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Gentlemen, listen up. Whether you think you do or not, most of you use an average of six personal care products a day, which sounds like a lot until you get out your fingers and count: Deodorant, shampoo, cologne, and shaving cream all count—and so does the moisturizer you steal from your girlfriend. With each of these products containing anywhere from 10 to 40 unique ingredients, it's worth your while to think about what it is you're actually using every day, and whether those products are even doing your looks any favors—especially when some of it is so toxic it's getting fines for air pollution in the state of California.
When, in February, Axe Body Spray's parent company was fined $1.3 million for air pollution, it sounded like an Onionesque joke. Except that it wasn't, because in California, progressive environmental laws limit the amount of certain chemicals used in consumer products. According to the California Air Resources Board, the fragrance was in violation of the volatile organic compound limits for aerosol deodorant.
So here's a primer on the stuff in your everyday products, plus what brands and products to buy instead. If you don't want to do it for the planet, or yourself, do it for your sperm. (Click through for an explanation.)
Illustration by Brianna Harden
This is part of a series inspired by No More Dirty Looks: The Truth About Your Beauty Products and the Ultimate Guide to Safe and Clean Cosmetics, by Siobhan O'Connor and her co-author Alexandra Spunt.
Read more on their blog.
Cologne: Most conventional colognes (and "body sprays") contain a host of synthetic chemicals that can affect your little swimmers. Phthalate metabolites in male urine was shown in several studies to be linked to sperm DNA damage, a lower sperm count, and less mobile sperm. Unfortunately for all of us, synthetic fragrance is used in just about every conventional product on the shelves of pharmacies and Sephoras, so weeding it out can be a bit of a bear. That said, naturals have gotten really sophisticated, and there are countless lines that are either synthetics-free or at least phthalate- and petrochemical free. Diptyque, a high-end candle and fragrance line, makes gorgeous scents for men (and women) that are paraben-, petrochemical-, and phthalate-free. Intelligent Nutrients, Tsi-La, and Honoré des Près also make amazing woodsy fragrances for guys.
Deodorant and Antiperspirant: Most antiperspirants and deodorant contain some if not all of the following: triclosan, aluminum salts, BHT, penetration enhancers, and artificial fragrance. Many of these are problematic from an environmental perspective, and none of them are good for your health. And yet deodorant is a must for modern living, so try a natural one from Soapwalla, a small Brooklyn company that sells on Etsy, which makes a unisex deodorant cream that works like a charm. For store-bought, look for Tom's of Maine long-lasting deodorant, which is relatively clean and can be found at most drugstore chains.
Shaving Cream: Besides the propellants and butane in many shaving creams, there is also diazolidinyl urea, which is a formaldehyde releaser, triethanolamine, which is often contaminated with carcinogenic nitrosamines, parabens, which are weak estrogen mimickers, and synthetic fragrance. (See the slide on cologne for a reminder on why that's not desirable for your health.) Instead, we recommend using organic oils, such as olive or coconut, if you can get past the whole oil-on-face thing. For a store-bought option, try Dr. Bronner's Organic Shave Gel, which is 100 percent free of synthetics. If you break out, get the one with tea tree oil. Weleda also has a nice one.
Aftershave: Most aftershave contains alcohol, the toxicity of which is less a concern than the fact that it can dry out your face when it needs moisture. Cold water is sufficient to close your pores, and a nice organic cologne is a better bet if you are using aftershave as your cologne. Fill up the sink with cold water and put in a few drops of a woodsy scent like cedar, or something minty if that's more your speed, and splash your face with that instead. That said, if you like the antiseptic sting of alcohol (who doesn't, really?) go for a natural alternative with other ingredients to soothe your skin. Jurlique's Calendula Lotion is soothing on freshly shaved skin, and so is pure aloe. For a splurge, Living Nature, which is an amazing line out of New Zealand, has a great one with antibacterial manuka honey, soothing calendula, and witch hazel, and Dr. Hauschka's spray-on toner is another favorite.
Shampoo and Conditioner: Our scalps are one of the most porous parts of our bodies, and are easily penetrated by the products we lather onto them—which is counterintuitive, because we tend to think of hair as something separate from our skin, and we think shampoo must wash down the drain too quickly to do any harm. Not so. Shampoos and conditioners are both loaded with skin-, earth- and hair-unfriendly ingredients that dry out our locks, necessitating more products, like leave-ins. Instead, try a sodium laurel/laureth sulfate-free shampoo that won't lather like a traditional one, but gets the job done without stripping your hair. Alaffia, Giovanni, and Aubrey's all make nice affordable clean shampoos and conditioners. On the higher end, you can't beat John Masters Organics. If you have dandruff, find a natural shampoo with tea tree or neem oil, or get JMO's Zinc and Sage Shampoo With Conditioner.
Moisturizer: Whether it's your body or your mug you're slathering in cream, this is an important one to make sure is clean—mainly because you probably use it daily (which ups exposure to whatever is in there) and over a large surface area. Instead of a 30-ingredient lotion filled with silicones, penetration enhancers, fake fragrance, and petroleum derivatives, go for something simpler like a pure body oil (coconut from the health food store works well), or pure aloe vera. For a store-bought lotion for your body (and your face, if you aren't picky or prone to breakouts) Everyday Shea lotion from Whole Foods is just over $10 for 32 ounces. Dr. Bronner's, which is also shea-based, is another affordable all-over lotion. For your face, there's the high-end Dr. Alkaitis, which is a unisex celebrity favorite, and Organic Apoteke, which is light and doesn't smell like girls.