When we talk about the problem with chemicals, it’s worth remembering that nearly everything is a chemical. Water is a chemical (dihydrogenmonoxide), salt is a chemical (sodium chloride) – you shouldn’t always be wary of ‘science-y’ sounding ingredients.
In terms of living a chemical-free life, though, it’s the hazardous, polluting, health-harming substances you should be avoiding. Take the time to check labels and get educated about what’s in the things that you’re buying.
We’re all in a slightly toxic relationship with the world. Even food deemed ‘healthy’ can be hazardous. Take fish, which absorb toxic chemicals from the metals that leach into our seas from manufacturing and other sources. Bigger fish such as tuna ingest high levels when they eat smaller fish, and when we come to eat them these poisonous metals end up in our kidneys, liver and brain, which can cause serious health problems.
Pesticides on fresh fruit and vegetables can interfere with your thyroid, so choose organic produce whenever you possibly can. Make sure you have plenty of broccoli, cauliflower and kale in your diet, as well as garlic, leeks and onions – vegetables from the cruciferous and allium families are rich in the nutrients that support healthy detoxification.
A fibre-rich is recommended to help food progress through the gut, preventing a build-up of waste and toxins that can lead to inflammatory diseases and uncomfortable skin conditions such as acne, eczema and psoriasis.
Sweating stimulates toxin release through your skin, so try to get as much cardiovascular exercise as you can. Exercise away from polluted areas, and head to the park if you’re outside – trees absorb harmful gases in the atmosphere, such as carbon monoxide and sulphur dioxide.
Domestic cleaning products create formaldehyde air pollutants, which can cause breathlessness, eyes irritation and headaches, so if you have to use them it’s really important to keep your home well ventilated. Of course, it’s best to use non-toxic cleaning products, or make your own.
Choose more natural ingredients
Though it may feel like using chemicals is unavoidable, there are plenty of natural alternatives to the products we use every day. Lots of brands are responding to demands for greener products and concerns about chemicals, while smaller businesses are offering organic, chemical-free cosmetics and cleaning products as an affordable alternative to harsh, harmful chemicals.
Though they may not rely on flashy advertising and celebrity endorsement, many of these gentle, thoughtfully made products come with the stamp of approval from the Soil Association, which means they have been made using organically farmed ingredients, and without herbicides or synthetic fertilisers, harsh chemicals, nano particles, parabens, synthetic dyes and artificial fragrances.
For your makeup bag, there are 100% natural lipsticks, mascaras made from wheatgrass and carnauba wax, and foundations made from mineral powders from companies like Bare Minerals. Effective, organic shampoos are out there too, as are cleaning products for your home.
Companies like KINN and Greenscents specialise in organic, plant-based cleaning products that are free from nasties like petrochemicals, phosphates, synthetic fragrances and dye, so you needn’t worry about your family’s health.
Make your own alternatives
Instead of buying chemical-packed moisturisers from the pharmacy, use sweet almond or jojoba oil instead. Jojoba oil is actually very similar to the sebum that your body produces naturally, so if your skin needs a little extra moisture, it’s the best thing for it.
Coconut oil is the perfect makeup remover – just warm a little in your hands before smoothing it over your skin and washing with warm water.
Homemade face, lip and body scrubs, plus deodorants, face masks and even mouthwash can all be whipped up in your own home for a fraction of the price you’d usually pay, plus they make lovely presents for eco-conscious pals.
Similarly, an effective all-purpose home cleaner can be made using ingredients you probably already have in your kitchen: vinegar, water, lemon juice and salt. Vinegar and water cuts through dirt in a flash, so it makes a great window cleaner, too.
Instead of buying air fresheners, make a spiced ‘simmer pot’ for the stove, or make your own room sprays with water, alcohol and your favourite essential oils. There are huge cost savings to be enjoyed by doing this, too – a bottle of vinegar will set you back a lot less than a big-brand cleaner.
This article was originally published in Save the Planet, a new journal featuring tips on sustainable living and practical ideas to help you to care for the environment.
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