Issue 12  •  Spring 2013

What’s Organic and Tea Tree and Green All Over?

Written by Michelle Hadley-Ambord
Active Image
It all started at my Wednesday night Pilates class: my instructor mentioned the success of her recent detox, and we, her curious pupils, wanted the inside scoop on healthy living. What most Americans never consider—and what my sage instructor explained—is that we absorb an inordinate amount of chemicals each day, and our bodies respond to many of these chemicals as if they are estrogens.
Illustrations by Molly Schulman
{multithumb full_width=600}{mosimage width=400 height=350} 
It all started at my Wednesday night Pilates class: my instructor mentioned the success of her recent detox, and we, her curious pupils, wanted the inside scoop on healthy living. What most Americans never consider—and what my sage instructor explained—is that we absorb an inordinate amount of chemicals each day, and our bodies respond to many of these chemicals as if they are estrogens.

But wait a second.

Aren’t estrogens natural? Healthy? Normal? The answer is yes, to a point. Estrogens are the primary female sex hormone and are naturally present in men and women. High levels of estrogen, however, can disrupt hormone levels and sometimes cause cancers. Women with unnaturally high levels of estrogen in their bodies, for example, are more susceptible to breast cancer. While many of the brand name companies that produce chemical-laden cosmetics claim that consumers like you and I aren’t exposed to enough of these chemicals to come to any harm, the truth is that there are few long-term studies on the health effects of the products we know and love. In fact, Julie Gabriel notes in The Green Beauty Guide that less than 5 percent of the 100,000 chemicals in use in different areas of our lives have been tested for long-term impact on human health. (Gabriel also points out that proven toxins like lead and mercury were presumed innocent for years until we began to study their health effects.)

What we do know is this:
*Unlike the European Union, the United States does not regulate the cosmetics industry, which means that no one is watching to see what’s going into our cosmetics. And just to drive home the consequences of our self-regulating cosmetics industry, the European Union, according to www.safecosmetics.org, prohibits the use of 1109 chemicals in personal care products while the FDA has banned the use of only 10. I don’t know about you, but that fact makes me a little nervous. What’s the deal with the other 1100 chemicals?

*According to Stacy Malkan, author of Not Just a Pretty Face: The Ugly Side of the Beauty Industry, the average woman uses approximately nine personal care products daily, thus exposing herself to over 150 chemicals a day. I guess I’m above average: between the cosmetics, the shampoo, the face wash, the shaving cream, and the other odds and ends that clutter my restroom, I must use twice as many products and absorb twice as many harmful chemicals. Average or not, those numbers add up.

As hard as it can be to make significant changes in our everyday lives, I just couldn’t ignore the facts. Even if these products don’t give me breast cancer, all of those industrial chemicals are probably something my body could do without.

So, I recently decided to try the go-green, go-organic path: in one year’s time, I am going to figure out how to look my organic best. I came up with a simple set of rules to keep me motivated and make the most of my experiment. If a product junkie like me can go green and organic on a limited budget and with astronomical standards for the products I use, then any girl (or guy) can follow suit. And yes, that means you! I hope you’ll try to follow along with me:
{multithumb full_width=600}{mosimage width=400 height=350} 
1. I will introduce at least one new product into my beauty regimen each month, always trying to replace an empty container rather than a full one. In only a year, I’ll have replaced most of the products I use with organic alternatives.

2. I’ll read labels religiously until I find a product that uses as many healthy, natural ingredients and as few cancer-causing and hormone-disrupting chemicals as possible, which means uncovering which chemicals are the big no-no’s.

The Environmental Working Group and other big name green beauty icons often refer to commonly used, toxic ingredients as the “Dirty Dozen.” Keep an eye out for parabens (of the methyl, propyl, butyl, and ethyl variety), the two ureas (imidazolindyl and diazolindyl), petrolatum, propylene glycol, PVP/VA copolymer, sodium lauryl sulfate, stearalkonium chloride, synthetic colors, synthetic fragrances, phthalates, and triethanolamine. We'll discuss these chemicals, and other ingredient doozies, in my blog, but for now, you can download a printable, PDF version of Organic Diva's Dirty Dozen card to keep with you when you shop for the bare necessities.

3. I’ll still test the products to ensure that they meet my beautification standards—if they don’t work, what’s the point?

4. I’ll try to find products that are reasonably priced.

5. While I’m at it, I’ll make sure to remember my reusable bags and will seek out environmentally friendly packaging. If I can buy local, I will. Eco-friendly practices detox our environment, so why not be thorough?

Month One: I kicked off month number one with my number one beauty concern: acne. While blemishes don’t cover my entire face, my cantankerous combination skin guarantees me a good smattering of T-Zone eyesores every week.

What Acne Is: Acne happens when our pores become blocked. The sebum (oil) that our body produces to moisturize our skin gets trapped beneath the surface, bacteria begins to grow, and voilà! Before you know it, the inflamed, infected pore morphs into a full-fledged face disaster. In response, I usually spot treat acne with a salicylic acid-based product, which exfoliates and cleans pores.

What I’ve Used in the Past: I’m willing to pay good money for a product that promises to end my suffering, so I’ve run the gamut from Philosophy’s On A Clear Day Retinol Clarifying Lotion ($40) to Clean & Clear Advantage Acne Spot Treatment ($6.99).

Mother Nature’s Acne Solution: Tea tree oil.

What I Tried: Origin Tea Tree Oil ($7.99). This brand comes straight from the source—Australia, where the small trees that yield tea tree oil grow—and is pharmaceutical grade.

Does it earn my organic beauty seal of approval?

A resounding, yes! I placed a drop or two of this potent potion on a cotton pad and spread it all over my T-Zone. Blemishes that seemed on the brink of bursting to the surface disappeared, and pesky red spots that I’d been treating for weeks faded quickly.

The best part? Instead of drying out my skin like most acne treatments, it actually moisturized my problem areas, thus preventing a common problem among acne sufferers—when skin becomes too dry, it compensates by over-producing pore-clogging sebum.

Why It Works: This essential oil has natural antibacterial properties. In fact, Australian aboriginals used tea tree oil to heal skin cuts, burns, and infections!

Loving my first brush with organic bliss, I’m more determined than ever to detox my entire beauty routine. Psyched about going green and organic? Check out the Sadie blog for future updates on everything from books to Web sites that celebrate the green, organic lifestyle. And don’t miss the next step in my quest to go green come next month!

Share this post