Another New Year’s Eve has come and gone.
It’s only human for us to see the new year as an opportunity to shed bad habits and learn new ones. More often than not, we are invariably disappointed as we see our resolutions fade after just a few weeks. We chastise ourselves for not having more willpower. We wonder why, year after year, our efforts are thwarted by tight schedules, family responsibilities, illness, and other distractions. And so the cycle repeats itself every year.
But there are a few New Year’s resolutions that are worth making each and every year. Those are the ones that require little effort on our part, but which yield big rewards in terms of more knowledge, better health, and what we call “conscious consumerism.”
What is “conscious consumerism”, anyway?
According to the Network for Business Sustainability, a conscious consumer purchases products or services that are produced in a more socially and/or environmentally responsible way. Surveys show that most consumers would like to consider themselves “conscious consumers”, but they may not know where to start.
So what does this have to do with our New Year’s resolutions? Here are a few ideas:
1) Learn to read labels.If you’re accustomed to reading your food labels, this may sound easy, but personal care labels are not like food labels (as complicated as those might be sometimes). Cosmetic manufacturers may only use the INCI (International Nomenclature of Cosmetic Ingredients) names, which leaves consumers wondering what these ingredients actually are. Most, however, will also include the common names in parentheses. These are generally familiar to us (like oils, butter, alcohols, and essential oils). The Consolidated Label website has a few good articles that help to decipher the mysteries of label-reading when it comes to personal care products. In addition to ingredients, many symbols like the Leaping Bunny or the Certified Organic label are used by companies to GMO-free, etc.
2) Know what the ingredients do. This may not be as easy as it sounds, given the dozens of ingredients used in personal care products. It would impossible for us to be familiar with the thousands of ingredients on the market today. Even more difficult is knowing which of them actually cause potential harm. Consumers can find information by going to the Environmental Working Group’s website. Not only do they print useful pocket guides, but their database lists many commonly used personal care products and levels of toxicity for the ingredients that they contain. You may have heard of the common culprits – parabens, phthalates, triclosan, BPA, sulfates, formaldehyde, toluene, and others. Studies on umbilical cord blood have found sometimes higher levels of industrial chemicals in the blood there than in their mother’s blood. “Body burden” – the study of chemicals stored in the human body and their composition – has also been studied. You can read about Bill Moyer’s body burden test by visiting this article on the PBS website. Between 40 and 60% of what we put on our bodies is absorbed into our blood stream or stored in our fat cells, never to leave our bodies. This accumulation can spell trouble if what we’re being exposed to has negative side effects.
3) Don’t keep personal care products for long periods of time. Many of our products have numbers stamped on them which indicate their shelf life. Regardless, however, products that touch your eyes should be replaced every few months. If a product has changed color or if it has a strange odor, throw it out. Naturally derived products, in particular, which do not use parabens can be refrigerated or labeled so that they don’t sit for longer than 6 months-1 year. If in doubt, throw it out! Alternatively, small jars/bottles will be used up more quickly.
4) Simplify your personal care routine. These days, many men and women are tempted to try the latest personal care “system” with multiple products for face, body, hair, etc. Use them if you must, but be sure to follow 1 and 2 above! Keep in mind that you can also find products that are multi-purpose, like our body balms. Not only are the ingredients identifiable, but they can be used from head to toe, on all family members, and year-round. This can save valuable time and money at a time when you’re looking to limit the number of potentially harmful products coming into your home. In that way, you can purchase products targeting specific problems only when you need them.
5) As questions. Responsible companies will welcome any questions regarding their products, their ingredients, or how they are sourced. For example, ingredients and products coming from China MUST be tested on animals. It may not be obvious from a label whether or not a product is manufactured in the USA or abroad. And with all of the companies being bought up by multinational corporations, it’s more important than ever to find out if this means that the formulas have been changed or if a product is no longer vegan or cruelty-free.
By taking just a few steps towards making more enlightened purchases, we can go a long way towards providing cleaner, safer, and simpler personal solutions for ourselves and our family members. We can’t think of a better New Year’s resolution than that.