Going natural: My big project plans revealed

I am SO excited to finally reveal the big project I’ve been alluding to here. Drumroll please … I am collaborating on a series on switching to natural products! OK sure, that’s not like major news to some people probably, but to me it is. This is my first really big, thought-out, series and working really closely with other bloggers to make it happen. Let me explain.

The Background

This has been a slow build-up for me to get to where I am now. I used to not give a second thought to the food I ate or the products I used. I knew that I should care, but I didn’t. And then several things happened. 1) I got married. This change in my life made me feel more accountable to myself and to my husband. I took feeding our little family more seriously. I wanted to start new, healthier habits we could both benefit from. 2) I got baby fever. Before we have a little one, I need to get myself in order first, which includes making positive changes to my lifestyle so I can set a good example. I started doing pilates again, meal planning, cooking healthier, buying fresh (and local when possible) produce and found a local meat shop. 3) I started a new job at a vitamin and health products company. This forced me to become educated and familiar with the benefits of taking supplements, eating well, exercising and really just taking better care of your body. 4) I started seeing a few bloggers make similar changes and suddenly I was ultra inspired and decided it was time to change myself.

This is what led me to decide I wanted to overhaul my lifestyle. I am still a lazy, junk food lover at heart, but making some positive changes where I can has been great so far. I’m more aware that what I put in and on my body, and use in my home, matter. Now that I’m getting older and my metabolism is slowing, I have to make wiser choices to be healthy, because I can no longer count on my youth to do it for me. I also have a history of cancer in my family, and anything I can do to give myself a teeny advantage against that, I will. I’ve also been an advocate for animal rights and have been concerned about the environment for many years, so this change goes beyond taking care of ME. It’s also about taking care of my family, animals and the Earth.

The Series Plan

When I decided I wanted to overhaul the products in my home, to kinder, cruelty free, non-toxic and eco-friendly, I first thought about just doing a blog series about it by myself. But then fate intervened and I’m proud to be working with Kate from The Florkens and Casey from The Messmers to bring you this whole series. Both of them are also making the switch, and together I think we each have so much we can add to this discussion as a trio.

Over the next few months, we’ll be posting, in a total of 8 parts, our own journey going natural. We’ve carefully selected 6 topics to go deeper into the information, products and companies relevant to the areas of our lives we’re making changes. In the last post, we have some special plans that will involve YOU and should be super fun. Details on that to come:)

Here’s what we’ll be talking about going forward:

  • Sept. 22: Makeup & cosmetics
  • Oct. 6: Other beauty products – hair, skin, etc.
  • Oct. 20: Household items & cleaning products
  • Nov. 3: Food
  • Nov. 17: Medicine, vitamins & alternative remedies
  • Dec. 1: Pet food & treats
  • Dec. 15: Wrap-up & special

I’ve already spent countless hours scouring articles, other blogs, researching information, magazines and books, looking at various websites’ policies and product ingredient labels, reading consumer reviews, selecting the best products from the best companies with the best prices I could find, and testing all of it at home for weeks now. I even had Cal test out some items for men. My document with notes so far is at 30 pages. That’s how serious I am about this. It’s a wonder how I managed to sleep or eat! This is going to be pretty thorough, so buckle in folks.

I’ve grown so passionate about this lately and am so excited to share more with you throughout this series. It’s big for me, both in terms of personal changes, and as a blogger to put so much into something and do a true collaboration.

What You Need to Know About Going Natural

Before we go into specifics of each individual category, here’s a few things I found compelling that I wanted to share to get us warmed up.

Did you know that your body absorbs most of what you put on it? According to this infographic, the average human body essentially “eats” 60 percent of the products you use, and women wear nearly 515 chemicals a day. Woah. Oh, and an average woman will eat about 4 pounds of lipstick in her lifetime.

If that much that goes on me ends up in me, I certainly want to know what’s in it and what is safe! Unfortunately, most big-name brands you’ll find in the drugstore are full of bad ingredients. They use them because they’re cheap, which makes them more money, and the artificial preservatives makes products last longer, which in theory sounds nice, but isn’t so much. In fact, many of the ingredients have been linked to cancer, Alzheimer’s, skin conditions and hormone disruptions, plus delayed development and brain function in children. Not cool.

In addition to just being unsafe to us as the consumer, many big-name brands also test on animals. Even many items I was using at home and just never realized before, including Mary Kay, Neutrogena and Clinique. They do this again, because it’s cheaper than alternative testing methods, and the beauty industry in China actually mandates that all items must be tested on animals. Now I don’t need to go all crazy PETA on you, but this will never be OK to me. I never want an animal to die or suffer for the sake of my makeup.

Lastly, humans and animals aside, these toxins in our everyday products also harm the environment. If they’re that bad for us to ingest or use, imagine how they are going down the drain. They can end up in our drinking water (because let’s face it: many chemicals just don’t get filtered out, whether by our cities or our own Britas) or in the ground. And with how beautiful our Earth is, why would we want to harm it? We’re already quickly using up natural resources instead of investing in safe alternative energies, and this is another nail in the coffin I cannot condone.

Sadly, you can’t rely on companies or governmental agencies to make sure products are safe for you. While the beauty industry in Europe is very regulated and many chemicals are banned, it is much more loose in the U.S. The EU has actually banned about 1,100 chemicals from products there; the U.S. has only banned about a dozen. Labels here are also allowed to be very deceiving. Many companies will use feel-good marketing words to make the consumer think they’re making a good choice, when really, they’re not. Words like “organic” “natural” “free range” “healthy” “safe” etc., can be used in many ways that aren’t the way they should be, and companies get away with it.

The only way to make sure the products you buy are truly safe and (mostly) natural, you HAVE to read labels. Never rely on marketing messages or packaging to tell you the truth. You have to flip that product over and look at the list of ingredients to tell the true story. Parabens, sulfates, formaldehyde, artificial colors, preservatives and fragrances, are rampant in nearly every beauty product at the store (and in some foods and household items as well), and you do have to go out of the way and do your homework if you want to avoid nasty toxins.

It can be difficult to find a product that is 100% safe with zero bad ingredients, but by eliminating the worst of them, you’re doing better. Even just swapping out a few products for more natural ones can make a difference for the better for you, animals and our planet.

Myths

To dispel some myths: Natural products are not always more expensive. Yes, some are, but there are some high-quality affordable brands too, and some are available right in your local Target, Walgreens, Whole Foods, Trader Joes or local health food store! You can also get them online, and with some basic couponing, you can get them at great prices.

Another myth is that natural products don’t work as well as their chemical counterparts. Like the above myth, it’s true that some do not. But, some work just as well if not better. A few particular types of items can be harder to find effective versions of, such as deodorant and hairspray, but I’ve found some amazing products that I can’t get enough of. It just might take a little time to find the right products for you, but I promise they are out there!

Resources

If you’d like to start learning more now, I compiled a few resources to get you rolling.

To check if a company tests on animals, I recommend checking Leaping Bunny (here), Paula’s Choice (here) and PETA’s database (here). If you can’t find the company on any of those sites, a simple Google search should give you a good idea if a company is cruelty free or not. Leaping Bunny also now has a mobile app to easily search while on the go.

To check a specific product’s ingredients too see how harmful they are, search the Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep Database (here). PETA also has a database of animal-based ingredients you can check if your products are actually vegetarian/vegan or not (here).

This article also has some compelling information on a high level to get you started learning more about going natural.

I can’t encourage you enough to be an informed consumer. Whether you switch a few products, everything or none, we all deserve to know what we’re bringing into our house and feeding or putting on ourselves and our loved ones.

I hope this is a topic you guys will enjoy. We hope to make it informative, fun and interactive.

Is there any specific topic/concern/question you’d like to see answered or discussed in our coming posts? Leave ‘em below in the comments or email any of us, and we will do our best to address them. I hope you’re excited, because I sure am!


 

going natural: makeup & cosmetics

I’m so excited to dive into our first topic in our Going Natural series! To catch you up if you missed the first post, I’ve teamed up with The Florkens and The Messmers to bring you this lifestyle series all about going more natural in the products you use at home, from makeup to body care, to food, medicine and pet items. This is our first topic-focused post, talking about makeup and cosmetics. We hope to provide you interesting and useful information to inspire you, but without pushing our own philosophy on you. We should note that none of these posts are sponsored in any way. It’s a true passion for all of us to make the switch to chemical and cruelty free items and we simply want to share what we’ve learned and what products rocked our socks off. Here we go!

OK, so we all know what we’re putting in our bodies, right? But do you know what you’re putting on your body? Do you know what makes up the makeup you apply every day? When I decided to find out, I was shocked.

It can’t be that bad, I thought. Until I realized that our bodies absorb what we put on it. According to this infographic, the average human body “eats” 60 percent of the products you use, and the average woman wears nearly 515 chemicals a day. Plus, that average woman also eats about 4 pounds of lipstick in her lifetime. Umm…gross.

There are many dangerous ingredients lurking in most makeups, including Mary Kay, Cover Girl, Maybelline, Neutrogena, and yes even “high end” brands like Clinique, YSL, Urban Decay and Smashbox. Even companies that do not test on animals still use ingredients that are known carcinogens and toxins. This means they have been linked to cancer, and other awful things such as Alzheimer’s, skin allergies, infertility and hormone disruptions. And because mislabeling is rampant and you cannot trust a company’s claims, the only way to find a quality makeup without toxins is to read labels.

Some red-flag ingredients to avoid in your makeups are phthalates, parabens, sulfates, EDTA, propylene glycol, fragrance, artificial colors (Red 5, FD&C Yellow 6, etc.), fragrance/parfum and petrochemicals (meaning petroleum-based products such as paraffin, mineral oil, PEGs, BHA and toulene).

I could try and explain the risks of each of these ingredients, but I found a few sites that do a better job than I would, so I encourage you to check out this link, this one, and the EWG’s Skin Deep Database. If you’d also like to check for animal testing, try Leaping Bunny (here), Paula’s Choice (here) and PETA’s database (here).

Another tip: labels will list ingredients in the order of prominence. So whatever is listed first is the primary ingredient and a lot of it, and whatever ingredient is listed last was used in a small amount.

I’ve been using natural makeup for weeks now and absolutely love it. I feel great about the ingredients in my products and that I’m not harming my body by using them. So far, my complexion seems more clear and balanced, and my skin just feels healthier. I haven’t even had a breakout ever since I switched! The other day on a whim, I put on my old eyeliner because I was too lazy to sharpen my new one. Later that day, I realized I had some styes developing and my lids were tender. I’m not saying it was my eyes rejecting the chemical liner, but the coincidence is pretty interesting. Transitioning away from chemicals for sure has been a great change for me, and I don’t even want to go back to my old stuff anymore.

Near the end of this post, I’ve got all my product reviews, but if you want to start exploring brands as a whole, I compiled a list of some of the best natural makeup companies I could find. From what I could tell, all of these companies are cruelty free, use very few, if any chemicals, have high-quality ingredients, and many are eco-friendly as well.

Makeups brands you can (mostly) trust

  • 100% Pure
  • Alima Pure
  • bareMinerals
  • Beauty Without Cruelty
  • Bite Beauty
  • Ecco Bella
  • Eco Tools
  • Emani
  • Everyday Minerals
  • Dr. Hauschka
  • Honeybee Gardens
  • Josie Maran
  • Kat Von D
  • Larenim
  • Lavera
  • Mineral Fusion
  • Pacifica
  • RMS Beauty
  • Tarte
  • Younique
  • Zuii Organic

Every company on this list I personally researched policies on animal testing, checked ingredient lists on multiple products and read reviews to make sure other consumers like the products. I feel confident in recommending each brand to you, though I again recommend checking the ingredients on the specific products before you buy. If you know of another great brand that should be on this list that isn’t, let me know!

Note: Physicians Formula, Too Faced and e.l.f. are also cruelty free, but too many products have too many risky ingredients to get my full approval. However, if you’re watching your wallet or can’t find the above brands, by all means try their products over the major drugstore brands that do test on animals. Because I realize that you can’t win ‘em all.

Tips

Unfortunately, this category is the only one of all our other categories in which the prices seem to reflect the higher quality. While many bath/skincare/household items/food have safer alternatives for just as good prices, I found it extremely challenging to find products I believed in with prices as good as their riskier counterparts. I’m sorry, but I refuse to buy one blush for $30.

If you choose to go natural with your makeup, realize it will be an investment. The one company that seemed to have the best prices was Pacifica, so I would start there if you’re concerned about spending on the other brands. If you can stomach it, remember that you ARE paying for higher quality ingredients made with care, and they are so worth it.

That being said, while the regular prices for natural makeups are on the high side, there are tons of ways to save. Nearly every company on my above list offers a percentage off your first order when you sign up for their emails, and several also throw in free samples. Additionally, many of them were listed on RetailMeNot, so you can search for coupon codes to redeem online, and some brands are also sold in stores (check Target, Ulta, Sephora) that have their own coupons. Tarte was also listed in ebates, so I was able to get some cash back on my purchase there as well. Lastly, see if any other online retailers distribute these products as they often mark prices down so you can get a better deal. The catch is that not all of a brand’s items may be for sale there, but it’s at least something to check out. (I know for sure that Swanson sells Beauty Without Cruelty, Ecco Bella, Mineral Fusion, Eco Tools and Honeybee Gardens, and if you buy with our already low(er) prices and sign up for our emails, you get 10% off in addition.)

Also remember that you don’t have to overhaul your entire inventory! Start with one or two items and slowly replace your old stuff as you run out. Every small step, every one product switched, is a win.

To get you started, I tested several natural makeup items, so hopefully you can start weeding through all the options to find some great products for yourself. Here’s what I tried and what I thought.

Product Reviews

I did decide to review each and every item I tried so that you not only see which were my faves, but also which were flops. To make it easier to scan, I added some colors as a guide to how it ranked as a hit, miss or not sure.

Remember that we all have different tastes and preferences, so what worked for me may not for you.

Makeup

-Yes to Grapefruit CC Cream (buy here): I’m still on the fence a little bit, but I think I like this. It’s not quite as creamy as some other CC creams, and there is definitely a unique scent to it, but it seems to do what it says, and it works well with a powder on top of it. I’ll definitely keep using it. HIT.

-Pacifica Alight Multi-Mineral BB Cream (buy here): What a lovely surprise with this little guy. I love the texture of it – it’s smooth and creamy and actually has pretty good coverage for being a BB cream. It did have a light shimmer to it, which took me by surprise, but I love a little sparkle anyway, so I am down with it. I got a mini size in my sample kit, but I really think I’ll be buying the full size version soon. HIT

-Tarte Amazonian clay full coverage airbrush foundation powder (buy here): This powder foundation is the reason I placed an order in the first place. My Mary Kay mineral powder was almost out and I needed to replace it stat. This got glowing reviews online, so even though it’s pricier than I like, I went for it. I do like it – the coverage is pretty good, and it goes on really well with my kabuki brush. I like the mesh that pushes it out onto the brush, unlike the Mary Kay one that I had to tap and jiggle around to get the product out. So while I very much like it, I just don’t know that I’m OK with paying $36 for it. If you have a coupon, for sure, but otherwise I look forward to trying some more alternatives. UNSURE

-Tarte Amazonian clay full-coverage concealer (no longer on their site as I bought on clearance): I’m really impressed with this concealer. It has great coverage and is perfect for dabbing over blemishes and under eyes. This little guy works hard and lasts long. Unfortunately since it’s no longer sold on Tarte’s site, I’ll have to find a new one when this tube runs out. HIT

-Tarte Lash Primer (buy here): I never would have bought this on my own, but it came in the sample kit. To see if it worked, I put mascara on one eye without it and on one with this primer. Good news: I did like the eye with the primer! It seemed to add a little more definition to the mascara and went on smoother. HIT

-Tarte Lights Camera Lashes mascara (buy here): This was also in my sample kit, and while the mascara was pretty good, I did like the other one better. It just didn’t seem to do as much as I wanted it to. But, I also suspect I got a not super fresh one since it was combined in a sample kit in a small size. MISS

-Tarte gifted Amazonian clay smart mascara (no longer on their site): I liked this mascara a lot! It was great at defining and went on nice and smooth. I would for sure get this again! (If they ever get it back that is.) HIT

-Boots No. 7 Maximum Volume mascara (buy here): I liked this guy! It was really comparable to the Tarte gifted mascara and was great at defining and lengthening. The price is great too. The problem is that while Boots is cruelty free, I was disappointed to realize after I brought it home that this mascara contains parabens, mineral oil, BHT and a PEG. What a bummer. I can overlook one or two bad ingredients, but this one had too many for me to want to buy it again. This is why you should look at labels before you buy. I was in a rush and saw the cruelty free sign and thought that was enough. Bad me. MISS

-Pacifica Coconut Water Infused Mineral Eye Shadows in Treasure and Mermaid Aqua (buy here): I’m very pleased with these eyeshadows! I prefer pressed shadows to loose and these went on great. The pigment is nice, they blend well and I’d for sure get more. HIT

-Younique pigment powder (aka loose eye shadow) (buy here): Younique is a direct sale company, and a friend hosted a party, so I tried a couple eye pigments. I found all their other products too expensive to try without prior experience with that brand, but if they had a decent sale I would go back and try more. I found the eye pigments quite nice actually. They went on easily and had a good pigment – not too dark or too light. Good color selection. HIT

-Tarte beauty & the box Amazonian Clay eyeshadow quad (buy here): I wish I liked this more, but I don’t. It’s just … OK. The pigment could be better, and I just find it rather average, sadly. While I prefer a pressed shadow, I still find myself reaching for the loose Younique pigment over this one. UNSURE

-Tarte cream shadow stick in champagne (no longer for sale—I bought it on clearance): Though this is no longer available, that’s not an awful thing because it’s OK, but not great. I honestly liked my Mary Kay cream shadow stick better than this one. The only reason I got this was it’s easier to apply in the car, but then it needs blending which can be tricky. No loss that you can no longer get it. MISS

– Tarte skinny smolderEYES™ Amazonian clay waterproof eyeliner in smokey quartz and slate (buy here): Guys. THIS IS THE BEST EYELINER I HAVE EVER USED. I cannot be happier about it, for real. I would marry this eyeliner if I could. It’s like a creamier pencil, the pigment is perfect, and it goes on gloriously. It’s so smooth and wonderful and amazing. I only have to do one sweep, and it’s perfect, unlike my other pencil eyeliners that had to be gone over multiple times. My only complaint is that once you dull down the tip after a few uses, sharpening it isn’t as easy as my other pencils. But that aside, I cannot recommend this liner any more. I would buy 10 of them if I could. HIT!!

-Mineral Fusion Eye Pencil in Coal (buy here): I liked this eyeliner … until I tried the Tarte eyeliner, which blew this out of the water. It goes on OK, but does need a few times going over the eye to look right and needed touchups throughout the day. I found it pretty comparable to the CoverGirl and Maybelline versions I previously used (which again, I thought were fine till I tried Tarte). It does sharpen pretty nicely though, so I appreciate that. I’d use it again, but only if my Tarte ones are out. UNSURE

-Honeybee Gardens JobaColors Eye Liner in Jet Set (buy here): This is probably my least favorite eye liner. The pencil was kinda flaky and needed constant resharpening, and it didn’t go on very smooth. I would not buy again despite it being the best price. MISS

-EcoTools retractable kabuki brush (buy here): OK, I bought this as a cheaper alternative to the Tarte kabuki brush because I just didn’t want to spend that much on a dang brush. The good news is even though it’s not meant to go with the Tarte powder, it’s definitely better at applying it than my old Mary Kay powder brush, and it’s SUPER soft and kind of amazing. Oh, and it comes with a case, making it perfect for travel. I definitely recommend. HIT

Eye Makeup Removers

-DermaE Makeup Remover (buy here): This one is my favorite of the three I tried. It’s kind of thick, almost more like a gel than liquid, but seems to work the best, and feel the best, at removing my stubborn eye makeup. This is the one I’ll reorder. HIT

-Beauty Without Cruelty Extra Gentle Eye Makeup Remover (buy here): I thought I liked this one till I tried the DermaE one. It’s pretty similar, but the liquid is liquidier (more watery? Whatever.) so soaks through my cotton ball easier and can drip down my face. But, it does do a decent job at removing my eye makeup, so it’s effective and pretty nice, you just have to get the right ratio on your cotton ball. UNSURE

-Yes to Cucumbers Soothing Sensitive Skin Eye Makeup Remover Pads (buy here): These are OK if you want a premoistened pad and don’t want to use cotton balls, but it didn’t work quite as well as the first two. The pad is super thin, and I have to scrub a little harder to get it all off. It does feel good, but I think it’s just that refreshing cucumber part that I like more than the job it does at removing makeup. (If you want to try this one though, be sure to use a coupon to get it for cheap. There is always a 35% off deal online and a $3 off printable one you can use at Target.) UNSURE

I have heard several people suggest using coconut oil to remove makeup as well for an even more natural approach, but I’ve developed a pretty solid bias against coconut oil, so I haven’t tried it. If the smell of it doesn’t make you gag, and you have some around, I would definitely recommend trying it. Unfortunately for me, my experience oil pulling has completely ruined all coconut oil for me.

Note: I’ll be reviewing those makeup removing & cleansing wipes in our next post on other beauty products.

Lip Balms

-Aubrey Organic Lip Balm in Raspberry (buy here): Guys. This is my FAVORITE. I love love love this balm. It smells so sweet and lovely, it lasts long, it feels great, the texture is perfect and it’s such a treat. I’m getting more of these for sure. Highly recommend if you like fruity balms. And if you don’t, try the next one. HIT

-Aubrey Organic Lip Balm in Peppermint & Tea Tree (buy here): I really like this balm. It’s not too thick, lasts as long as I think it should, and has a nice texture. With the tea tree, I can see where it would be great in the winter with more chapped lips, but even now I like the slight tingle and cool sensation from it. I recommend. HIT

-Alba Botanica Hawaiian Lip Balm in Pineapple Quench (buy here): This guy is pretty good. I like him, but I don’t love him. The scent is absolutely amazing though – it’s tropically and delicious, but it’s not quite as thick as I like and wears off sooner than I like. I’ll use it if I don’t have my Aubrey ones on hand. UNSURE

-Burt’s Bees Beeswax Lip Balm (buy here): I’ve had this one for quite awhile and it’s served me well. I like a tingle in my lip balm so I feel like it’s working, and this one gives me a slight one. It’s kind of minty and cool, but not too heavy. It wears off sooner than my Carmex ever did, but I assume that’s just because it doesn’t have petrolatum. HIT

-Hurraw Night Treatment Balm in Blue Chamomile Vanilla (buy here): I bought this one at a local boutique thinking it would give me some intense lip treatment overnight, so I put it on right before bed. Honestly it just feels like a regular balm and I don’t anything makes it for the night except the packaging (maybe the chamomile makes them think it will lull you to sleep?). There is not a single bad ingredient in it though, and it’s vegan, all natural, organic, raw, cold-pressed and cruelty free, so I like that, but the balm itself is kind of boring. MISS

-Yes to Carrots lip butter in melon (not pictured; buy here): I actually ended up throwing this one out, much to my dismay. I wanted to like it, but I just didn’t. The scent wasn’t as good as I wanted it to be, it went on too thick and just felt weird. Disappointing. MISS

-Pacifica Color Quench Lip Tint in Guava Berry (buy here): Love this! I never opt for tinted balms if I have the choice because I prefer just a regular balm, but I’m pleasantly surprised. It looks way more tinted than it actually goes on, and it feels great AND smells amazing. HIT

Once again, I’ve heard that coconut oil works great as a basic natural lip balm too. And there’s plenty of ways to make your own sugar lip scrub at home! A quick Pinterest search should get your on your way if that’s the route you want to go.

A few of these (mostly) natural items I tried still had a few moderate to low-risk ingredients (Yes To had fragrance listed at the end in many items), but since it was mostly good otherwise, I had to overlook it. My approach to all of this is that you don’t have to be perfect, because I don’t think a 100% perfect item exists. Just do your best though, choose your battles, find what works for you personally, and be happy with that.

Please check out the makeup posts on both Kate’s and Casey’s blogs too, because they’ve got their own research, tips and recommendations up as well!

Do you have a favorite natural makeup? Have you already, or have you considered, making the switch?

going natural: bath, hair & skin care

Welcome to the second topic within the Going Natural series brought to you by The Florkens, The Messmers and myself. Last week, we talked about makeup, and today we’ll be talking about other beauty products, from skincare to haircare, dental care, perfume and more. We hope to shed a little more light into the beauty industry so we can all be more informed consumers and present information we’ve found from our own research, experiences and time testing various products.

Please note that none of this is sponsored in any way. Everything is from our hearts and because making the switch to more natural items has become important to us. For me, I was appalled when I learned more about how many companies test products on animals and how dangerous the ingredients in many products are.

Strap in, friends. This is gonna be a long one.

But before we get into it too much, I wanted to clarify a few things. I saw a couple comments on the other gals’ posts last week about being confused about labeling.

“Natural” and Cruelty Free Labeling

The most important thing I can tell you is that marketing messages can’t be trusted, and label laws are very loose in the U.S. If a product says that it’s “natural,” it may not be (like the Simple brand example from my intro post). This is why it’s so important to look at the ingredients. Also remember that a product may not be tested on animals, but it still can contain lots of chemicals, so not much is safe. (Lush, for instance, does not test on animals, but still uses crap ingredients.)

This pin breaks down some of the logos you may see on your labels and what they actually mean.

The “Cruelty Free & Vegan” logo is from PETA, and indicates that a company declares its products is not animal tested and contains no animal substances. The Leaping Bunny logo declares that the finished product was not tested on animals, nor were any of the ingredients during production. Did you catch that? That means that without that logo, a company can technically put text on a label that says “cruelty free” or “this finished product not tested on animals,” but it doesn’t mean that at some point, it wasn’t.

The words “organic” and “natural” also pretty much mean nothing on a label. It can mean that a product contains one ingredient from a natural source, but the other ingredients may not be. To be safe, just look at the ingredients, and for logos such as the USDA Organic one or Non-GMO Project, which are better indicators of the true story.

Here’s a pretty good post about cruelty free labeling if you want to learn more, and in this post, Logical Harmony explains it further.

Dangerous Ingredients

There are so many ingredients in beauty and personal care items that studies show are toxic to our bodies. Check out this infographic that briefly explains the origin and harm in some of them:

Courtesy of Natural Healthy Concepts: What Toxic Chemicals Is Your Body Absorbing? [INFOGRAPHIC]

To summarize these harmful ingredients, we made you a printable that lists the worst that are lurking in most all the big brand products. Pin it for future reference, save it to your phone or print it out and stick it in your wallet, so you can check labels next time you go shopping.

If you’re interested in reading more on these red-flag ingredients, here are some of the best resources I found:

‘Dirty Dozen’ cosmetic chemicals to avoid

20 toxic ingredients to avoid when buying body care products and cosmetics

Top tips for safer products

Alcohol in cosmetics- is it safe?

Beyond Parabens: 7 Common Cosmetics Ingredients You Need to Avoid

Remember that labels list ingredients in the order of amount, so whatever is listed first is the primary ingredient and a lot of it, and whatever ingredient is listed last was used in a small amount.

Many other ingredients are sketchy, but are low(er) hazard, so research some for information, but by avoiding the main ones, you’ll be doing a lot of good.

Tips

The good news is that many natural items in this category were pretty affordable. But if you want to save, it’s been pretty easy to coupon on these too. Many brands offer a percentage off your first order (and sometimes free samples too!) when you sign up for their emails. Several are also listed on RetailMeNot and ebates, so you can find promo codes and get cash back. Many are also available at your local Target, Ulta, Trader Joes or local natural stores. Lastly, see if any other online retailers distribute these products as they often mark prices down so you can get a better deal. I know that Swanson carries several of these, and we offer 10% off your first order with email signup too.

You can also DIY beauty items if you’re feeling ambitious. One thing I tried was to cut a lemon in half, squirt some honey on one half, then rub that over my face. It felt amazing – the citrus cleans and refreshes and the honey soothes, and it felt like a light exfoliation. Super cheap and easy. Coconut oil can also be used in tons of ways. Search Pinterest as well, and you can find tons of DIY recipes for shampoo, lotion, soaps and more.

If you have a bunch of old products you want to get rid of, don’t just chuck them in the trash. If they’re unused, check with your local women’s shelter or food bank, as they likely accept them as donations. If it’s used, it’s best to just dispose of the product itself (grab an extra trash bag and squirt/scoop it all in there), then rinse out and recycle the bottles and containers.

I also started labeling all my new purchases so I know how long I’ve had them and when to dispose of them. Just write the month and year on the bottom in permanent marker! This way I can stop using something if it’s been too long, since many items (natural or not) tend to break down and be less effective past a certain date.

Remember that you don’t have to overhaul your entire inventory! Start with one or two items and slowly replace your old stuff as you run out. Every small step, every one product switched, is a win.

Resources

As I’ve dived into this more natural world, I’ve found a few resources I find myself continuing to turn to for tips and information. Two of the best natural beauty bloggers out there that I recommend subscribing to is Logical Harmony and Beauty by Arielle.

To check if a company tests on animals, I recommend checking Leaping Bunny (here), Paula’s Choice (here) and PETA’s database (here). If you can’t find the company on any of those sites, a simple Google search should give you a good idea if a company is cruelty free or not. Leaping Bunny also now has a mobile app to easily search while on the go.

To check a specific product’s ingredients too see how harmful they are, search the Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep Database (here). PETA also has a database of animal-based ingredients you can check if your products are actually vegetarian/vegan or not (here).

Natural Brand List

Skin & body care brands you can (mostly) trust

  • 100% Pure
  • Acure Organics
  • Alba Botanica
  • Aubrey
  • Andalou Naturals
  • Avalon Organics
  • Badger
  • Beauty Without Cruelty
  • Bulldog Skincare for Men
  • Burt’s Bees*
  • California Baby
  • DermaE
  • Desert Essence
  • Dr. Bronner’s
  • Dr. Hauschka
  • Earth’s Best
  • Ecco Bella
  • Every Man Jack
  • Everyday Shea
  • Good for you Girls
  • Grandpa Soap Co.
  • Giovanni
  • Harvey Prince
  • Head Organics
  • Honeybee Gardens
  • Hugo Naturals
  • Jason
  • Josie Maran
  • J.R. Watkins
  • Kiss My Face
  • Larenim
  • Lavera
  • Lily of the Desert
  • Maxim Hygiene
  • Mineral Fusion
  • MyChelle
  • Mineral Fusion
  • Natracare
  • Nature’s Baby Organics
  • Nature’s Gate
  • Naturtint
  • Nubian Heritage
  • Out of Africa
  • Pacifica
  • Paula’s Choice
  • Pure & Basic
  • Pure Life Soap
  • Saba Botanical (for natural henna hair color)
  • Seventh Generation
  • ShiKai
  • Skin by Ann Webb
  • Sonoma Soap Co.
  • Sunshine Spa
  • Weleda
  • Yakshi Fragrances
  • Yes To

* Burt’s Bees is owned by Clorox, and while the Burt’s line does not test on animals, Clorox still does, so while the Burt’s items are a great natural choice in many cases, do realize you may still be supporting Clorox in the end. It’s a tough one.

Product Reviews

Subscription Boxes

-Vegan Cuts: This is probably the most popular vegan/natural subscription box, and for good reason. They offer a snack or beauty option each month, or you can also buy specialized one-time boxes. I bought the Leaping Bunny Starter Kit, which is $28 (but I found a coupon) and has 9 natural and vegan beauty items. All were items I knew I’d use, and the variety was great and the price was even better. I definitely recommend this one.

-Petit Vour: I just signed up for this monthly box and don’t have my first one yet, but I really think I’m going to love it. It’s $15 a month, which seems like a good value. A natural beauty blogger I follow curated one of their last boxes, and they seem really great. I know and like many of the brands and products that have been in past boxes, so I’ll be shocked if I don’t like this one.

-Conscious Box: I did subscribe to the Classic Taster box, but cancelled after 3 months. Overall, I was really disappointed at the products in each box. Of the eight or so, only one or two actually interested me each month. I got really bizarre items that I didn’t need or would ever use, such as weight loss pills, vitamins, burn and itch cream, protein powder and men’s shaving oil. And the box wasn’t customizable either, so I had no control over what came. I felt like each box was mostly a waste of my $10.

-Eco Emi: This one offers eco-friendly beauty items in each box, but I can’t say too much more about it. Their website links don’t seem to be working right, so I couldn’t even find how much each box option was, and I ended up unsubscribing from their emails because they piled up pretty quickly. I’ve heard a couple good reviews though, so they must be doing something right.

-Goodebox: This box delivers healthy beauty and personal care items. Each box is $18. I haven’t tried it yet, and I haven’t heard much about it, but it seems like a great option to add to the list.

Sunless Tanners

-Alba Botanica Very Emollient Sunless Tanner: This is one of my favorite natural finds of all. I used to frequent tanning beds for special events, but not anymore! This tanner is all I need to achieve a healthy glow without the risk of cancer. It goes on just like a lotion – it’s very smooth and creamy and actually moisturizes as it tans. It gives a subtle glow, so don’t expect a deep tan, but with several uses, I found it perfect for the shade I wanted. Best of all, it doesn’t make you orange, it doesn’t streak and it smells great. I plan to keep using this year-round.

-Tarte deluxe Brazilliance™ skin rejuvenating maracuja face and body self tanner: This came as my free sample with my Tarte makeup order, and I’m not really a fan. For one, it’s not creamy like the Alba one is, and the color of the formula is VERY dark, which freaked me out. I only applied a thin layer to test it out on my face and arms, and I found it not as easy to apply, and I honestly don’t even think it gave me any color at all. I for sure am going back to Alba and probably won’t even finish this sample tube. Bummer.

Shave Items

-Alba Botanica Very Emollient foam shave in mango vanilla: This is the only shave item I tried, but I don’t even want to try any more. I’m in love with this one so much. Not only does it smell amazing, but it works great too. It’s soft and foamy and makes my legs feel luxurious after I shave with it.

Body Washes

-Nature’s Gate Body Wash in acai: I think this one’s my favorite, though for the record all of the ones I tried were good enough to use again. This one smelled rich and luxuriously sweet, lathered well and felt good. The pump is nice and convenient too.

-Yes to Blueberries Ultra Hydrating Body Wash: My second favorite body wash. This was nice and smooth, lathered well and felt nice and refreshing. Not quite as sweet a scent, if you prefer a more subtle one. I was expecting not to like it since the shampoo was such a disappointment, so I was glad that I did actually like it. Heads up though: As all the other reviewers warned, the bottle cap is near impossible to dispense it, so you have to unscrew the top and pour it directly on your sponge, which is a pain. That aside, I had nothing to dislike about it (aside from the “fragrance” listed in the ingredients, but it was the last one, so I’ll look past it).

-Desert Essence Nourishing Coconut Body Wash: Nice and creamy and pleasantly coconutty. However, I felt like some stank came back sooner with this wash than the others (not like, immediately, but by the end of the day), but maybe I just didn’t use enough. I still prefer fruity fragrances, but it might a good bet for others.

-Alba Botanica Very Emollient Bath & Shower Gel in honey mango: I like the way this wash feels and works, but I’m sadly not a fan of the scent. The honey doesn’t seem to jive with the mango, and I wish they would have matched the scent to the mango vanilla foam shave instead. I’m stuck with this ginormous bottle though, and I’ll probably finish it up, but not before I work through my faves first.

-Hugo Naturals Shower Gel in vanilla and sweet orange: This body wash was OK, but not too special. It worked, smelled nice and whatnot, but it didn’t strike a chord like the first two I listed. I am glad it comes in a travel size though, so I’ll save it to use on trips.

-Kiss My Face Pure Olive Oil Soap (not pictured): Olive oil soaps are all the rage, and even though I prefer body washes, I will occasionally use a bar soap in the bath. The bar itself was kinda too big for me to easily hold on to, and didn’t even fit into my soap holder, but it did work nicely. I felt like it got me squeaky clean, and lasted long, but without much scent (it definitely doesn’t smell like olives like I half expected it to). For a bar soap, I was very happy with it, but it did leave me a little drier than body washes (but less dry than regular bar soap).

Dental Care

-Kiss My Face Triple Action toothpaste in cool mint gel: This was the winning toothpaste in our household. My husband much preferred this one to the others, and I liked it too. It cleaned and freshened, but without being overwhelming. It’s an added bonus that it also has aloe and CoQ10 in it. I’ll be buying it again for sure.

-Nature’s Gate Natural Toothpaste in peppermint: I liked this one enough to buy it again, but my husband is rather “meh” about it. It foamed the best of all three, but did NOT contain SLS, which was important to me. It’s in a tie for first place if it were up to me. It definitely has a stronger minty feeling though.

-Jason Powersmile Antiplaque and Whitening in powerful peppermint: I didn’t mind this one, but my husband hated it. He called it “cement” and refused to use it again. It did have a thicker grayer look and feel, and was more cooling than the others, but without the man’s approval, I won’t be buying it again.

-Tom’s of Maine Cleansing mouthwash in spearmint: This is my first natural mouthwash without alcohol, and I like that it feels more gentle, yet it still feels like it’s working. Many Tom’s toothpastes contain SLS, which is a giant disappointment, so I’m glad that the ingredients in this were safer so we could try it. I’d buy it again.

-Desert Essence Tea Tree Oil Dental Floss: I really like that this has a natural coating instead of wax, and it seems to work just as well, though it’s not quite as smooth if you’re used to those gliding waxy ones. It’s kind of a bit stiff and stringy, but I really don’t mind it and feel good about using it.

-Preserve toothbrush (not pictured): This is made with recycled yogurt cups. How cool is that. However, I felt like the toothbrush itself could have been for a child or a dog – the bristle head was not wide enough to brush with easily.

Tip: Go fluoride free with your toothpastes. Chances are, you’re getting enough fluoride anyway in your drinking water and from the application at the dentist. The research I found seemed to say that you really do not need any more, and in fact it may be harmful to ingest too much.

Deodorants

-Certain Dri A.M. Solid: I had almost given up on finding a natural deodorant that worked till I tried this one. It performs well and keeps you fresh and B.O.-free all day, though I don’t love the scent. It’s kind of strong and almost powdery-smelling, but at least it gets the job done. It’s not intolerable, but I’m on the fence if I’ll buy it again. I may actually go back to my chemical-filled Degree one simply because it works and the smell is so much better. Sadly.

-Nature’s Gate Deodorant in chamomile & lemon verbena: I so badly wanted to love this, but really I hated it. It went on really wet and did not work at all. Within hours I smelled myself again, and since I was at work, I was super self-conscious and tried to keep my arms down at all times so no one would think I’m dirty. What a disappointment.

-Jason Aloe Vera Deodorant Stick: I got this one after the failed Nature’s Gate one since it was recommended, and it did seem to be better, but it still wasn’t good enough for me. I made it through most of the work day feeling and smelling OK, but by late afternoon stank was starting to get through. I did feel really soothing going on, and though I put it aside for now, I will try it again in the winter months when I don’t sweat as much. The jury is out for now.

Face Washes

-Yes to Cucumbers Soothing Sensitive Skin Gentle Milk Cleanser: I like this one. It’s gentle and does clean and feels really good. For a heavy duty job though, I’d use something else, so I keep this in the shower to use in the mornings when my makeup is already off and I just to freshen up my face and get rid of oils.

-Desert Essence Gentle Nourishing Organic Cleanser: This is the one I use for heavier duty jobs like removing makeup at the end of the day. It is thicker and more powerful and lathers very well. It has kind of a weird medicinal/natural smell and actually makes my face feel really weird (like kinda slippery? I can’t even describe the feeling well) while I’m rinsing it off, but my face does feel great after I’ve dried it.

-MyChelle Honeydew Cleanser Unscented: I would use this in place of Desert Essence if the cost were a little better. It works great and seems a little more heavier duty than Yes To, and I like that it’s fragrance free. Heads up: I expected it to smell like honeydew even though it says unscented, so I was disappointed when it didn’t. My bad; dumb moment. It is nice though if you want a higher-end cleanser, for sure.

-Skin by Ann Webb Coconut Water Sensitive Skin Cleanser: Ugh. Two of my friends raved about this cleanser so I was excited to try it, but the bad news is I hate it. It’s really runny and watery, for one. And, you know when you’re in the pool and get some chlorine up your nose and your whole face feels full of chlorine? That’s the sensation I got with this. Nast. I don’t even want to finish the bottle.

Face Wipes & Makeup Removers

-Yes to Cucumbers Soothing Facial Towelettes: This is right up there with the Alba tanning lotion as one of my very top favorite natural finds. I can’t get enough of these. (And with the constant coupons available for them at Target, they’re really affordable!) They feel soo good – they’re light and refreshing and the cucumber feels amazing on my face. It seems to remove makeup well too, though I still use an eye makeup remover prior. These are perfect for the days you’re too lazy to use a cleanser since you can just wipe, throw and go without rinsing. Which for me, happens almost every night. I go through these like hotcakes.

-Pacifica Purify Coconut Water Cleaning Wipes: I really like these! The wipes themselves are a little smaller than the others, so I feel good about “wasting” less, but they work just as well. They smell great and feel super refreshing and nice, just like the Cucumber wipes, but with a lovely coconut scent instead. Also good at removing makeup, though perhaps the smaller wipe wouldn’t be enough if you’re heavy on the foundation. It worked great for me though and I definitely would get more.

-Burt’s Bees Sensitive Facial Cleansing Towelettes (not pictured): Another friend recommended these, and they’re OK, but I much prefer my cucumber wipes. These were a little thinner and seemed less effective. Just kinda plain and boring. Which might be perfect for those that want something fragrance-free.

-Yes to Blueberries Facial Towelettes (not pictured): I thought I’d like these since I liked the cucumber ones, but I didn’t. They seemed thicker and wetter and actually stung my face a bit, and didn’t even seem as effective. I don’t know why they felt and worked so different, but I for sure wouldn’t ever get again over the cucumber ones.

-Alba Botanica Hawaiian 3-in-1 Towelettes with pineapple enzyme: Another one from Alba that I don’t really like because it seems to leave behind a residue. They removed some makeup, but definitely didn’t do as good a job as the Yes To Cucumbers or Pacifica. I would not buy again.

-Alba Botanica Acne Dote Daily Cleaning Towelettes (not pictured): Boo again, Alba. These smell horrendous, though they at least didn’t leave a film like the pineapple ones did. I absolutely cannot get past the smell though.

Face Moisturizers

-Burt’s Bees Sensitive Daily Moisturizing Cream: This was the only pump moisturizer I could find within my price range (which in itself I think is a problem), so a huge thanks to Burt’s for offering it. I really did like it too! It went on nicely, had no scent, did its job and left no lingering weird feel behind. A little more steep price-wise than I’d like, but considering it was the only pump I could find, I would splurge on it again.

-Beauty Without Cruelty Daily Moisturizer: This was a close second to the Burt’s cream. It almost had a minty scent, but felt good on my skin and seemed to absorb well. Though it’s in a jar, I would buy it again since there’s few pump options. I’ll just be careful to only dip clean fingers in.

-Aubrey Organics EveryDay Basics Moisturizer: The only other pump option I tried, and I got it in my Vegan Cuts box. I thought I was going to like this more than I did. Witch Hazel is one of the main ingredients, and I could tell by the scent. It had sort of a strange consistency and appearance, but I think it worked OK. I do prefer the Burt’s cream to this one though.

-Alba Botanica Hawaiian Oil-Free Moisturizer with aloe and green tea: This smells good and feels good, and seems to work well, but it seems to “hang on” to my face longer than the first two. It’s not greasy, but leaves behind some kind of feel afterward, which is strange. I can’t even explain it. Plus since it’s in a jar, I can’t say I’d get it again.

-Swanson Vitamin C Cream: Confession: I bought this because I couldn’t stomach the price of the vitamin C cream from Avalon Organics that I really wanted. This cream is really thick, but like in a dry kind of way, and it’s a bizarre color. I was hesitant to try it, but when I did I was pleasantly surprised. I did have to apply more than what I’d use from other face lotions, and it definitely wasn’t smooth and creamy like them, but it did seem to go on my face nicely and felt like it delivered some moisture. It seems gentle, and is the most affordable by far.

-Tarte Maracuja C-brightener eye cream: Another free sample from my Tarte makeup order. This actually has some shimmer in it, which I wasn’t at all expecting, and kind of weirded me out. It seemed a little more like regular face moisturizer than an eye cream that I’m used to, but it was soft and smooth. That being said, I don’t think I’ll be trying this again.

Acne Products

-Burt’s Bees Acne Solutions Targeted Spot Treatment: I tried this on a whim since I had a coupon and am not sure how I feel about it, even weeks after using it. It’s kind of hard to dispense and it stings a little bit. The zit I used it on did go away after a few days, but who knows if that’s thanks to this product or simply the natural life of a zit ending. I’m unsure.

-Wellinhand Zero Zitz Toner (not pictured): I like this guy! I can tell that it’s working by how it feel son my face, but it doesn’t sting like many toners do. It felt really nice, actually. I would for sure get this again. Though I can’t say it helps zits, I like it anyway.

Hair Styling

-Beauty Without Cruelty Hair Spray: I knew hairspray would be a tough replacement since they use alcohol and aerosol cans in most for a reason. While this hairspray (and none without those two things) doesn’t really compare, I was pretty pleased with it considering. The pump sprayed nicely and didn’t make my hair crunchy like I was worried about. It smelled kinda strong, but did fade quickly. I only do one spray to tame down my flyaways, and it worked well for that, but I’m not sure any non-aerosol would work for heavy duty styling or updos. My giant can of Rave will stay for those scenarios.

-Giovanni VitaPro Fusion Leave-In Hair Treatment: This basically puts vitamins in your hair, which is super cool. I wanted a leave-in treatment that was not a conditioner or basic heat protector, and this was the only one I thought fit the bill. It comes out a little more aggressively than I anticipated, but once I figured out the right pressure to spray it on, I’m happy with it. A great replacement for my Matrix botanical leave-in.

-Giovanni Root 66 Max Volume Directional Root Lifting Spray: This guy means business! It actually does a better job than my Matrix Amplify root lifter does. A little goes a long with this spray, and I can tell that it gives my hair some extra oomph. A must-have for my fine-haired friends.

Hair Color

-HerbaTint Permanent Herbal Haircolor Gel: This was the only non-henna brand with good enough reviews I felt OK trying it. The ingredients were far better than my usual Revlon hair color, which was good, but it definitely smelled like grass and was kind of messy. It was a gloopy gel and didn’t come with a brush, so I just used my hands to plop it in my hair. It also needed mixing, but didn’t combine in one of the existing containers like usual hair dyes, so I had to scrounge up a plastic cup to mix it. Pain! But, in the end, it worked. However, I’m not sold on if it was really worth it at all, so I may either go back to Revlon or try a gray root concealing brush that I have to use daily instead. Blah.

Lotions (for body, hands and feets)

-Desert Essence Tropical Coconut Hand & Body Lotion: Oh my word, this smells SO good! Really – it’s amazing. It is smooth and creamy, it goes on and moisturizes fantastically and the amazing scent stays on your skin. I kept smelling my arms the days I applied this. I. love. This. Lotion.

-Desert Essence Island Mango Hand & Body Lotion: This is pretty comparable to the previous lotion, but the scent is a little less sweet. I like it, but still can’t get enough of the first one’s scent.

-Kiss My Face Vitamin A & E Moisturizer: I actually got this for a few reasons. 1) I knew my husband wouldn’t use my girly tropical lotion, so I wanted something unscented he could use too. 2) It’s a nice, safe, all-around moisturizer to have on hand that replaced my old Cetaphil bottle. 3) Even though it’s not marketed as for your face, it works great there anyway, and since like no pumps are available for face lotion, I knew we could use this for it as well. It’s really like an all-over lotion. It does go on a little thick and white, and needs some rubbing in, but it feels great. I do recommend.

-Hugo Naturals All Over Lotion in vanilla & sweet orange: Yes, this smelled good and worked OK, similar to the matching shower items, I just felt like overall it was kind of lackluster. It’ll do just fine, but I wasn’t blown away.

-Weleda Skin Food (not pictured): This was way thicker and a little greasier than I was expecting and took the entire sample pack just to get all of my legs. It was intense moisture for sure, but I had to use a lot of it since it was so thick and hard to spread on.

-J.R. Watkins Shea Butter Hand Cream in lemon cream: I wanted a smaller hand lotion to put on my desk at work in place of my old B&BW lotion (does anyone else think that crap actually dries your hands more? I have no clue why I used it so long.), and this is it. It smells heavenly and works great, though it’s just a teeny bit greasy. So worth it though. I love this.

-Beauty Without Cruelty vitamin C with CoQ10 hand lotion (not pictured): I really love this stuff. It smells great, it feels great, it hydrates well and is not greasy at all. The texture and feel is just perfect, and the travel size I bought is going to come in handy for carrying around in my purse. Now that I know I love it, I’ll for sure be getting the full size for use at home.

-Burt’s Bees Almond Milk Beeswax Hand Crème: Oof. This works, but is very greasy. Expect to get it all over everything you touch after applying. It takes quite a while to actually soak in, though when it does, your hands will feel ridiculously soft and smooth. I recommend it mostly just as an intensive night treatment used with gloves. Definitely needed in the dry winter months!

-Kiss My Face Foot Crème in peppermint: I love all the other KMF products, but this one fell short for me. For a foot cream, I expect a thick, heavy-duty moisturizing lotion, and this was too light to do its job well. I’ll be looking for other more intensive foot creams for sure. With this one, I may as well use any other lotion – I don’t see what makes this so special for my feet.

Shampoos & Conditioners

-Alba Botanica Hawaiian Shampoo & Conditioner in Colorific Plumeria: Guys. This smells soooo good. The scent is absolutely heavenly. I seriously smell my hair all day when I use this. But that aside, it works really well too. It hasn’t been fading my color, it suds well, the conditioner moisturizes really well, it cleans my hair well, and it feel great when it dries. I even lent my set to my bestie who has really thick and curly hair and she liked it too. Winner!

-Beauty Without Cruelty hair & Scalp treatment Shampoo & Conditioner in rosemary mint tea tree: This set is in a very close second place. It’s not a fruity scent, but it still smells really good. It suds up great and feels so good on my hair. It seems a little more intensive than the Alba set, and I like to use it for clarifying. I’m nervous it might strip the color, so I don’t use it every day, but boy do I like it to get heavy product out or on super dirty days. And I love that the company offers travel sizes to try them out without committing to full-size versions.

-Hugo Naturals Volumizing Shampoo & Conditioner in vanilla & sweet orange: Sigh. Just like the other Hugo products, this is just OK. It cleans, it smells good, it volumized enough, it did its job, but for some reason I’m just not going crazy for it. I’m not sure why, but some other products are totally killing it.

-Bain de Terre Color Preserving Shampoo & Conditioner in passion flower: I got this set in a past Birchbox, and while it’s iffy if the company is cruelty free (but I lean toward it is), I included it in this mix because it’s paraben free. I did really like it – it smelled good, sudsed well and worked nicely, and yay for travel sizes!

-Organix Argan Oil Shampoo & Conditioner: This would not have been my first choice out of this line, but the full size versions of the other kinds I wanted to try were too spendy, but I spotted these in the Target travel section so I gave ‘em a shot. And then of course once it was home, I realized there were some not-so-good ingredients. While I did end up really liking this set, I think I found some better options to use instead.

-Yes to Carrots Nourishing Shampoo & Conditioner: Meh. It seemed to clean my hair, but it didn’t suds, it didn’t smell great and it wasn’t very special. Pass.

-Yes To Cucumbers Color Protection Shampoo & Conditioner: I really want to like this product…but I just don’t. The first time I used it, I just let my hair air dry afterward, and it felt really lifeless and dull (more so than with other shampoos and air drying). The next day though I used some styling products and blow dried my hair after use, and that was better, so that must be the key. The shampoo itself is kind of slimy and thick and doesn’t suds up well at all. I have to use two or three applications to coat my whole head and hair. I’m kind of disappointed — I was expecting more from this brand and shampoo. However, I do like the conditioner much more than the shampoo. I’m bummed that this was such a miss.

Perfumes

-Pacifica Brazilian Mango Grapefruit: Pacifica had so many scents to choose from, but I decided to just try one to try it first. I am very happy with this one and definitely want to try more. It fades throughout the day a little more than I’d like, but most days that is OK. Just reapply if you want before going out again, otherwise for a regular work day I think this is perfect. They also have it available in solid and spray versions, but I like roll-ons.

-Harvey Prince Hello: I’m so glad I got this little sample perfume in a Birchbox because I love it. I wasn’t sure if it would be cruelty and chemical free, so I was super glad to find out that it was, and I love the crisp, clean scent. It seems to last all day too. I would totally buy the full-size version and probably will.

-Yakshi Fragrances in Cleopatra’s Secret: My friend liked this scent, but I don’t prefer it. It’s a little too warm and musky for me. But it’s a decent size roll-on for a great price, so it’s for sure worth trying more scents. It does seem to last most of the day though, and I like that it has staying power.

-Pacifica solid perfume in Malibu lemon blossom (not pictured): This one was just too strong – the scent of lemon wasn’t a nice sweet one, but like smelling an actual lemon straight up. Plus who wants to get their fingertips perfumed? This one’s a no.

Nail Polishes & Remover

-Mineral Fusion nail polish remover: Most nail polish removers are so harsh that they dry out my nail, but this seems to do the opposite. It seemed much gentler and made my nails feel really good, but it surprisingly did a really good job at removing the polish too! I didn’t have to scrub long or hard to get it off, which was a nice surprise. The scent is more vinegar-y than alcohol-y like most. I’m curious how other natural removers compare, but I am very happy with this.

-Mineral Fusion nail polish in mint: I used my $3.50 off coupon at Ulta to get this and my fave dry shampoo, and I’m happy with it! The other brands of natural nail polishes are so darn expensive I wasn’t going to review any at all, but I saw this lovely mint shade and couldn’t say no. It goes on well and doesn’t chip right away. It’s pretty comparable to most standard polishes, which I think is a good thing since it’s made with better things and is free of formaldehyde, toulene, camphor and dibutyl phthalate and the company is cruelty free. Glad to finally have one polish I feel great about using.

Feminine Products

-Natracare organic tampons: I’ll try to not go too TMI on you, but basically, these aren’t too bad, and it’s nice to have a safer option for something you put up there every month. These had cardboard applicators, which isn’t my first choice, but I realize it’s better for the environment than plastic, so I’ll get past it. They seemed to work just as well as my old Playtex ones, even though they’re noticeably longer, and I’ll probably stick with these since they’re better for the environment.

-Seventh Generation organic tampons: Another cardboard applicator, but I liked the Natracare brand just ever so slightly more. Meh.

-Maxim organic pantiliners: These had a weird meshy thing on top and seemed to bunch more than I’m used to with my Up & Up brand ones. They did seem to do their job though and absorbed well, but due to the bunching, I won’t be buying them again.

Men’s Body Items

-Every Man Jack Face Lotion fragrance free: Cal likes this – it’s not oily and unscented and seems to work well. We’ll see how it fares in our harsh winter months though.

-Every Man Jack Deodorant in cedarwood: He likes this deodorant – the scent is refreshing, it applies well, seems like it’s high quality and lasts all day. He says it’s pretty comparable to his old Old Spice one, and he’s very impressed a natural deodorant can be that good. Win!

-Herban Cowboy Maximum Protection Deodorant in mountain: He says this smells like pine needles and sawdust, and the scent is offputting, though it applied just fine.

-Pure Life Soap Aloe 2-in-1 Shampoo & Conditioner: This was pretty good. The scent is pleasant, especially for being aloe. It’s pretty neutral, but just smells fresh and nice. Cal reports that it works well, but he’s not sure it does much for his hair. I even tried it on myself one day and thought it did a good job of cleaning my hair, but I definitely missed conditioner. For a dude with short hair that doesn’t have to worry about tangles, it should be just fine! Considering that Cal only wants to use 2-in-1s, this is what we’ll stick with.

-Every Man Jack 2-in-1 Daily Shampoo & Conditioner: He did not like this and said it smelled pungent – it was too citrusy for his preference, and he had to use a lot of it. When I gave him the Aloe shampoo instead, he immediately switched and wanted nothing to do with the EMJ shampoo anymore.

-Every Man Jack Body Wash in cedarwood: This went over very well. He likes this scent much more than the citrus one, and said it smelled awesome, lathered great, and was “hands down the favorite.”

-Burt’s Bees Natural Body Wash: This has a light citrusy scent, but what I noticed was it seemed super liquidy. Like, it just sloshed all over the bottle. He does seem to like this one though, but just not quite as much as EMJ. He says it’s “not bad.”

-Kiss My Face Anti-Stress Shower Gel in woodland pine & ginseng: This pretty much smells like a forest, and I was sure the hubs would like it, but he doesn’t at all. It stings, and he felt the scent was far too strong. Cal said it smelled like Noxzema and Vicks Vapor Rub, but that aside, he liked its lather and didn’t dry him out. Bummer.

-Mineral Fusion Body Wash in waterstone: He wasn’t blown away by this one, and felt like he had to use more of it. It didn’t lather as well as the other ones, but the scent was neutral.

Sunscreen

I didn’t test any new sunscreens, but I did write a blog post for Swanson all about them, so click here for a rundown on those!

I know this was a TON of information, but I hope it helped. Feel free to reach out to me, Kate or Casey any time with any questions, comments or additional tips. We love talking about this stuff:)

Are you considering cutting out chemicals from your beauty items? Do you have a fave brand?


going natural: household & cleaning products

It’s time for the third topic within the Going Natural series brought to you by The Florkens, The Messmers and myself. Moving on from makeup and body care, today we’re talking household products, from cleaners to kitchenware and laundry items, even candles!

Our previous two topics on makeup and body care explained how our bodies absorb most of what we put on it, which is why I wanted to make the switch to using chemical free and cruelty free products in my home. But I knew that I wanted to switch out more than just the stuff in my bathroom – I wanted to do a complete overhaul, which meant the products in my kitchen and beyond too.

Dangers

While these other items may not be put on our bodies, many of the products you’ll find in stores for household use contain toxic chemicals, and can be just as bad. As we use them, we still ingest the fumes that cleaning products emit, and some chemicals can lead to asthma, respiratory problems, allergies and even the dreaded C word.

One stat I found said that the average American home has 62 toxic chemicals in it. It was even found that children born to women with cleaning jobs while pregnant have an elevated risk of birth defects, according to a 2010 study by the New York State Department of Health. Uh oh.

Many of these items are also bad for the environment, as cleaning liquids go down the drains and into local water reserves. In addition, these chemicals can be too harsh on the surfaces that they’re used. In fact, a friend of our family’s growing up was a carpenter friend and advised us not to use Pledge as it can actually strip the color and varnish off furniture and wood. He said we’re much better off using plain water or a microfiber cloth instead.

Oh, and if your pet or child would accidentally get into a typical all-purpose cleaner, they run the risk of chemical burns and even death if ingested. That’s not a risk I’m willing to take, especially when it’s as easily avoidable as switching my stock.

Like the beauty and makeup industry, governmental regulation and labeling laws are very loose, so you cannot trust that any item on the shelf is actually OK for your family. Companies are not required to disclose all of a product’s ingredients, and labels often only address acute and immediate effects, not long-term health implications.

Thankfully, the Environmental Working Group (the same group who rates makeup and beauty products) has a really nice Guide to Healthy Cleaning to help you select safer products and find the dangers of what you already have.

It’s Not Just Cleaners

Remember that it’s not just cleaning products you need to worry about. Even seemingly innocent items pose risks. Cupcake liners and coffee filters, for instance, are often bleached or treated with chlorine so they’re white, and that can end up inside your body and is harmful to the environment. The If You Care brand makes paper products, and even things like aluminum foil and sponges, that are much safer.

Even candles pose their own dangers. There are three types of candles: Paraffin, soy and beeswax. Paraffin is by far the most common, and the most dangerous. Paraffin is a petroleum byproduct and an indoor air pollutant. The wicks of some candles still contain lead, which can be inhaled as the candle burns, and is dangerous to our lungs. The soot produced by burning paraffin candles can also be toxic to our lungs when inhaled, especially with frequent use. I was thrilled to see several soy candle options on a recent TJ Maxx haul.

If you want to do more reading on your own, these are the resources I found most helpful:

DIY Hacks and Safer Solutions

The good news is that there are so many alternatives to these products, and many safe items may already be in your house. Baking soda, vinegar, lemon and essential oils can be used in countless ways and really work.

I personally LOVE using vinegar now. It cleans almost anything and is completely natural and safe. I use it all over my house. When I told my best friend that, her reaction was ‘But doesn’t it stink?!’ And yes, but only for a bit. As soon as it dries on whatever you wipe it on, the smell is totally gone.

I also tried my hand at making my own laundry soap awhile back when I saw Rebecca from Living Lavender post her own recipe. I tried it and can attest that it works (and saves money!).

Lemon is a great refresher too, and can work at removing hard water stains. I rub a lemon in my shower, and then squeeze the leftover juice down my kitchen sink to get rid of any icky smells stuck in there.

A few other DIY natural cleaning hacks you might want to try:

Tip: To make your own washing soda, just bake a sheet of baking soda till it turns a little grayer and grittier.

Out-of-the-Box Cleaners & Norwex

Sometimes you still want a regular cleaner that you can pick up and buy and use right out of the bottle or box. I list some of my favorite products below, but first, let’s talk about Norwex.

Norwex is one of those party/direct-sale companies like Pampered Chef or Mary Kay, and all their products are for household use and use safer, more natural remedies. I have a few of their items, but haven’t used enough to give them my own fair overall assessment. My sister-in-law, though, has, so here are her notes on Norwex:

I have the steel scrubbies, cleaning paste, spot treatment for laundry, dryer balls, leather cleaner, anti bac cleaning cloths, and anti bac shower and hand towels. I love the scrubbies (don’t have the plastic handles that you can attach them to, but they really scrub stuff nice and clean. I LOVE the laundry spot treatment–it definitely helps get most of the baby poop stains out of clothes, which is a must for me. Anti bac cleaning cloths are great for wiping down stuff and they are supposed to not transfer bacteria. I just like them to clean down the counters/cupboard fronts, bathroom floors, kitchen floors, and windows without using cleaner. I just like that I can use them on my windows, scrub the dog slobber off, use the anti bac polishing cloth, and bam. Clean, streak free windows. No ammonia smell or Windex on my hands. I will NEVER use window cleaner again. The towels don’t get musty smelling and I don’t feel gross reusing them.

Household brands you can (mostly) trust

  • Biokleen
  • Ecover
  • Eco-Me
  • Eco Nuts
  • Grab Green
  • Green-N-Pack
  • If You Care
  • J.R. Watkins
  • Mrs. Meyers
  • Nellie’s All Natural
  • Norwex
  • Seventh Generation
  • Swanson Healthy Home

Note: Method did not make my list. Though they’re cruelty free and use recycled ingredients in their bottles, I found WAY too many harmful ingredients in their products to feel comfortable using them. Artificial dyes and sodium lauryl sulfate should never be in any product that calls itself natural. Shame on you, Method. This is a perfect example why you need to read labels and never rely on marketing claims or feel-good packaging.

My Favorite Products

I’ll spare you from the gigantic list of everything I tried, and this time just list my favorite natural household finds.

-Mrs. Meyer’s Multi-Surface Everyday Cleaner in honeysuckle: This is a really nice and convenient counter cleaner. I already had an Ecover AP cleaner in my bathroom, so when I saw this guy on sale at Target, I got it to use just for my kitchen counter. It really seems to work and smells so good.

-Ecover toilet bowl cleaner: This seems to do a good job of cleaning the toilet and spreads and foams up well. I wish it came in a scent other than pine, but that’s OK.

-Biokleen Oxygen Bleach Plus: I just toss a small scoop of this stuff in with my laundry soap and trust that it helps to brighten and remove stains as it says. If nothing else, it smells good!

-Mrs. Meyer’s Dryer Sheets in lavender: These are much more paper-y than most dryer sheets, but work just as well without all the chemicals like in most.

-J.R. Watkins All-Purpose Wipes in lemon: These do leave behind a little soapy residue, but it dries totally normal, and I love the way it freshens and sanitizes my workspace. I keep them in my desk at work to wipe down every few weeks.

-Biokleen Automatic Dish Powder: Just one scoop in my dishwasher cleans just as well as that Cascade crap I used to use.

-Green-N-Pack tall kitchen bags and sandwich baggies: These work just as well as the other name brands, but are way better for the earth. The trash bags are actually really strong and hold big loads. These products are made from recycled materials and are made to decompose in a short period of time, unlike most plastic bags. (The Seventh Generation bags were much less durable. I was really disappointed in those.)

There you have it! The down-low on natural cleaning and household products. Join us again on Nov. 3 when Kate, Casey and I will be talking about how to go natural with food! I’ll share how to read food labels more closely, what bad ingredients to watch out for, and of course give you plenty of recommendations of my favorite healthy snacks and meal ideas. If you have a specific food-related question or concern you want us to cover, be sure to let us know!

Do you have a favorite natural cleaner or DIY tip?


going natural: food, snacks & beverages

Ahh, food. It’s what gives us power to get through the day and provides nutrition to our bodies to keep them functioning properly. We literally cannot live without it. While this Going Natural series started with products that we used ON our bodies, now we’re going to back it up and talk about what we put IN our bodies.

For me, taste is most important thanks to my life as a junk food junkie. But once I started realizing that what I was putting both in and on my body could be harmful, long term, I took food a little more seriously. I set out to find out the truth behind what is in food and how it can translate to my own future and health, and also how it affects animals and the environment because it’s also important for me to make compassionate choices. I’m glad to report that so far, I am thrilled that I’ve found amazing, safer foods that I feel zero guilt about stocking up on in my house, without compromising taste.

This topic, though, is a tricky balance of choosing great tasting, high-quality ingredients, ethically and sustainably raised and harvested, organic, non-GMO and nothing artificial, versus looking for healthy food, low in calories, sugar, salt and fat and high in nutrients. I tend to lean toward the former as what matters to me, but the beauty of that is both tend to follow the other. Wherever you stand, just wanting to make kinder, safer choices, or just wanting to be healthier, both can benefit you tremendously. And with both, it’s incredibly helpful to know ingredients and be able to read labels. That’s where we step in (meaning me, Kate and Casey, your series hosts!).

Understanding Health & Food Buzzwords

Just like we discussed in our previous topics, it’s so important to be able to read a label and understand the basics of the nutrition facts panel, what ingredients mean, and what some of the common buzzwords are. A few of the words I look for, and what they mean (as I understand them as a consumer, not an expert by any means), are as follows:

Organic: A true organic food means that it contains no artificial flavors, colors, additives or sweeteners, and fewer (or no) pesticides. Organic foods are usually more nutritious because they’re less processed, have fewer to no chemicals and are better for the environment as organic farming produces less waste and fewer toxins. If a food has the official USDA Organic logo, that means it was actually certified and that the company didn’t just slap the word on a label.

Vegan: As you probably know, vegetarians eat no meat at all, but vegans take it a step further and avoid any products with origin, including cheese, milk and honey. An item labeled vegan means zero animal ingredients are present.

Gluten free: Probably the most “buzzed” health word right now, gluten free means foods containing no gluten. Gluten is a protein found in many grains such as wheat, barley and rye, and those with celiac disease cannot tolerate gluten in their diet. Some people may not have celiac disease, but are still sensitive to gluten, as it can cause discomfort in the intestine. Foods labeled gluten free have no gluten or very small amounts of it.

Superfoods: Think of superfoods as regular food with “super” nutritional powers. They often have many undisputed health benefits and contain antioxidants and essential vitamins needed in our diet to maintain good health and maybe even help fight some medical conditions. Popular ones are blueberries, spinach, kale, broccoli, salmon, sweet potatoes, pumpkin, tomatoes and whole grains.

GMOs: This refers to genetically modified ingredients, which essentially means that somewhere in a lab at some point, a food was altered chemically or via biology or to make it more desirable to the consumer. It often means that its DNA was merged with that of something else to make a food a certain color, size, consistency or taste. A non-GMO food means that it was not altered or modified. While not all GMOs are necessarily harmful, studies do show both health and environmental risks.

High Fructose Corn Syrup: HFCS is a common food additive derived from corn starch, with enzymes added, that acts as a sweetener. It is often blamed for obesity, but no studies so far confirm that. The FDA and Mayo Clinic seem to agree that HFCS is not much worse than any other added sugars, but to play it safe, avoid it anyway.

Whole foods: These are foods that are unprocessed and unrefined, and do not contain added salt, carbohydrates or fat. I think of this as a whole, fresh food, as nature intended, like what people ate before food came from factories. Think fresh produce, grains, beans and meat.

Fair Trade: This is a blanket term to describe food or other goods that were produced in a manner that was fair to the farmers or workers that provide the product, and infers that they were compensated for their work fairly and the products were made sustainably.

Clean eating: The trendy “clean eating” movement really just means cleaning your body of chemicals by cutting out processed/packaged foods and turning to whole, fresh ingredients. Some take it farther and recommend including a protein, carb and fat at every meal, and eating five or six small meals throughout the day rather than two or three big ones. It recommends drinking water or 100% whole juices in place of sodas or fancy coffees. I think of it as eating sensibly rather than an actual “diet.”

Label Laws

Now, just like we told you in the previous posts, label laws are also awfully loose with food. Just because a label says “healthy” doesn’t mean it is. Just because it says “no preservatives” or “with 100% whole grain” makes it a good choice. However, the FDA does a better job with monitoring the use of terms like kosher and non-GMO, as many of those companies will need to prove via inspections and with certifications, that their products earn those labels, and often use logos (you’ve seen the USDA Certified Organic and Non-GMO project labels. Look for those!). Organic is still kind of tricky, but thankfully the government is cracking down on it.

 

Dangerous Ingredients

Pesticides: In short, pesticides are chemicals used to deter pests (aka insects) from food. According to a EWG report, the average potato had more pesticides by weight than any other food, and a single grape sample contained 15 pesticides. Single samples of celery, cherry tomatoes, imported snap peas and strawberries showed 13 different pesticides apiece. And recent scientific research suggests that neonicotinoid pesticides could harm children’s brain development. Umm yeah, this is where organic produce is becoming a lot more appealing.

Artificial colors: Food dyes are rampant, and a study now shows that we’re getting far more of it than we previously thought. Trix cereal, for instance, contains 36.4 mg of dye, and cherry Kool-Aid has 52.3. These can lead to issues in children and health problems for adults. (source) I grabbed a box of Cinnamon Life cereal and was appalled at what was listed in the ingredients: yellow 6, red 40 and blue 1. Safer, all natural colors can instead come from beta carotene, grapes and saffron.

BHT: Which stands for butylated hydroxytolune, it’s a common (and toxic) preservative with a long list of hazards. The EU has banned it in cosmetics, yet we continue to eat it in many foods. It was also listed in that same box of Life cereal. Mmm…

Where’s the Beef?

Aside from the possible dangers of nitrates (which I won’t go into because it’s not very conclusive) in meat, the meat industry is a danger because of all of its environmental effects. Which is concerning to a nation like the U.S. because we consume so darn much of it. Some meats are less harmful, but the EWG did a study comparing various greenhouse gas emissions on 20 different types of meat. 

source

Let’s Talk Tea (& Other Beverages)

OK, let’s move on to drinks. We all know by now that pop is bad. But many other beverages can have hidden dangers too.

I bet you wouldn’t guess tea as one of them, but many tea bags are bleached to make them white. And further, a recent study that tested tea from 11 brands made by eight manufacturers showed that “at least 94 percent of the samples contained pesticides; nearly 60 percent had a cocktail of more than 10 different chemicals, including one sample that contained 20 different pesticides.” And 67 percent of tea samples were contaminated with DDT. (source)

Let’s not even talk about milkshakes (which can contain 50 different chemicals), and sports and energy drinks.

We all know that water is great for our bodies, but you may want to be wary of both the tap and the bottled kind for different reasons. Flouride in water could be a whole post in itself, and I found an article (that I forgot to bookmark or else I’d link it) that said water filters may not be removing as many contaminants as we once thought. Many bottled waters don’t actually disclose the source of their water or treatment method either, which leaves a lot of room for concern.

The hardest for me to swallow though (pun intended) is Starbucks. It’s been under scrutiny from the Organic Consumers Association for using regular milk since the ‘Bucks consumes 93 million gallons of non-organic milk (where animal abuse and unhealthy practices including GMOs and industrial agriculture occur). That aside, the PSL is not pretty. 

General Tips & More Resources

My biggest advice to anyone wanting to change their food habits to a more natural, healthy approach is to become an informed consumer. Read all that you can, identify harmful and helpful ingredients, know possible side effects and recommended dosages, look up company profiles and product reviews. You can never know too much about what you’re putting in your body, so dive in and empower yourself with knowledge.

Once you’ve picked safe(r) food, I can’t recommend meal planning enough to help you stay on track with healthy eating. Eat locally as much as you can too not only to support your own local economy, but to reduce the carbon footprint. I love the produce from my farmer’s market – I think it tastes better too. Oh, and it’s waay cheaper than the grocery store. Find a local butcher or meat shop and farm fresh eggs. If you’re ambitious enough, start your own garden!

Below, I also compiled some of the most helpful resources I found online in my own quest for healthy living knowledge:

EWG’s Food Scores

Clean Eating 101

Understanding Ingredients on Food Labels

Food Label or Warning Label: Top 10 Worst Processed Foods

USDA announces crack-down on companies deceptively using ‘organic’ in brand names

25 Things Fast Food Restaurants Don’t Want You To Know

Grocery Shopping Guide: How to Keep Your Body Healthy & Your Wallet Fat

The Real Food, Good-Better-Best Principle

Hungry Girl

The Lean Green Bean blog

Animal Vegetable Miracle book

My Favorite Products

Of course fresh, whole foods are best, but sometimes convenience has to win. There are lots of great natural brands out there offering packaged foods that aren’t too bad. I’ll spare you from the gigantic list of everything I tried and just list my favorite food finds.

(All items are linked to their page on the Swanson Vitamins website. This post is not sponsored by Swanson or any other company, but because I work there, I got easy access to try all these items, and can vouch that our prices are almost always better than what you can get them for in store.)

Breakfast

Health Valley Cereal Bars: Not only do these taste so much better than Nutri-Grains, they also have much better ingredients.

Snacks

Kameda Frosted Rice Crackers: These look plain and boring, but they taste extraordinary. Sweet and salty and buttery, it reminds me of kettle corn. I LOVE these.

Simply 7 Lentil Chips: These are a perfect alternative to my regular greasy chips. They taste great and have a pleasant, crunchy texture, though they’re a bit thicker. I absolutely love them.

Back to Nature Peanut Butter Crème Cookies: Oh my gosh, these are the bees knees. If you like Nutter Butters, you will love these.

Back to Nature Roasted Spinach and Garlic Crackers: These are kind of like Wheat Thins but I feel much better about the ingredients, and they hit the spot for a between-meal salt craving.

Krave Pork Jerky Sweet Teriyaki: This jerky is much better than Jack Links in both taste, texture and ingredients. Winner!

Sahale Snacks Glazed Cashews: Sweet nuts. ‘Nuff said.

Pantry Essentials

Eden Organic quinoa, pasta sauce and beans: This is a brand I keep ordering from for my kitchen staples. Love everything so far.

Bobs Red Mill: Bob’s is a brand you must know! They make high-quality baking mixes, flour, oats, chia seeds, polenta and so much more, and have lots of organic and gluten free options too.

Annie’s: While Annie’s was recently bought by General Mills (who uses GMOs), they claim their products will not change, and I really am a fan of their organic condiments and boxed mac & cheese.

Kodiak Cakes Flapjack Mix: Scrumptious pancakes that are so easy to make.

Amy’s Kitchen soups: Great organic soup options, and this brand even has some awesome frozen meals.

Simply Organic vanilla and spices

Once again, I probably went a little overboard with the information on this topic, but I would always rather have too much than too little. I hope this was helpful! Feel free to reach out with any more questions or comments. I think it’s safe to say that Kate, Casey and I all love talking about this stuff.

Do you have a fave natural food brand?


going natural: medicine, vitamins & alternative remedies

Cold weather is here, and so is flu and cold season. I already had one 24-hour bug, and when I looked at the ingredients in the off-brand medicine in my cabinet, I saw several artificial colors, propylene glycol and a paraben listed. Umm, since when did we have to worry about dangers in the very things we take to feel better? As it turns out, not much is safe anymore, and you have to be an informed consumer even when it comes to medicine.

In this installment in my Going Natural series with Kate, we’re talking about medicine, vitamins, vaccines and other natural and alternative remedies.

Industry regulation

The pharmaceutical industry is much more regulated than the other industries we’ve discussed thus far in the series (beauty, household products, etc.), and even the vitamin and supplement industry has strict FDA rules it must follow. I know this firsthand in my job as a copywriter & proofreader for Swanson Vitamins. We have to be very careful on our product labels and in the words we choose when marketing them. The biggest rule is that supplements cannot make “claims” like medicine can. For instance, we cannot say that supplement XYZ cures any disease/keeps viruses away/prevents osteoporosis/guarantees weight loss, but we can say that it supports cardiovascular health/provides support for healthy bones/promotes overall wellness/etc.

Now, that doesn’t mean that all companies follow FDA regulations. Many still make claims, include poor ingredients, don’t keep clean facilities or follow label laws, etc., and are fined or face disciplinary action because of it if they’re caught. There are still many loopholes that some companies will take advantage of. Even then, some approved ingredients are not known to be safe, haven’t been on the market long enough to know long-term effects, and let’s not even talk about some of the corruption within our governmental bodies.

The bottom line is that yes, some medicine, supplements, etc., can be very beneficial, but it’s best to be cautious about what you put in your body. Just like everything else we’ve talked about in this series, I cannot recommend enough learning about ingredients, researching companies, reading reviews, considering natural or alternate remedies and making informed decisions for you and your family’s health.

Red-flag ingredients

Many medicines and supplements contain what I would call sketchy ingredients. They’re inactive ingredients used to preserve freshness, texture, add color, flavor or maintain a certain consistency. Pills, in particular, need something to bind the ingredients together so the pill doesn’t fall apart, to prevent sticking during production and/or help your body absorb the active ingredients at the right time in the right place. These are sometimes called flow agents, binders or fillers. Some of the more common ones on your labels will be magnesium stearate, silicon dioxide, titanium dioxide, starch, microcrystalline cellulose, stearic acid, simethicone, vegetable gum, talc or propylene glycol.

While these are somewhat questionable, because they’re present in such small doses, they’ve been regarded as mostly safe with proper use. However, when it comes to pregnant women and children, that’s where things get a little scarier. Some ingredients in OTC medicine and supplements do have some studies linking them to toxicity.

I’ve seen this warning on several items: “This product contains chemicals known to the State of California to cause birth defects or other reproductive harm.” Now, that may not necessarily mean you will experience that if you take it, but it’s not a good sign. Any time the list of side effects is longer than the benefits, I try and steer clear. I mean, why risk it?

That being said, I may be leaning a little more hippie/crunchy these days than the average person. By switching to natural products in so many areas of my life, I’ve become hypersensitive and aware of dangerous ingredients and I like to play it as safe as possible.

To get another perspective on this whole topic, I talked to Ashlen, who blogs at A Diamond with Sapphires, since she’s a pharmacist. Her advice for anyone trying to choose a supplement from the myriad of brands on the shelf, is to look for the USP Verified Mark. Any product with that mark has to have the correct ingredients in the correct amounts, as stated on the packaging, and a manufacturing process that is sanitary and well controlled. Read more about that here.

Birth control

Birth control is tricky. Without going into any religious/ethical debates about whether to use it or not, the fact is that many women do use it. I did for almost 10 years! And I wish I had gone off it much sooner.

All those synthetic hormones in those little pills can do a number on your body, despite the benefits they provide during use. Blood clots are probably the most noted side effect of the pill, though it affects few people who take it. Other reported side effects with the pill include mood changes, decreased libido, tender breasts, migraines, higher blood pressure, decreased bone density, even cancer, heart disease and stroke. Yikes.

One of the natural bloggers I follow, Arielle, recorded a vlog about why she recently went off the pill too. As she said, another issue with birth control is simply the fact that it changes your “lady environment.” Of course, that’s the point: to make your body inhospitable to sperm so that you do not become pregnant. But for people who are on the pill for other reasons (such as to help irregular cycles or for acne, like myself), or people who just want to live more naturally and chemical-free, you may want to think twice about the pill. Oh, and hormonal birth control is also listed as a carcinogen.

I’ll say that for me, coming off the pill has not been fun at all. Months later, I am still experiencing side effects and my body is still adjusting. And yes, I will be elaborating on that in a separate post because I was totally unprepared for it and think more women should be informed about that. Also like Arielle says, if transitioning off something is so harsh, it cannot be a good thing what happened while you were on it.

Ibuprofen

Random fun fact: I used to buy Midol without a second thought for menstrual cramps. Turns out plain old ibuprofen has been shown to be the most effective pain reliever for menstrual pains. Actually, all of the products marketed for menstrual pain relief contain ibuprofen but cost much more because they are marketed as a “high tech” pain reliever (source).

Vaccines

Boy, this one is probably the trickiest topic of all. There are a lot of passionate people out there pronouncing whether to vaccinate or not to, and there is very compelling evidence presented by both sides of the argument. After reading both sides, I really don’t even feel comfortable enough presenting either of their arguments to you here because there is very conflicting information and I’m not even sure where I fall on the subject.

I will tell you that I personally do not get the flu shot for myself. One, because I have an irrational fear of needles and have been known to hyperventilate and black out around them. Two, because I know so many people who do get the flu shot and still end up with the flu. Why would I put myself through the horror of the vaccine only to still receive the flu?! I don’t get sick often anyway, and when I do, it’s usually very short-lived and mild, nothing that a little bit of OTC medicine can’t fix in a day or two.

But, everybody is different, and so I am going to defer to Ashlen again on this topic since she is far more qualified to speak to the vaccine controversy than me. Here’s what she told me: “YES, I think the potential side effects of vaccines are worth the risk. I’m actually really passionate about this subject, because I feel like there is a lot of misinformation and myths floating around, but when you look at the scientific evidence, it is VERY clear that vaccines have provided a huge benefit to our society by preventing horribly painful and deadly diseases. I think maybe society as a whole hasn’t seen some of the diseases in so long (mumps, measles, rubella, pertussis and polio are all great examples) that we forget that the diseases can be fatal or cause lifelong disabilities.

“I wish I could say that vaccines are 100% safe, but frankly nothing is 100% safe. For me, it’s about weighing the risks versus the benefits. Yes, there are risks and side effects when receiving a vaccine, but they’re usually minor and the serious ones are rare.”

If you are concerned about the dose of thiomersal (mercury) in your flu vaccine, know that you can request a single-dose vial instead. Ashlen also told me this: “The multi-dose vials contain thiomersal as a preservative to prevent bacterial growth because we insert multiple needles into the vial to give multiple people their injections. Obviously the needles are sterile, but every time you enter the vial you still risk contamination. The single dose vial does not need the preservative because you’re using the entire vial for one dose of the vaccine.”

OK, so let’s move on from common medicines and on to alternatives.

Homeopathic options

I confess that when I first started working at Swanson, I wasn’t completely sure what homeopathic medicine was. In case you’re not sure either, how I understand it now is that it operates under the idea that like treats like, so you give yourself teeny doses of what you have in a highly diluted formula. Just like how taking local honey helps you grow more immune to your local pollen allergens! Some reasons people choose homeopathic medicine is because there are no drug interactions and it is non-toxic, often a safer alternative for children or if you experience side effects to OTC products. Hyland’s is probably the most popular homeopathic brand that I know of.

I also asked Ashlen her take on homeopathic products, and she says she typically prefers standard OTC products. Many people think that because something is homeopathic it is natural, and therefore it is safe. But just because something is natural instead of synthetic does not necessarily mean it is safe. “For example, poison ivy is certainly natural, but I wouldn’t call it safe!” There are also fewer scientific studies on homeopathic remedies or natural products for them to be proven effective.

Natural remedies for allergies, headaches, cramps and more

What’s really cool to me is that there are some totally natural ways to help treat your health concerns. Food, in particular, can be one way to do just that.

The Always Beautiful Project blog posted four foods that can used to be treat migraines: ginger, chia seeds, water and raw cocoa. For a headache, acupressure massage can help using traditional Chinese techniques too. I’ve never tried the hand method, but it sure does feel good to rub my temples when I’ve got a headache.

I actually get headaches frequently. Like, several days a week there is a dull pain high in my neck, and I constantly have knots near the base. I tend to carry all my stress in my neck, which is what gives me frequent headaches. We have an in-house masseuse at work, so I’ve started seeing her a few times a month, and I am astonished at how powerful regular massages can be for my neck and shoulder pain. She knows just where to rub to work out the kinks, and if I go more than two weeks or so without seeing her, I start to feel the tightness and pain coming back. There is definitely something to massage.

There is also a line of tea called Traditional Medicinals that uses herbs to treat various symptoms. It stems from ancient people that used plants as medicine. Now while I am not sure how effective it all is, I figure that it certainly can’t help, and may as well give it a shot. I’ve had a few cups of the Healthy Cycle tea to see if it can help my cramps at all. It features raspberry and nettle leaf, which traditionally were used to balance female’s cycles. Again, I’m not sure yet it if “works,” but it tastes lovely and is soothing nonetheless.

If you’re an allergy sufferer, like I am, you’ve tried every product on the market to keep the sneezing and runny nose at bay. The only OTC product that worked for me was Zyrtec, but since it is a chemical with its own list of side effects and iffy inactive ingredients, I’m trying to see if I can steer clear of it and still function during allergy season. I tried a homeopathic hayfever relief tablet, which I think did help a little bit anyway, but I didn’t try it long enough to say for sure. Other totally natural ways to help allergies is to watch for dust in your home, keep windows closed and the AC running, use HEPA filters, vacuum, sweep and clean often, keep plants outside, wear sunglasses outside, drink water, keep pets out of the bedroom at night, shower before bed, don’t dry your clothes outside, and try a neti pot. Of course, it’s also worth it to get a test to find out exactly what you’re allergic to.

Essential oils

Essential oils are all the rage recently, and I think there’s probably something to it. I wish I knew more about oils myself, but because they’re such an investment, I haven’t dived in too much yet. Instead, I compiled three resources I refer to for information you might want to check out as well:

Final thoughts and recommendations

I think Ashlen has a great point about how to approach this: It’s all about balancing risks with benefits, and that will be different for every person. I still recommend doing research so you can empower yourself with knowledge about what you put in your body.

I’m really trying to get away from as many chemicals and toxins as possible, but do have to make some exceptions now and then. On a bad allergy day, I will pop a Benadryl. I mean, girl’s gotta be able to breathe, you know. I’m sure there are other dangers lurking in other places I haven’t even thought of yet, and that has to be OK. I can’t catch everything, but I can do my best to get away from the worst of it.

When it comes to medicine and vitamins, here’s what has worked best for me so far:

I take children’s medication. It usually has lower doses of active ingredients and fewer side effects, not to mention better taste.

I take one multivitamin daily, but it’s a gummy for children and adults. The specific one I use is Nordic Naturals Nordic Berries, and it has lower doses of all the vitamins than most multis do. I actually used to take Women’s One A Day, and it made me sick. Like, dry-heaving, sick to my stomach, curled up in pain sick. It took me awhile to make the connection, but I was able to eventually pinpoint that vitamin to it. It made me leery to ever take a multivitamin again, so for awhile I took many different supplements so I could cover anything I was missing in my diet. It got old real quick taking so many different pills, so I was pleased as punch to find that I can tolerate Nordic Naturals. Plus they taste awesome.

In addition to my daily multi, I also pop some folic acid. I’ve read over and over, and my own Ob-Gyn recommended I take 400 mcg of folic acid a day, which is essential for any woman of child-bearing age.

For others, vitamin D is something you might want to consider, especially during the winter months in a Northern climate. Biotin can also be really beneficial for hair and nail health.

Probiotics are popular supplements for digestive health. They basically are live microorganisms (the good bacteria) that aid gut health and digestion, and many factors can decrease the good bacteria you naturally have (from stress to diet to other medications).

The other supplement that’s recommended are fish oils. Most of us don’t get enough, and they are really important to overall health. Gotta get yo amino acids and omegas!

This can be overwhelming, but above all, just try to make healthy, informed choices. A few small changes here and there can be great steps in the right direction.

Here are a few of my favorite recommended reads and sources I used, if you want to start learning more on your own:

Join Kate and I again on Dec.1 when we’re back to talk about pet products, from food to treats and even kitty litter, with tips and recommendations how to improve the quality of what you give your furry friends.


going natural: pet food & products

If you’re like me, you think of your pets as your babies and want only the best for them. So of course, when I switched to using more natural products for myself, it was only natural I checked out what I was giving my pets too! Spoiler alert: I switched most of their products too.

The biggest focus in this post will be on pet food (for both dogs and cats), but I also looked into treats, kitty litter and a few other items.

It’s not too surprising, but still pretty sad, at the state of the pet food industry. Most big-name pet food manufacturers are only looking to make an easy profit, and don’t seem too genuinely concerned about making high-quality foods to feed our nation’s furry friends. There are a lot of cheap, sketchy ingredients put in many off-the-shelf foods that have serious dangers. Remember the term “greenwashing” from the beauty industry? Same thing is happening with pet food. Some brands slap feel-good words (“premium” “natural” “vet recommended”) or pictures of veggies and grains on their labels to make you think you’re buying good, natural food, when the ingredient list tells another story.

Cats

Now, the biggest takeaway for cat food is that cats should be fed wet food. This was a scary realization for me, as I had always feed only dry food to my cats. Dry food doesn’t provide enough moisture in cats’ diets, and is more highly processed, which can lead to urinary and kidney problems. While cats do drink water, it often isn’t enough for what they need to maintain proper functions. About the only benefit to dry food is that the kibble helps clean their teeth as they chew on the hard bits, so to make up for that, I found a high-quality hard treat to give my cats instead once or twice a day.

Next, cats are obligate carnivores. What they need most is animal protein (chicken, lamb, duck, turkey), plus some vitamins, taurine and water. Don’t be fooled into marketing messages telling you they need fruits and veggies. Granted, they don’t hurt, but they’re really not necessary. They’re often used as a filler because they’re cheaper to include than meat. Grains really should be avoided too (I ALWAYS look for “grain-free” on my labels), as well as dairy. Did you know that most all cats are naturally lactose intolerant?

I’ve read from many sources to avoid too much fish too, as it contains too many toxins, but cats do need omegas in their diets, so I usually feed one can a week of salmon, tuna or tilapia food.

I also try to get one primary protein per product, meaning a can of chicken, because it’s more complete and pure than “blends” that feature several different animal ingredients in one.

Think of it as feeding your cat what it would otherwise get in the wild.

Unfortunately, feeding mostly canned diets to cats is more expensive than dry food. I’ve probably tripled my cat food budget since I switched, but to me it is worth it. Proper nutrition for my best friends is priceless in my book. If you’re not able to spend more, my advice is to add in some canned food with dry to stretch it.

source

Cat food ingredients to watch out for

On your labels, look for an animal protein as the first two ingredients preferably, and no grains. Some ingredients I recommend avoiding are:

  • Wheat, corn or rice gluten
  • Animal byproducts
  • Meat or bone meal
  • Animal digest or animal fat
  • Artificial colors
  • BHA, BHT or TBHQ
  • ethoxyquin
  • Soy
  • Carrageenan

Sidenote: Several brands, even some natural ones, still include BPA in their cans.

Cat Food Brands

When I switched to canned food, I researched brands and ingredients extensively so I could pick the very best. I scoured websites, reviews and even sat down on the floor at my local pet food store to read labels on every brand they carried. Wellness is probably the most popular natural brand, but in the end, I found two other brands that I feel much better about personally. The two winners were Weruva’s grain-free options (the chicken and tilapia won out) and Hound & Gatos (the chicken one is the best). (UPDATE: My store no longer carries Hound & Gatos, but I’ve found that Party Animal is a great runner-up.) Tiki Cat is also pretty good, but my store didn’t carry any of the non-fish blends.

Now, while I recommend avoiding any food from China, I was at first concerned about Weruva’s “made in Thailand” copy on their label. I found out that Thailand is where Weruva sources many of their ingredients, but reports show that the facility is completely humane-grade, and all chickens used in their formulas as free range and used without hormones/cruelty, etc. It seems that Weruva is the best it gets. Hound & Gatos is a much newer line, so less is known about their production, but so far anyway, I didn’t see any warning signs, and their ingredients speak for themselves.

As for treats, the one that won all the others out was Halo Healthsome Chicken cat treats. I used to give my kitties Greenies, but even those ingredients did not pass the test.

Dogs

Dogs are a little easier when it comes to their nutritional needs, thankfully. And even better news for my wallet was that dogs are completely fine on a primarily dry kibble diet, the caveat being it should be a high-quality one. My local store employees explained to me that dogs react to their natural thirst and seek out water much more so than cats do, so they have no issue getting enough moisture in their diet. Dogs also are able to eat grains, and most fruits and veggies without issue.

Dog food ingredients to avoid

  • Wheat and corn gluten
  • Animal byproducts
  • Meat or bone meal
  • Animal digest or animal fat
  • Artificial colors
  • BHA, BHT and ethoxyquin
  • Potassium sorbate and sodium nitrate
  • Propylene glycol

Brand Recommendation

I did far less research into individual brands for dog food than I did cat food, because it turns out I was already feeding Brick a good quality food so no change was needed. I can tell you though to steer clear of the big-name brands like Purina and Iams and to find a natural brand with good ingredients. Brick eats NutriSource Adult Chicken & Rice formula. NutriSource is also made in the U.S., which is another plus.

I did check out labels on some of the popular brands for fun one day at PetSmart and was not impressed. Check out these labels I found. They all have several of the red-flag ingredients, despite marketing that tries to make consumers believe it is high quality:

I get all my pets’ food at a specialty local natural pet store. If you don’t have one near you, try to find the natural section of PetSmart or Petco, or find the brand you want and ask them where to buy (most have that available on their website anyway).

I have to caution against Science Diet. There are lots of arguments out there against them, and I’m not impressed either. From what I’ve gathered, your vet recommends it is because they make money off it it with an agreement. Dog Food Advisor, an unbiased source, called it “below average” and “not recommended.” They’ve had recalls, law suits and numerous reports of sick pets, and use cheap ingredients and fillers with no nutritional value.

If you feel extra ambitious, you can even try feeding your dog a raw diet. Actually, that’s about as natural as it gets. I don’t have much experience with that (yet), but I can tell you to watch this space on Wednesday this week, because I’ve got a guest post scheduled from a friend of mine who does feed a raw diet and is giving her own tips for going raw.

Treats

I was really appalled at the ingredients listed on treat boxes too. I had been giving Brick Milk Bones and Pupperoni for years, and I assumed that because it was a popular treat that it was OK. When I turned the box over though on a Beggin’ Strip bag, I saw Red 40, Yellow 5, BHA and artificial flavors.

While I didn’t have to switch Brick’s food, I did overhaul his treat supply. He now gets Halo Healthsome Skin & Coat, Newman’s Own Organics Peanut Butter Dog Treats, Old Mother Hubbard, regular peanut butter in his Kong and homemade treats (which are surprisingly easy to make and store well in the freezer.).

Tips & Resources

In general, the best advice I can give is to check that ingredients list and avoid any food or treats from China. Check recall lists frequently too, and chat with the employees at natural pet stores. If you want to do more research on your own, here are some of the best resources I found:

Cat Litter

I have to admit: When I first switched my cats’ diet, I had never even thought to check if the litter they used was safe too. It was a comment from my friend Lindsay asking if I’d be exploring natural litters that actually prompted me to look into it. And I’m so glad I did!

What I learned is that most litters (and all I’ve ever used) are clay. The first issue with clay litters (and particularly clumping clay litters) is that they are mined, rather than sustainably grown like corn alternatives or those made from recycled materials, meaning it’s less eco-friendly and not biodegradable. The other issue with clay is that it creates a dust, which is annoying when pouring and scooping, and it sticks to kitty paws as they bury their business. When kitties then groom themselves, they ingest that dust or even the clay bits themselves. That can then get stuck in their intestines and cause issues. Clay dust also contains silica, which is a chemical, and when inhaled, is known to be a carcinogen. Umm, whoa.

So I researched several natural litter options and picked out two corn-based litters to test on my own. Arm & Hammer Essentials (which also contains baking powder for scent containment) and World’s Best Cat litter. What’s cool about corn-based litters is that it’s all-natural, lighter, dust-free, and even flushable! After using both for awhile, I’m actually pretty impressed. Both clumped better than I expected, and contained smell pretty well, though not quite as well as clay. I did combine my old clay litter with the new corn kind to transition my cats (and me!) to corn, and I don’t even think my kitties noticed. I’m calling it a win, and soon I’ll switch over to using only corn.

Other Pet Products

Just like humans, we use some “beauty” products on our pets. To save on grooming fees, we give Brick baths at home and I would buy doggie shampoos from PetSmart. The one I used before had some scary ingredients on it – the same ones I recommend avoiding on ourselves (parabens, sulfates and artificial ingredients). One shampoo I am impressed with though is Furminator deShedding Ultra Premium Shampoo, which has great ingredients, is cruelty free and made in the USA.

I also used some grooming wipes on the kitties between baths as Little Girl can shed and is a little smelly. I’m happy to have found PawGanics Deep Cleansing Grooming Wipes to do the job instead, and they have no alcohol, parabens, sulfates or phthalates, are biodegradable, cruelty free and made in the USA.

I think I covered all products that I use for my pets anyway. Is there anything else I missed? I’d love to discuss this further, so feel free to ask questions or share more info in the comments or through email.


going natural: update

As many of you probably know, I’ve been trying to eliminate as many chemicals in my household and using more natural items instead that are non-toxic, cruelty free and eco-friendly. Last year Kate and I hosted a series called Going Natural in which we shared more info and products in line with this philosophy. Since then, I’ve continued to experiment with even more brands and products, and since it’s been 3 months, I figured it’d be fun to share my newer discoveries. If you’ve thought about switching from most of the “mainstream” brands, these are all products with my seal of approval.

Beauty Products

French Girl lip tint: This was one of the items in my Petit Vour box one month, and it is my absolute favorite lip product now. It gives my lips just enough color to pop, but it seems to be soft and smooth like a balm feels. Best of both worlds.

Meow Meow Tweet deodorant cream: As I mentioned in my Going Natural series, I really struggled finding a good natural deodorant that worked. Actually, I did give up and continued to use my women’s Degree. And then this little guy showed in a Petit Vour box, and I was really hesitant about a deodorant being in a tub I had to apply with my fingers, and doubtful that it would even work, but guys, it totally does! I am shocked and excited to finally have found something. Now, it doesn’t last quite as long as my Degree does, but it does get me through the day, and it’s by far the best I’ve found so far.

Acure Organics argan oil face towelettes: I also really like the Yes to Cucumber and Pacifica coconut water face wipes, but this kind is infused with argan oil to also help moisturize, and even though the towelettes are thinner than the other two, it actually removes makeup the best and seems the most effective.

Pacifica sea foam face wash and dreamy youth moisturizer: I was hesitant to commit to the full-size versions of these products, so was glad to find a 20% off Target coupon for Pacifica, and I used it to get a sample kit with small versions of these in it. The good news is I LOVE them both and will definitely be getting the big sizes when these run out. The face wash not only smells amazing, but foams up really well and feels great. The moisturizer isn’t too heavy or too light and just goes so well with it.

Nubian Heritage body wash and hand cream: So far, I’ve loved everything I’ve tried from this company. The coconut & papaya body wash is creamy and soft and feels great, and it even slathers really well. It’s become my favorite body wash over all the others I tried last year. I also got my sister in law the goat’s milk and chai hand cream, and that is lovely as well.

Evolv leave-in conditioner: Another find from a Petit Vour box, this leave-in spray is really nifty. I use it on towel-dried hair as a conditioner and heat protector, and it leaves my hair feeling really nice. It also works to help freshen up dry hair, so I spritz a bit on after work if I’m going out again for a little more life.

Everyday Minerals blush: Blush was another product I struggled with, and I still have yet to find a natural pressed blush, but this loose powdered blush came in a Petit Vour box, so I gave it a try and do actually like it. It has a nice color and goes on well.

Argan oil: I’ll admit: I didn’t “get” argan oil for a long time and thought it was just hype. Then I had to try some and research it for a blog post I wrote for work, and finally became a believer. This stuff is even better than coconut oil in my opinion. It’s an all-natural moisturizer but isn’t greasy. I slather some on my hands every night before bed for major softness, put it on my legs after shaving instead of lotion, use it on my fave after cleansing before bed and even to smooth out hair frizzies.

Food

Blake’s frozen meals: Even though I’m trying to cook and eat “clean,” sometimes you just need something to grab without thinking. We keep Blake’s meals on hand to bring to work for lunch if we don’t have anything else on hand, and these are way better, ingredients-wise, than the Lean Cuisines I used to shovel in. My favorite flavors are the meatloaf and tater tot hotdish. They’re a little spendier than I like, but I did catch them on sale at Target one day, so I loaded up. Literally, I brought 12 home. We had to clear out the freezer.

Barbara’s cereal: I tried two other “natural” cereals and wasn’t impressed. Most seem to taste bland or like cardboard, and these Puffins from Barbara’s actually have the best taste of them all, and I am so impressed at how few ingredients are in them (no artificial anything!).

Essential Oils

First off, I just have to say for the record that I was turned off by essential oils for a long time because everyone was freaking out over them, but would only recommend the Young Living and DoTerra brands, which I felt were just waaay too expensive to justify. Finally I decided to try some other brands that were just as high quality, but far more affordable, and I am so pleased with them. The Swanson Organic oils are so good. I use the peppermint, lavender and lemon in my SpaRoom Aromalizer diffuser each morning as a natural allergy remedy instead of popping my usual Zyrtec, and so far so good! The NOW Foods oils have some nice blends too (Cheer Up Buttercup is my fave) that I’ll use in the diffuser during a bath or just around the house too. And 21 Drops has awesome blends that come in rollerballs, so you can take them on the go. Oils are also great just for DIY beauty uses (I made homemade bath salts) and for cleaning (mix with vinegar, etc.) too.

Pet food

I still feed my cats Weruva canned chicken food, but my local natural pet store stopped carrying the other kind I rotated in, so I tried a few other varieties and most like the Party Animal Organic grain-free food. It’s a little cheaper than Weruva, which helps me save, but seems to be just as good quality. The deets on the company itself is a little more sketchy, but assuming that the info on their product packaging and website is accurate anyway, I feel pretty good about this food.

Do you have any favorite natural items to add to the list? I’d love to try more new things!