Good Chemistry: Green Tips for Better Health, from Planned Parenthood of Northern New England

Posts Tagged ‘paraben’

Safe and Organic Insect Repellent

A couple weeks ago I was bragging to my aunt about an upcoming camping trip. I told her of the site’s pristine hiking trails, its beautiful sandy beach, and its reputation for being a respite from the hustle and bustle of daily life.  My aunt listened, smiled at me, and left me with the following sentiment: “Just make sure you bring tons of bug spray. They have mosquitoes up there the size of small birds.”  Ugh.

Ok, so bugs are more or less inevitable in the summer, right? Especially while on a camping trip. 10-B&B-Bug-Spray-USDA-PHOTOBut for four days in a row, should I really douse my body in DEET and other nasty chemicals?  Thankfully, our wonderful intern Isabel got right to work and found some natural alternatives & tips for pest protection.

The following bug repellents are all free of DEET, parabens, phthalates, PEG’s, sulfates, dioxanes, propylene glycols, and synthetic fragrances. Best of all, they all scored a zero in the Skindeep database!

  • Bubble & Bee 100% Organic Bug Spray:  Made from all natural products like lemongrass essential oil, peppermint, and clove. The makers even tested it on themselves to see if it worked! So does it? They say, “You betcha.”
  • Burt’s Bees Herbal Insect Repellent: This one works because it’s made from oils that bugs hate, but all smell wonderful to humans. It’s an all-natural spray that provides safe coverage. It’s gotten some excellent customer reviews, as well.
  • Graham Gardens BugBar:  Who would have thought that the same ingredient in catnip is also about ten times more effective at repelling mosquitoes than DEET? That’s exactly the ingredient Graham Gardens harnessed for their BugBar—a bar that glides onto skin and works for hours.

Pay attention to these facts about bugs, to keep you and your fam bite-free!

  1. Bugs love fragrance, especially a synthetic one. So avoid scented products at all costs.
  2. Mosquitoes seem to be more attracted to floral prints. Protect your skin with lightweight clothing in solid colors. 
  3. Be mindful that mosquitoes are most active during dusk and dawn, so schedule outdoor time according.
  4. Stagnant water is an ideal breeding site for mosquitoes, so eliminate unnecessary opportunities for bugs to breed.

Here's wishing you a happy, healthy, and pest-free time during all of your outdoor activities!

Posted by on July 27th, 2010 No Comments

Savvy Sunscreen Selection

I have been committed to slathering on suntan lotion for some time now.  In my 20s I foolishly sought a sun-kissed glow to add to my appeal, but I usually ended up looking like a giant red-lobster. Now, in my 30s, I am trying to “make-up” for all of my blistering burns, so I have been applying copious amounts of high SPF sunscreen.  My husband tells me I am the easiest person to spot on a beach – he simply looks around for the palest (we’re talking white) body and there I am.  While the ingredients in the sunscreen have been working to block out the UV rays that cause my skin to burn red, the ingredients have not necessarily been working to shield my health.


UVA and UVB rays both contribute to skin cancer, wrinkling, and skin aging.  I was always under the belief that a higher SPF meant greater protection from UV rays.  However, according to Environmental Working Group, SPF, Sun Protection Factor, “is only a measurement of the how well a sunscreen will protect skin from UVB rays, the kind of radiation that causes sunburn.”  SPF does not measure a product’s protection from UVA rays.  Look for products labeled UVA/UVB or broad spectrum for protection against both types of UV radiation.


Posted by on June 28th, 2009 3 Comments

Deodorant Stinks

I’ve known for a while that conventional deodorants — which often contain triclosan and/or aluminum — do more than stop sweat in its tracks. Unfortunately, many of the deodorants and antiperspirants on the market are also linked to adverse health effects, such as problems with sweat glands after years of use, discoloration in the skin, and possibly even Alzheimer's and breast cancer.


Whether or not the research is conclusive, there’s enough evidence to warrant a switch. But at what cost?




I recently traveled to Ames, IA, with eight kids between the ages of 8 1/2 and 12. (It’s a long story, but only two of them “belonged” to me...) Long before reaching our final destination, my all-natural deodorant up and died. While the preteens I was traveling with didn’t seem to notice, I was mortified every time I had to raise my arms to stow luggage in the overhead bins. So, what’s a girl to do?


Given my sweat-inducing situation, I opted for an antiperspirant/ deodorant with a natural-sounding cucumber and green tea scent for the return trip. Knowing that you can’t judge a book by its cover — or MOST personal care products by their label — I visited Skin Deep, an online safety guide created by the Environmental Working Group. WORRIERS BEWARE: You’ll never be able to look at those benign-looking tubes, jars, and bottles the same way! According to their database, the product I’d chosen earned a “hazard score” of 5 (with 10 corresponding to highest concern). Not horrible, but 61% of antiperspirant/deodorants have lower concerns. With so much to choose from, I’m hopeful that I can find an effective, healthier alternative — without breaking a sweat. Please feel free to send suggestions!

Posted by on June 11th, 2009 No Comments

Pondering Parabens

I’ll admit it – I’m a compulsive label reader. Lately I've noticed plenty of shampoos, cosmetics and personal care products boasting labels stating they are "Paraben Free." Why are some companies going out of there way to get rid of these parabens? There are many parabens: methyl paraben, propyl paraben, butyl paraben and ethyl paraben. Should we care when a product is Paraben Free?




According to the Environmental Working Group (EWG), “parabens are widely used synthetic preservatives found in most of the 25,000 cosmetics and personal care products in the Skin Deep” database. Parabens extend the shelf life of moisturizers and your shampoos and other products.

Parabens have chemicals that mimic estrogen in female bodies-- they mimic women's hormones and disrupt women's endocrine system. When the endocrine system is disrupted, the body’s ability to communicate with itself is thrown off. Some endocrine disruptors, such as parabens, have been linked to breast cancer. EWG reports “parabens were found in the breast cancer tumors of 19 of 20 women studied." According to the Breast Cancer Fund , “measurable concentrations of six different parabens have been identified in biopsy samples from breast tumors.”

So, should we care if a product is Paraben Free? At the expense of quoting a certain someone, I’m going to answer with an enthusiastic “You Betcha’!” If possible, choose a Paraben Free product.

To learn more about estrogenic chemicals in cosmetics and how they can affect a woman’s body, check out this video made by Cornell University. MAKE-UP: Breast Cancer and the Estrogen Connection

Posted by on May 1st, 2009 No Comments