Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Demystifying "Natural" Products


--Feature: "Greener One w/Molly Hovorka"--


I remember shopping years and years ago at a Whole Foods outside of Chicago. A vegetarian at the time, I loved the variety of fresh fruits and vegetables and the plethora of natural products that were unavailable at Jewel, the big supermarket chain in the area. It was the first Whole Foods I had ever seen, and I felt I was in Veggie Nirvana! One thing that really struck me, however, were tiny signs on the display for certain products indicating that they might not be up to some kind of “Whole Foods” standard. Ben & Jerry’s ice cream was one such product, and the sign gave a little reason why (the reason, along with the signs, has long since been forgotten, and, at any rate, my desire for chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream was overpowering).

Such signs made me trust the other products at Whole Foods, and I imagined a team of buyers checking ingredients and assessing each and every product before putting it on the shelf. Since I was a rabid label-checker back then, it came as a relief to me to think that I could trust Whole Foods to not put anything on the shelf that was bad for me, and to put up a sign if there was anything to warn me about. Finally, I thought, I can stop agonizing over each and every product and just get on with my grocery shopping! Ah, the naiveté of youth!

I’ve tried to revert to my former vigilance about all products recently, even on the greenest-looking “natural” products and even in the most natural of natural health and food shops. It’s also worth checking a product’s web site and the Skin Deep cosmetics database for additional information, as labels don’t always tell you the whole story. Still, a quick sweep of my bathroom and kitchen turned up the following ingredients:

  • Sodium lauryl or laureth sulfate – Seventh Generation Natural Dish Liquid, Dermalogica Special Cleansing Gel, Trader Joe’s Kitchen Anti-bacterial Soap, Kiss My Face Moisture Soap
  • Cocamide DEA or MEA – Seventh Generation Natural Dish Liquid, Trader Joe’s Kitchen Anti-bacterial Soap, Kiss My Face Moisture Soap
  • Cocamidopropyl Betaine – JASON Hair Balancing Shampoo, Trader Joe’s Kitchen Anti-bacterial Soap
  • Methylparaben – Biolage Detangling Solution, Kiss My Face Moisture Soap, Dermalogica Special Cleansing Gel
  • Propylparaben – Kiss My Face Moisture Soap, Dermalogica Special Cleansing Gel
  • Fragrance – Biolage Detangling Solution, Kiss My Face Moisture Soap, Trader Joe’s Kitchen Anti-bacterial Soap

Cancer risks, reproductive risks, skin, eye, and lung irritation, allergies, immunotoxicity, organ system toxicity, endocrine disruption, developmental issues, and other concerns are all problems related to the ingredients above. Given that a woman puts an average of 175 chemicals onto her body in the course of a day (times the course of a lifetime), a little extra vigilance wouldn’t be amiss.


Molly Hovorka is a co-founder and the marketing director of Greener One, an eco-ratings community that gives you the tools and information you need to make greener choices. In addition, Molly writes the Greener One blog on greenerone.com, as well as the Greener One column on The Lohasian - both providing product reviews from a green perspective as well as environmental news and commentary. To compare products or to share your product knowledge with other conscious consumers, visit GreenerOne.com.



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