PM Wednesday Hygeine Dental Floss Desert Essence Natural Tea Tree Oil Dental Floss
1:15 PM Wednesday Hygeine Hand soap Glycerine soap from Biodiesel shop
6:21 PM Wednesday Hygeine Hand soap Glycerine soap from Biodiesel shop
12:47 AM Thursday Hygeine Facewash The Body Shop Seaweed facewash
12:29 AM Thursday Hygeine Toothpaste Tom’s of Maine Natural Spearmint toothpaste
12:31 AM Thursday Hygeine Hand soap Glycerine soap from Biodiesel shop
7:49 AM Thursday Hygeine Face wash The Body Shop Seaweed facewash
7:52 AM Thursday Hygeine Toothpaste Tom’s of Maine Natural Spearmint toothpaste
7:55 AM Thursday Hygeine Hand soap Glycerine soap from Biodiesel shop
8:01 AM Thursday Hygeine Deodorant Tom’s of Maine Natural Lavendar Deodorant
12:21 PM Thursday Hygeine Hand soap Glycerine soap from Biodiesel shop
4:36 PM Thursday Hygeine Chapstick Burt’s Bees Beeswax Lip Balm
6:27 PM Thursday Hygeine Hand soap Glycerine soap from Biodiesel shop
6:30 PM Thursday Hygeine Chapstick Burt’s Bees Beeswax Lip Balm
9:49 PM Thursday Hygeine Hand soap Glycerine soap from Biodiesel shop
12:31 AM Friday Hygeine Face wash The Body Shop Seaweed facewash
12:34 AM Friday Hygeine Toothpaste Tom’s of Maine Natural Spearmint toothpaste
12:37 AM Friday Hygeine Hand soap Glycerine soap from Biodiesel shop
9:04 AM Friday Hygeine (shower) Shampoo Organix Teatree Mint Shampoo
Conditioner Organix Teatree Mint Conditioner
Soap Marie’s Soap Co. Forest Fresh bar soap
Facewash The Body Shop Seaweed facewash
9:16 AM Friday Hygeine Hand soap Glycerine soap from Biodiesel shop
9:21 AM Friday Hygeine Toothpaste Tom’s of Maine Natural Spearmint toothpaste
9:25 AM Friday Hygeine Deodorant Tom’s of Maine Natural Lavendar Deodorant
9:30 AM Friday Cosmetic Hair product Deva Curl Moisture Lock Conditioner
9:40 AM Friday Cosmetic Face powder Bare Escentuals Bisque face powder
9:42 AM Friday Cosmetic Face powder Bare escentuals Foundation- mendium beige
11:47 AM Friday Hygeine Hand soap Glycerine soap from Biodiesel shop

  1. No comments yet.
(will not be published)