By Mike Valenti
Natural Cosmetics and Toiletries
If you want natural products, you have to be willing to search them out. Learn to read labels, and refuse to settle for half-natural hair and skin care. Below we have listed and described our “ten most wanted” ingredients we here at EnviroCitizen most want to see off the labels of so-called natural hair and skin care products.
1. Imidazolidinyl Urea and Diazolidinyl Urea — These are the most commonly used preservatives after the parabens. They are well established as a primary cause of contact dermatitis (American Academy of Dermatology). Two trade names for these chemicals are Germall II and Germall 115. Neither of the Germall chemicals have a good antifungal, and must be combined with other preservatives. Germall 115 releases formaldehyde at just over 10°. These chemicals are toxic.
2. Methyl and Propyl and Butyl and Ethyl Paraben — Used as inhibitors of microbial growth and to extend shelf life of products. Widely used even though they are known to be toxic. All have caused many allergic reactions and skin rashes. Methyl paraben combines benzoic acid with the methyl group of chemicals. All are considered highly toxic.
3. Petrolatum — I see this on lip products from time to time, which is humorous to me because they’re usually advertised as protecting the lips from sunburn, chapping and so forth. Petrolatum is mineral oil jelly, and mineral oil causes a lot of problems when used on the skin photosensitivity (i.e., promotes sun damage), and it tends to interfere with the body’s own natural moisturizing mechanism, leading to dry skin and chapping. You are being sold a product that creates the very conditions it claims to alleviate. Manufacturers use petrolatum because it is unbelievably cheap.
4. Propylene Glycol — Ideally this is a vegetable glycerin mixed with grain alcohol, both of which are natural. Usually it is a synthetic petrochemical mix used as a humectant. Has been known to cause allergic and toxic reactions.
5. PVP/VA Copolymer — A petroleum-derived chemical used in hairsprays, wavesets and other cosmetics. It can be considered toxic, since particles may contribute to foreign bodies in the lungs of sensitive persons.
6. Sodium Lauryl Sulfate — This synthetic substance is used in shampoos for its detergent and foam-building abilities. It causes eye irritations, skin rashes, hair loss, scalp scurf similar to dandruff, and allergic reactions. It is frequently disguised in pseudo-natural cosmetics with the parenthetic explanation “comes from coconut.”
7. Stearalkonium Chloride — A chemical used in hair conditioners and creams. Causes allergic reactions. Stearalkonium chloride was developed by the fabric industry as a fabric softener, and is a lot cheaper and easier to use in hair conditioning formulas than proteins or herbals, which do help hair health. Toxic.
8. Synthetic Colors — The synthetic colors used to supposedly make a cosmetic “pretty” should be avoided at all costs, along with hair dyes. They will be labeled as FD&C or D&C, followed by a color and a number. Example: FD&C Red No. 6 / D&C Green No. 6. Synthetic colors are believed to be cancer-causing agents. If a cosmetic contains them, don’t use it.
9. Synthetic Fragrances — The synthetic fragrances used in cosmetics can have as many as 200 ingredients. There is no way to know what the chemicals are, since on the label it will simply say “Fragrance.” Some of the problems caused by these chemicals are headaches, dizziness, rash, hyperpigmentation, violent coughing, vomiting, skin irritation by a cosmetic that has the word “Fragrance” on the ingredients label.
10. Triethanolamine — Often used in cosmetics to adjust the pH, and used with many fatty acids to convert acid to salt (stearate), which then becomes the base for a cleanser. TEA causes allergic reactions including eye problems, dryness of hair and skin, and could be toxic if absorbed into the body over a long period of time.
To Summarize: At EnviroCitizen we encourage you to look for natural ingredients in the products you buy. Do not use cosmetics that are artificially colored. Is the shampoo bright green or blue? Very likely it contains a coal tar color. Does the product contain synthetic fragrances? Don’t buy it. You may find that some of your allergy problems will suddenly disappear when you no longer use cosmetics formulated with petrochemicals and other synthetics.
By Mike Valenti
The holiday season is once again upon us; a time for friends, family, food and composting. Here at EnviroCitizen we know this is a busy, fun-filled time of year. We also know that the holidays offer a true opportunity to give mother Earth a special holiday gift – the gift of compost!
The holiday season produces an outsized quantity of waste. What better way to return those materials to the Earth than composting them. After all, composting is the Earth’s natural recycling program. You add materials from around the house that you once considered garbage, and they will decompose into feasts for worms and microbes and produce rich soil for your garden. By composting, you’re using your waste to create more life.
You are likely curious as to how to compost correctly. As you may know, if you don’t then composting can lead to something akin to a toxic waste dump in your backyard. However, composting is not as daunting as it sounds: Basically you are throwing stuff in a bin and mixing it with other stuff, rather than tossing it in the garbage can. Composting does take time, though; it will take between six and 12 months for your composter to produce the rich, dark brown, nearly black material that you add to the soil in the garden.
The holiday season is one of the best sources of composting material. Starting a compost pile in the winter isn’t ideal because compost must be kept dry and because you’ll have more grass clippings and other greenery in the spring. But if you already compost, the holidays produce plenty of material that can be returned to mother Earth by being composted.
Here are some basic composting pointers to get you started.
Choose a quality composter or make your own
The first thing you will need is a composter. You may choose to purchase one or make yourself. There are many types of composters on the market: tumblers, grates, bins, pods, even glorified garbage cans. Research and compare the various types online or at a local garden shop and decide which one suits your needs and space requirements; just be sure it has a lid. Here at EnviroCitizen we make many different types of quality composters available at very competitive prices. Alternatively you may choose to make a composter yourself with stakes and chicken wire or recycled wooden pallets. Binding, screwing or wiring four wooden pallets together to make a box creates an easy, functional composter and keeps the pallets out of the landfill. Ask a local business if they can spare a few.
Click this link to view our extensive selection of quality composters at very competitive prices: EnviroCitizen Composter Selection.
Choose where to a locate your composter
Your next step is choosing a location for your composter. Use a level spot with excellent drainage away from walls or wooden fences. If you can it is a good idea to keep the composter away from trees as well because their roots will seek the moisture and nutrients in your compost pile. You’ll need to allocate 4 or 5 square feet of space; the more space you have, the easier it will be to access.
Holiday scraps you may compost
Now that your composter set up, it’s important that you use it correctly. Begin by laying down a base layer consisting of branches and twigs about 6 inches deep. A wooden pallet may also work well as a base layer. This will assist the air circulation under the material you will add to the composter. Creating proportionate layers of brown and green material is a smart strategy.
Much of your Holiday waste is compostable like wreaths made from evergreens or other greens, cut flowers and, of course, plants.
Your green layer might include:
- Grass clippings
- Tea leaves and organic tea bags
- Coffee grounds
- Dead flowers
- Weeds ( just leaves; not roots or seeds)
- Old plants
Your brown layer might include:
- Wood material, twigs, wood chips (best if shredded)
- Coffee grounds
- Recycled brown paper, cardboard, paper-towel rolls (best if shredded)
- Leaves (in moderate amounts) and pinecones
- Eggshells and paper egg cartons
- Sawdust, wood shavings
- Hay and straw (in small quantities)
- Clothes dryer lint, pet and human hairs
- Uncooked kitchen scraps
Items that should not be composted:
- Meat or fish
- Grease, oil or cooked food scraps
- Kitty litter
- Manure of any type
- Dirty diapers
- Ashes from your barbecue
Kitchen scraps are abundant during the holidays, and most of these scraps qualify as either green or brown material, depending on what you decide to cook for your holiday meals. A good practice is to set aside a bin in your kitchen for collecting food preparation scraps. Consider a stainless steel bucket with a lid, which you can keep on your kitchen counter within easy reach. The lists above are worth keeping on hand until you memorize them. Pay careful attention to what not to include, and begin collecting your scraps. Remember, cooked food should never be added to a compost pile as it lacks the necessary enzymes that break it down. When your counter-top container is full, empty it into your composter and mix it in. If you’re just getting started and the composter is empty, it is advisable to toss in some grass clippings to cover your kitchen scraps to deter pests.
From all of us here at EnviroCitizen, we wish you and your families all the peace and joy the holiday season has to offer.
Natural Pet Care Tips
Natural pet care can keep your pet healthy and safe
By Mike Valenti
Right now, your pet is wondering, “What can I do to reduce my carbon pawprint?” Here at EnviroCitizen.org we know that natural pet care is easy and affordable — just take a look at these simple tips below, and help your pets stay healthy while reducing their impact on the environment.
Choose a Recycled Pet
Each year, between 3 and 4 million dogs and cats are put to death in shelters throughout the United States. Despite this tragic fact, people still fork over thousands of dollars for a purebreed pet, ignoring the realities of inbreeding, factory-like conditions, overbreeding and other perils. The greenest and kindest way to get a dog or cat is to skip the overpriced breeders and get a pet from a pet shelter.
Spay or Neuter Your Pets
Here’s another rather unfortunate fact: Each hour in the United States, about 5,500 puppies and kittens are born. Yes, that’s right, every hour. Compare that number to the 415 humans born each hour, and you can see why it’s important to spay or neuter your pet. If you think the procedure is unnatural, perhaps you can find something natural about a puppy being killed by a car, or a kitten starving to death — I can’t.
Pets Are Not Wildlife
On the contrary, pets eat wildlife. An estimated 39 million birds are eaten each year by domestic cats — and that’s just in the state of Wisconsin! Multiply that by all 50 states, and you can see how big the problem is. Fido and Fluffy may seem cute to you, but to birds and wildlife, they’re just another hungry predator. Keep your cats indoors, and keep dogs on a leash when you’re out hiking through the woods.
Choose Organic Pet Foods
If you think the standards for labeling and ingredients in human processed foods are low — and they are — just imagine what’s allowed in the pet food industry. Some of the animals used in pet foods are diseased or already dead when they’re made into pet food. By purchasing organic or natural pet foods that contain healthier ingredients, you’re doing your pet and the planet a big favor, as well as sending a message to the pet food industry that they need to clean up their act.
Natural Pet Care and the Poop Patrol
All responsible pet owners want to clean up after their pets. Cat litter, however, comes with a host of environmental and health problems. The clay for kitty litter is usually strip-mined — an environmental nightmare — and contains silica dust that’s been implicated in serious health problems. Green cat litters are made of recycled newspaper, pine, corn or wood chips. And your dog’s poop bag is probably made of petroleum-based plastics. Instead, try biodegradable bags, available from most pet supply stores. But if you really want to go whole-hog, try a pet waste septic system.
Safer, Natural Pet Toys
Some pet toys are made of petroleum-based plastics, or contain harmful ingredients like lead or BPA (bisphenol A, a synthetic compound suspected of causing cancer, nerve damage and other health problems). But many manufacturers are now making chew toys and other items with organic or natural materials like hemp, cotton, plant-based dyes and safer forms of plastic.
What a Glossy Coat!
Just like many low-end human soaps and shampoos, pet products like shampoo and conditioners are often made with some cheap or possibly unhealthy ingredients. Instead, try safer alternatives to give your pet a clean, shiny coat.
Natural Pet Bedding and Other Accessories
Dogs, I’m told, spend about 12 hours a day sleeping. That’s about the best argument I’ve ever heard for bedding made of organic cotton and other natural materials. And some bedding manufacturers fill bedding with recycled content. And, of course, there are dozens of makers of all-natural, organic or recycled pet collars, leashes, scratch posts and other accessories.
Click HERE now to go to our Natural Pet Products on EnviroCitizen.org.
How Green Is Your Campus?
By Mike Valenti
EnviroCitizen.org explored initiatives taking place on college campuses to reduce the footprints of these large users of energy and other resources. Here is what we found.
Serving in many respects as microcosms of the world at large, college campuses are great test beds for environmental change, and many students are working hard to get their administrations to take positive action. The initiatives that are emerging are models for the larger society, and the students pushing for them will be taking these lessons with them, too, as they enter the work force after graduation. The environmentalists of tomorrow are attending our colleges and universities today. Today’s students will create and produce the natural products of tomorrow. They will go forth into the world to remind businesses that we simply borrow the earth from our children. They will be the change agents to a more eco-friendly set of lifestyle choices for the population at large.
Foremost on the minds of green-leaning students today is global warming. Many are joining hands to persuade their schools to update policies and streamline operations so that their campuses can become part of the solution. Largely a result of student efforts, for example, nearly 500 U.S. colleges and universities have signed the American College and University Presidents (ACUP) Climate Commitment.
This agreement requires schools to put together a comprehensive plan to go “carbon neutral” in two years of signing. (Carbon neutral means contributing no net greenhouse gases to the atmosphere either by not generating them in the first place or by offsetting them somehow, such as through tree-planting or by buying “offsets” from companies that fund alternative energy projects.) Note that EnviroCitizen.org is a big proponent of Carbon Offsets. We offer a unique array of very affordable Carbon Offsets in our Natural Products Superstore.
ACUP also commits schools to implementing two or more tangible (and easily implemented) policies right away, such as improving waste minimization and recycling programs, reducing energy usage, providing or encouraging public transportation to and from campus (and switching campus buses over to bio-diesel fuel), constructing bicycle lanes, and implementing green building guidelines for any new construction.
Signatory schools also pledge that they will integrate sustainability into their curricula, making it part of the educational experience.
One place where students are forcing green changes on campus is the dining hall. According to the Sustainable Endowments Institute’s 2007 report card, which looks at environmental initiatives at the 200 colleges and universities with the largest endowment assets in the U.S. and Canada, 70 percent of such schools now “devote at least a portion of food budgets to buying organic foods from local farms and/or producers,” while 29 percent earned an “A” in the “food and recycling” category. Yale University even has organic gardens that are student-run and that supply an on-campus farmer’s market for use by campus food services, the local community and students.
Another area where college campuses are leading the way is in water conservation. Colleges consume huge quantities of water in dormitories, cafeterias, at athletic facilities and in the maintenance of their rolling green grounds. According to the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE), most of the 3,800 institutions of higher education in the U.S. have engaged in some sort of water-conservation program. Low-water-volume toilets and urinals, as well as low-flow showerheads and faucets are pretty much standard practice across U.S. colleges today.
EnviroCitizen.org believes very deeply that the green-lean at college campuses and among student populations bodes well for our planet. These eco-friendly young people will make a decided difference in the quality of our lives for generations to come. We are happy they are all heading back to school.
By Mike Valenti
Natural Toiletries: What's In Your Purse?
Here at EnviroCitizen.org we like to ask questions. The question we ask you today is what’s inside your makeup bag? A shimmery lipstick, a full-proof foundation and a tube of black mascara? Now take a good, hard look at what’s really inside your makeup bag. Read all the ingredients. The real question is are the products you use every day safe?
Last year, Americans spent about $50 billion on cosmetics and toiletries. While looking good isn’t a crime, it is certainly a matter of concern when those products contain numerous ingredients that have never been tested for safety. We think women are shocked when they find out that the products they put on their skin and lips aren’t tested for toxics.
The United States Food & Drug Administration puts the onus on manufacturers to ensure their products are safe, stepping in only when enough consumers complain of adverse reactions, and the agency does not regulate terms used on cosmetic labels, such as “hypoallergenic,” “all natural” or even “organic.” While these undefined, misleading labels still remain an issue, state governments are working to hold cosmetic companies accountable for the ingredients they use.
California has taken the lead in the safe cosmetics campaign, implementing the California Safe Cosmetics Act. The act requires cosmetic companies to tell state health authorities if a product contains any ingredient—including “trade secrets” and “proprietary” ingredients—listed on California’s comprehensive Proposition 65 list of chemicals deemed carcinogenic by the International Agency for Research on Cancer, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) or the National Toxicology Program and those considered as reproductive toxins by the National Toxicology Program’s Center for the Evaluation of Risks to Human Reproduction. Proposition 65 includes the hormone disruptor di-butyl phthalate, a common ingredient in nail polish, and 1,4-dioxane, an EPA-designated probable human carcinogen that has been detected in trace amounts in shampoos, bubble baths and some cosmetics. Washington state legislators have introduced a similar bill, based on California’s efforts. The European Union will institute a policy called the Registration, Evaluation and Authorization of Chemicals (REACH), which will require cosmetics firms collect comprehensive data on the possible risks of the substances to human health and to the environment.
It’s too early to see if these pioneering efforts have yet benefited consumers nationwide, but we here at EnviroCitizen.org don’t think that the bill’s effects will be limited to Californians. The California legislation has, in our opinion, raised awareness among a lot of women that, right now, cosmetics aren’t adequately regulated..
Until then, smart shoppers can enliven their spring makeup bags with an organic makeover, reading the fine print and avoiding toxic chemicals. Here are some thoughts as you rummage through your purse and seek to replace some of those questionable items.
Who doesn’t love a good lip balm or a sexy lipstick? But many lip products are petroleum-based, which depletes a non-renewable resource, and petrolatum can cause allergic reactions. Avoid potentially hormone-disrupting benzophenone compounds in lip products with SPF, and watch out for phenol, a common lip-balm ingredient that can cause diarrhea, fainting, dizziness and kidney and liver damage when absorbed or ingested in high concentrations, according to the EPA. Instead, create a safe—and sexy—pout with natural lip-care products.
Among the problematic ingredients in foundations, concealers, powders and blushes are paraben and formaldehyde-based preservatives. Both have been shown to irritate skin, and the known carcinogen formaldehyde, present in small amounts in preservatives such as DMDM hydantoin, diazolidinyl urea, imidazolidinyl urea and quaternium-15, can evaporate from liquid products. Synthetic fragrances, often used to mask the chemical odor of some products, may contain hormone-disrupting phthalates. Choose carefully as you shop for safer, non-toxic products.
Your eyes are one of your most sensitive body parts, so eye cosmetics, full of potentially irritating substances like talc, can be especially problematic. Some mascaras, especially lash-building ones, have been found to contain the mercury-based preservative thimerasol, which may cause allergic reactions and is a known neurotoxin. Petroleum-based ingredients, such as nylon and polyester, are also common in lash-building mascaras as they promote thickness and lengthening, but they have also been found to trigger contact dermatitis.
Cosmetic brushes are made with either real animal hair or synthetic materials, the most common of which is a trademarked polyester fiber called Taklon. Unfortunately, neither comes without a cost. In addition to animal humanity and welfare issues, animal fibers undergo chemical processing for sterilization, while synthetics are derived from petroleum, a non-renewable resource. Organic cotton pads, cotton balls and swabs, when suitable, are a more eco-friendly choice. Otherwise, choose products with other eco attributes, such as animal cruelty certifications and recycled content.
Finally, makeup bags made with polyvinyl chloride, or PVC, can leach hormone-disrupting phthalates and brain-damaging lead onto your brushes and products within. Try replacing your makeup bag with one made from organically produced materials.
While we focused on what’s in your purse this time around, remember that other areas of toiletries and personal care require similar attention. At EnviroCitizen.org we encourage you to take inventory of all of you personal care products for potential toxins, carcinogens and irritants. Think about your hair care products, your soaps, toothpaste and other oral care items and of course skin care items. And remember to do the same for the rest of your family as well as your pets.