Toxic Chemicals: What to Avoid When Pregnant

reducing your toxic chemical exposure during pregnancy

When you’re researching how to have a healthy pregnancy you’ll probably see a lot of scary stuff. Unfortunately there can be a lot out there to worry about. We’re exposed to a lot of chemicals everyday, and that can mean exposure to a lot of toxins in pregnancy. Here’s how to know what to avoid when pregnant, so you can reduce the amount of toxins you and your baby are exposed to.

what to avoid when pregnant

We all know some of the things we’re not supposed to do: smoke (at all, but especially during pregnancy), drink alcohol and excessive caffeine or eat too much seafood, but there are lots of other things you may never have thought of.

Your baby shares your chemical exposure during pregnancy

Everything you’re exposed to, everything you eat and drink, goes into your baby’s developing body. Not only should you make an extra effort to eat wholesome, nutritious food, you need to keep an eye on your surroundings as well.

Chemicals can get into your bloodstream and cross the placental barrier, potentially causing problems for your developing baby. These toxins in pregnancy damage the brain and organs. They can also cause endocrine disruption. Your child’s reproductive organs can also be harmed, affecting future generations.

Maintaining a non toxic baby environment during pregnancy is a very important.

Here’s a quick list of common toxins and what to avoid when pregnant

Lead and pregnancy

Do you live in an old house? The vast majority of Australian drinking water is clean and safe to drink, but if your house was built before 1970 it may have lead piping or have been painted with lead paint that has contaminated the garden.

If you’re concerned about lead you can use a lead test kit to check, and call in professionals to deal with any problems you might find.

Nail polish and pregnancy

Yes, nail polish. Many nail polishes are highly toxic, containing chemicals like formaldehyde, toluene and dibutyl phthalate, which may affect baby’s lung, liver and kidney function.  The atmosphere in your average nail salon is a toxic chemical stew – the last thing you need during your pregnancy.

You can get your nails done during pregnancy – just ask your nail salon if they’re using non toxic nail polish. If they’re not, don’t despair. You can give yourself a nontoxic mani/pedi using safer nail polish and take care of your nails naturally.

The nursery: painting when pregnant

I know, I know – fixing up baby’s nursery is an ancient instinct. But that doesn’t mean that you have to do it yourself. Get your partner to do the painting while you’re pregnant, or call in the professionals.

Use non toxic paint in the nursery

First, don’t refinish any furniture, or do anything that requires dealing with paint thinner. Only water-based paint is safe, and even then it’s best to use natural paints that have low VOCs, and provide plenty of ventilation. There are several Australian companies that make lovely natural house paints for a very reasonable price.

Of course, the best way to avoid all toxin exposure is to pick the colours and then have someone else do the actual painting. You can supervise from another room.

Use safe, low VOC paints, and keep the doors and windows open for as long as you can to give the paint a chance to off-gas.

Choose your furniture carefully

Many furniture pieces have tons of chemicals:

  • Polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) can interfere with thyroid function in children and adults. They’re used as flame retardants in electronics, upholstery and mattresses, so read the labels before you buy.
  • Perfluorinated organic compounds (PFAS) can cause reduced birth weight and a host of other problems. They’re used to make materials non stick and stain resistant, and can be found in pizza boxes, fast food containers, stain resistant clothes, carpeting and furniture, microwave popcorn bags and on non stick pots and pans.

Use natural furniture if you possibly can. Look for solid wood, rather than laminated plywood or chipboard. Avoid stain resistant clothing, bedding and upholstery. Don’t use any stain resistant spray treatments either. It would be better to use slipcovers for the furniture and easily laundered clothes for you and baby.

Use natural cleaners while you’re pregnant

Another important piece of the puzzle when maintaining a non toxic baby environment is using natural cleaning products around the home. Toxic chemicals can build up in the dust in your home, and regular cleaning helps keep the risk down. However, many cleaning products can contain harmful chemicals that you need to be aware of.

Use natural, plant based cleaning products from good brands like Ecostore, Abode, Resparkle, Organic Clean and Kin Kin Naturals, to name a few. They’ll help you clean up without inhaling toxic cleaning products while pregnant.

Personal care for a healthy pregnancy

Many skin and hair care products contain potentially toxic chemicals. There’s isn’t a lot of research about the safety of their ingredients for pregnant women (for obvious reasons). It’s better to err on the side of caution and go natural whenever you can.

Hair dye

Many hair dyes (even ‘natural’ ones) contain a chemical called PPD (paraphenylenediamine), which causes allergies and may damage the respiratory system.

You can use henna (or a natural dye without toxic chemicals) to colour your hair. If you absolutely must, go for streaks or foils that don’t touch your scalp.

Makeup and skincare during pregnancy

Read the labels on everything that touches your skin. You can have a look at the list of ingredients that we avoid here at Hello Charlie. There’s a whole heap of chemicals that shouldn’t be used by anybody, much less someone who wants a healthy pregnancy.

Pregnancy is the perfect time to make the switch to natural beauty and skincare products.

Fragrances

Fragrances can contain toxic substances like phthalates. Perfume companies aren’t even required to list their ingredients, so you have no idea what’s in there – not the best thing for a healthy pregnancy.

In general it’s probably best not to use fragrances at all while pregnant (your sense of smell is probably super sensitive anyway). Even essential oils can be problematic, since many can be uterine stimulants.

Go plastic free

Bisphenol A (BPA) is a chemical used to make hard plastic water bottles, dishes, baby bottles, food storage containers – the list is practically endless. The problem with this wonder chemical is that it’s an endocrine disruptor, even in small doses. Exposure during pregnancy can lead to miscarriage. It may also harm the baby’s reproductive system, possibly even leading to cancer later in life.

The best solution (for many reasons) is to go plastic free, or at least choose safer plastics. Go with glass or stainless steel water bottles, reusable produce bags and plastic free food wraps.

It may seem overwhelming when you’re first pregnant, but every small step that you take can help you and your unborn baby to have a safe, non toxic pregnancy.

Want to get more tips on non toxic items you can use during pregnancy? You can also read on our pregnancy skincare article.

 

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Fluoride in Toothpaste: Yes or No?

fluoride in toothpaste

Do we really need fluoride in toothpaste? Many places in Australia have had fluoridated water since the 1950s (although it varies by region). The government has decided that this practice is safe and beneficial. If we’re already drinking fluoride in our water, why do we need to use more in our toothpaste?

fluoride in toothpaste

How does fluoride in toothpaste work?

Acids produced by plaque eat away at the minerals in your tooth enamel, causing little cavities. Your body can remineralise these spots, filling them in while they’re still small. Fluoride applied topically several times a day speeds up the process. It also helps form bigger mineral crystals that are more resistant to acids.

How does fluoride help protect teeth?

The fluoride in fluoridated water affects children’s tooth buds. While the teeth are still developing, the fluoride replaces some of the minerals. Instead of hydroxyapatite, which our teeth are normally made of, it creates fluoroapatite, which is more resistant to tooth decay.

There is some doubt about how well this process works, and whether drinking fluoridated water helps prevent tooth decay in adults at all. A 2015 review by the Cochrane Collaboration, a respected group of doctors and researchers, found that many studies supporting the effectiveness of fluoridated water were flawed. They only found three studies since 1975 that they considered any good. These studies showed that fluoridated water made no difference in the prevention of tooth decay.

And too much fluoride in your toothpaste and your drinking water can have side effects.

What is fluorosis?

Fluorosis is a mottling of tooth enamel caused by consuming too much fluoride. It’s not just cosmetically unpleasant. It’s a sign that your entire body has been over exposed to fluoride, which may be building up in your system. If you take in more than 10 mg of fluoride a day over a long period of time you’re at risk for skeletal fluorosis, a debilitating bone disease.

Fluoride and your health

Back in the early part of the 20th century fluoride was used to treat hyperthyroidism, since it depresses the thyroid. A 2018 study of 10,000 people shows a strong correlation between fluoride intake and lowered thyroid function, even at levels as low as 0.3 mg/L. For reference, the levels in Australian fluoridated water vary between 0.6 and 1.1 mg/L.

If you’re concerned about your thyroid health, or have any family history of thyroid disease, you might want to think about avoiding fluoride altogether. (A reverse osmosis filter can get it out of your drinking water.) Many foods contain fluoride too. Tea is the biggest culprit. It can have as much as 9 mg/L. Red wine, raisins and seafood like crab and prawns may also contain a lot of fluoride.

If you have a healthy thyroid, using fluoride toothpaste should be fine. Just don’t swallow any!

Is fluoride toothpaste safe for babies and toddlers?

Up until the age of five or six, always supervise your children when they’re brushing their teeth to make sure they spit it out properly. If you choose a children’s toothpaste with fluoride, only use a tiny amount, the size of a grain of rice. Fluoride in toothpaste is poisonous in large doses. More is not better in this case. With children under three, you should carefully wipe the toothpaste off their teeth and the inside of their mouth. Or just use fluoride free toothpaste instead.

When choosing your children’s toothpaste, try to go for something with a clean, simple flavour and packaging. Toothpaste that’s flavoured like lollies and decorated with cartoon animals can be almost irresistible. Kids think, ‘If it looks and tastes like lollies, why can’t I eat it?’

Do we really need fluoride?

The plaque germs that cause tooth decay love to feed on sugar and processed carbohydrates, like white flour. Cut down on your sugar intake and you’ll have less plaque. Sugary drinks are especially bad. You can prevent a lot of tooth problems by simply cutting out soft drinks and sweetened drinks. Even fruit juice can harm your teeth.

It won’t help to drink a can of soft drink and rush off to brush your teeth. When you eat or drink anything acidic, like soft drink, pickles or beer, your tooth enamel softens a bit. It’s a good idea to wait at least 30 minutes for your mouth to return to normal before you subject your teeth to the abrasiveness of brushing. Of course, you should brush after every meal, or at least twice a day. Just wait a little while if you had spaghetti bolognese and oranges for dinner.

Chewing sugar free gum can help protect your teeth as well. Xylitol, a low calorie sweetener made from plants, neutralises acid in your mouth and helps remineralise your teeth. Don’t use too much, though! (It can have a laxative effect.)

If you eat well, take care of your teeth and see your dentist regularly, there’s no reason you shouldn’t use fluoride free toothpaste if you want to. We have many brands to choose from. You’ll also find great natural toothpastes with fluoride, like these ones from Lavera and The Humble Co.

Want to learn more about natural dental care?  You can also read our shopping guide for all natural dental products.

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What to Look for in Disposable Nappies?

disposable nappies

I’ve been selling disposable nappies here in Hello Charlie for years, and I’m still fascinated by how they work. I know this makes me sound like a complete geek,  but the engineering behind disposable nappies blows me away.

disposable nappies

There are nearly 1,000 patents registered that relate to nappy design. A maxi (size 4) nappy holds up to 400 ml of water, yet your baby stays dry. Ever wondered how that happens?

 What’s in disposable nappies?

What parts does regular disposable nappies have?

  • top sheet
  • the surge layer (ADL- aquisition distribution layer) which draws moisture away from baby’s skin
  • the absorbent core which holds all the moisture and keeps baby dry
  • the back sheet (cloth like feel) and the the barrier layer – usually polyurethane: this is the part that stops the moisture leaking through onto baby’s clothes and keeps it all contained
  • elasticated leak guards and leg elastics so that you don’t get leaks
  • plus the tabs and side panels, and the sticky bit at the front panel where you fasten the nappy down.

What to look out for in disposable nappies?

First, what you really want is a nappy manufacturer who will disclose all of their ingredients. And look for the ‘free from’ claims. If a manufacturer doesn’t mention that their nappy is free from something, or won’t tell you, you can assume that it’s in there.

Inner lining

Often made with polypropylene or polyethylene (both of which are considered to be safe plastics), to hold the absorbent centre in. Some manufacturers infuse this layer with a moisturising lotion. As we know, moisturising lotions can contain all sorts of chemicals, including phthalates and petroleum based products.

It’s important to know what’s in the inner lining of a nappy, as this is the part that sits right next to your baby’s skin.

Absorbent core

The bulk of a disposable nappy is the absorbent centre. This is usually made of wood pulp and super absorbers.

Super absorbers were first used in disposable nappies in the early eighties, and the first ones used were sodium polyacrylates or SAPs. SAPs can absorb up to 30 times their weight in liquid, which means that nappies need a lot less of the bulky wood pulp, and are much more effective at containing leaks.

The fact that nappies absorb a lot of moisture also means that babies are a lot less likely to get nappy rash. Some of the eco nappies are now using some super absorbers made from biodegradable materials, such as wheat or corn. The natural super absorbers are not yet as effective as the SAPs, which is why there’s still a mixture being used even in the most eco of disposable nappies.

Do you need SAPs in your disposable nappies?

You want SAPs in a nappy, so that it’s not as bulky. That means that it’s more comfortable for your baby to wear, it’s not as bulky and heavy to ship, so there are less emissions. And when you come to dispose of it, a thinner nappy doesn’t take up as much space in landfill. However, some manufacturers use SAPs that contain phthalates, and that’s not good.

The wood pulp is often bleached, and often use chlorine based bleach, and this can leave behind dioxins.

And of course it’s important that the wood pulp used is from FSC certified sources, so that it’s sustainable.

Meanwhile, some nappy manufacturers put a fragrance in between the absorbent core and the outer layer. Fragrances can contain different toxic chemicals, which is why many people have allergic reactions to fragrances and perfumes.

Waterproof Outer layer

The outer layer is often made of polyethylene or polypropylene film, and prevents the nappies from leaking. This layer can contain phthalates, chlorine and can also be manufactured using organic solvents. Bambo Nature specifically says that their nappies doesn’t contain any of these.

Bambo Nature
Bambo Nature

Some nappy brands are using a biofilm for the outer layer. But it’s important to note that there’s no nappy that’s completely biodegradable. The technology is just not advanced enough yet, so be aware that any company claiming complete biodegradability. Most likely, it’s misleading.

Inks for cartoon characters

All those cute little cartoon characters on nappies are printed with ink. These can be skin sensitizers such as Disperse Blue 106, Disperse Yellow 3, Blue 106, Orange 37/76, Brown 1. Inks can also contain heavy metal pigments.

Dyes

Some brands use dyes, and these can also be irritating to the skin.

Tabs, elastics and glues

The sticky tabs fasten the nappy around baby, and the elastics around the legs to help prevent leaks. Glues are used to stick all these things together.

Glues can contain phthalates and elastics can contain latex.

Do you find this article helpful, you might also want to read ‘Nappy 101 – A Guide to Cloth, Hybrid, and Disposable Nappies’.

Main image credit: Deposit Photos

Other image credit: Bambo Nature

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Synthetic Microfibers: Why You Should Avoid Them

synthetic microfibers

If you care about the environment you’ve probably been trying to live a plastic free life as much as possible. You might take a reusable shopping bag everywhere, always carry a reusable coffee cup, and lug your stainless steel water bottle with you. But there’s one source of plastic pollution that you may not have heard of: synthetic microfibers.

synthetic microfibers

There’s a growing awareness about how our lifestyle choices are damaging our planet. In the news lately, it’s hard to avoid images of the plastic in our oceans. So what’s the deal with synthetic microfibers?

The hidden danger

Even those of us who keep up with the environmental news might never have heard of one of the worst pollution sources of all: synthetic microfibers. They’ve been found in both fresh and saltwater life to an alarming extent. A study by researchers at the University of California at Santa Barbara discovered that one fleece jacket releases an average of about 1.7 grams of microfibers per wash. The older and cheaper the garment, the worse it is.

The researchers went on to state, “These microfibers then travel to your local wastewater treatment plant, where up to 40% of them enter rivers, lakes and oceans.”

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Mark Browne, a senior research associate at the University of New South Wales, Australia, stated in a 2011 research paper that microfibers make up around 85% of human made debris on shorelines around the world.

What’s the problem with synthetic microfibers?

These tiny little fibres are just the right size for small fish to eat. Then bigger fish eat the small fish, and on up the food chain they go, bioaccumulating and concentrating toxins. Professor Sherri Mason, of the State University of New York Fredonia, described microfibres as “weaving themselves into the gastrointestinal tract” of one of the Great Lakes fish she studied.

 

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Many environmentally conscious companies recycle plastic bottles into fibres to make cloth, but the evidence suggest that this increases pollution (in a particularly insidious way), instead of helping decrease it. Synthetic microfibers are bad enough in themselves, but the worst part is that they absorb toxins such as polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), which become concentrated in the animal’s tissues.

These toxins not only destroy the animals’ lives and habitats, they eventually move up the food chain to us.

What can you do?

First of all, shop for good-quality clothing and try to make it last. Look for natural fabrics, such as cotton, wool, and bamboo. Go plastic free.

You don’t usually need to wash outerwear, such as jackets, after each use. Manufacturers like Patagonia are searching for ways to produce high performance textiles from natural biodegradable materials.

In the meantime, you can wash your synthetic clothing (especially those made from polyester, such as fleece) in a superfine mesh laundry bag like the Guppy Friend, which catches the microfibres. A microfibre catching laundry ball is also in development.

Use natural microfibres

It’s not just clothes, it’s cleaning cloths as well. Bamboo microfibre is 100% biodegradable. You don’t have to worry about it accumulating in the environment, since it breaks down after a few years. We stock bamboo microfibre cloths from Resparkle. They do an excellent cleaning job and have natural antimicrobial properties that help keep them germ free and smelling fresh. They’re a great microfibre cleaning cloth choice for your plastic free lifestyle.

Want to lessen your plastic usage? You can check out more tips on our previous articles like Rethink the Plastic in Your Bathroom and How to Work Towards a Plastic Free Kitchen

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Toxic Living: Baby Soap And Baby Wash

baby soap and baby wash

Bath soaps for adults often contain harsh synthetic ingredients. But that’s not true for children’s bath products, is it?

Unfortunately, it is. You’d think companies would be careful of the ingredients they use in products for babies and children. But that’s not always the case.

baby soap and baby wash

The Environmental Working Group says that every day the average child is exposed via body care products to 27 chemicals that have not been tested for children. You may find these chemicals in baby soap, body wash, shampoo, lotion, and other personal care products for children. Many of these chemicals have known links to cancer, hormone disruption, brain damage, and allergies.

How safe is your baby soap and baby wash?

Baby soap and baby washes are rinse off products. So you’d think that they’re not an issue, right?

While baby soap and baby wash are “rinse off” products and (ideally) don’t stay on bub’s skin too long, there are other ways by which ingredients in these products can enter the body.

When you give baby a bath, the warm water opens up her pores. If there are toxic ingredients in the baby body wash, they enter the skin faster, your baby’s largest organ.

Aside from that, the warmth of the bath vaporises many chemicals. And your baby breathes them in. Babies and toddlers like to put their hands in their mouths, so it’s easy for them to swallow these ingredients. It also gets in their eyes.Best Baby Soap & Baby Wash Cheat Sheet

What’s in baby soap and baby wash?

Most baby wash and liquid baby soaps have water acting as the solvent for the other ingredients.

There are emulsifiers that increase the product’s foaming action, make it thicker, and help the oils and water mix properly.

You’ll also find detergents, which do the actual cleaning, and surfactants, which make bubbles.

When the main ingredient is water, it’s a perfect breeding ground for mould and harmful bacteria. Preservatives protect the product and stop it going off.

Finally, there are often fragrances that help the product smell nice (and hide smells from some of the other ingredients).

Ingredients to avoid in baby soap and baby wash

Some ingredients can potentially cause health problems. So read your labels! And avoid baby bath products that contain any of these:

Preservatives

  • Benzalkonium chloride (also known as BZK, BAC, BKC) – a skin and respiratory irritant. And this chemical can cause severe eye irritation which can be toxic to the immune and nervous systems.
  • Benzyl alcohol – not good for products used around the mouth. It can cause severe allergic contact dermatitis.
  • Formaldehyde and formaldehyde releasing chemicals – formaldehyde is a known human carcinogen and can cause leukaemia and various other types of cancer. It’s also a known respiratory toxicant and a potent allergen.
  • Parabens – are chemicals that can mimic the hormone oestrogen and wreak havoc on the endocrine system. And they can cause developmental disorders, reproductive problems, neurological disorders, and cancer.
  • Phenoxyethanol – is another potential allergen. When ingested by infants, it can depress the central nervous system and cause respiratory distress and vomiting.
  • Methylisothiazolinone (MIT) and methylchloroisothiazolinone (MCI) – MIT is an irritant and allergen that has been banned from leave-on products in the European Union. Also, MCI is a contact allergen.
  • Sodium hydroxymethylglycinate –  formaldehyde releaser that can cause skin and eye irritation even at concentrations lower than 1%.
  • Diazolidinyl urea – also a formaldehyde releaser. Can cause contact dermatitis.

Emulsifiers and others

  • PEGs (polyethylene glycols) – can be contaminated with ethylene oxide, a known carcinogen, and 1,4-dioxane, a possible carcinogen. PEGs are penetration enhancers. That means they allow other ingredients to be absorbed more easily through the skin. That’s not a good thing when there are other toxic chemicals in the product.
  • Propylene glycol – also a penetration enhancer. It’s potentially toxic to the liver and kidneys, can cause mild conjunctivitis, and is a skin irritant.
  • Dioxane – you won’t find this on labels because it’s a chemical byproduct, not an ingredient. But it’s incredibly common. It was found in 57% of all baby soaps tested by EWG in 2007. 1,4-dioxane is possibly carcinogenic to humans and is toxic to the brain, kidneys, and liver. It’s commonly found in ingredients that end in -eth.

Surfactants

  • Ceteareth-12 / Ceteareth-20 – more penetration enhancers. May be contaminated with ethylene oxide and 1,4-dioxane.
  • Cocamidopropyl betaine – can cause allergic reactions in some people. Was voted Allergen of the Year in 2004 by the American Contact Dermatitis Society.
  • Cocamide DEA – a common ingredient in “no tears” baby soaps and shampoos. DEA is an allergen and can irritate the skin and mucous membranes. Cocamide DEA has also been linked to organ toxicity and may be contaminated with nitrosamines, most of which are possibly carcinogenic.
  • Laureth-4 – a skin and eye irritant. May be contaminated with ethylene oxide and 1,4-dioxane.
  • Sodium lauryl sulphate (SLS) and sodium laureth sulphate (SLES) – both can cause irritation of the skin, eyes, and lungs. SLS is a penetration enhancer that breaks down the skin’s moisture barrier. SLES is often contaminated with 1,4-dioxane.

Fragrance

  • Fragrance, perfume, or parfum – these are catch all terms for potentially dangerous ingredients that companies are not obligated to reveal. Synthetic fragrances have been linked to eczema, allergies, and neurological problems. They can also be drying and irritating to skin.
  • Phthalates (often found in synthetic fragrances) – endocrine disruptors that can affect sperm health and other reproductive problems.

Colourants

Synthetic colours and dyes are only there to make the baby bath products look more appealing. They aren’t necessary and they can contain heavy metals and cause allergic reactions.

How to avoid the toxic stuff

With so many natural baby products available these days, there’s really no reason to stick with toxic brands.

I know the sheer number of options can be overwhelming. Doing your own research on which baby soaps and washes are best takes a lot of time. So we’ve done the work for you.

Check out our handpicked selection of baby bath products at Hello Charlie and grab our new Safer Baby Soap & Baby Wash Cheat Sheet.

Main image credit: Deposit Photos

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Toxic Living: Baby Soap And Baby Wash

Silicones In Makeup and Skin Care: Should You Avoid Them?

Silicones in Makeup and Skin Care

A while back, I decided to stop stocking a ‘natural’ brand of skincare here at Hello Charlie because they reformulated and introduced silicones to their product formulations. I had lots of questions about why I don’t like silicones, so I thought it was about time to explain that. What are silicones, and how do they affect your skin?

Silicones in Makeup and Skin Care

What are silicones?

A silicone is a large molecule made up of repeating chains of alternating oxygen and silicon atoms, along with carbon and hydrogen. Silicon is a mineral. Over 90% of the Earth’s crust is silicone – it’s the primary element in sand.

Silicones are stable over a wide range of temperatures and have a generally low toxicity and chemical reactivity. They have a wide variety of applications, from the automotive and airline industries to cookware to personal care products.

The silicone compounds used in skin care are interesting. They are water repellent but gas permeable, which means they allow air to pass through. Because of the way the materials are formed – big molecules connected together in a sort of lattice with a lot of space in between. They stay on the surface, forming a water resistant barrier that still allows the skin to breathe. For this reason they don’t usually feel heavy or greasy.

Are silicones natural?

Can you still use silicones if you’re committed to natural skincare? They’re obviously not found in nature. (Although a silicone molecule with a carbon component might be known as an ‘organic compound’, that doesn’t mean it’s plant or animal derived.)

Silicones are not included in any organic skincare products, since they’re not certified by Ecocert or any other organisation.

Are they toxic?

Silicones are generally regarded as safe, at least for application to the skin and hair. They’re considered hypoallergenic, non comedogenic, and non sensitising.

However, there’s a lot of anecdotal evidence that silicones can cause reactions for people with sensitive or acne prone skin, so you might want to be careful if you have this skin type.

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Leaky silicone breast implants caused a lot of controversy a few years ago when they were implicated in cancer and autoimmune disorders. According to the U.S. FDA, recent research has found them generally safe, except for a very slight increase in the risk of anaplastic large cell lymphoma, a type of white blood cell cancer. But this isn’t the same as putting them on your skin.

Silicones in makeup and skincare

Silicones are so popular because they add slip to cosmetic formulations, allowing them to glide on smoothly, giving the product a silky feel. In hair care products, they coat the cuticle, detangle and add shine. They also protect hair from heat.

Silicones are also popular with manufacturers because they’re cheap.

Makeup primers use silicones to cover enlarged pores, minor wrinkles and scarring, creating a smooth finish as well as forming a base for foundation to stick to. A silicone-heavy foundation can give the skin the smooth and glowing look that is so on trend right now.

Makeup settings sprays are usually chock-full of silicones, since silicones can form a protective barrier over your eye shadow and contouring artistry that keeps it all in place.

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Some types of silicones actually increase the penetration of other substances in the product. This can be a problem if you’re sensitive to anything in the formula. If the products contains potentially irritating ingredients, such as hydroquinone (a skin bleaching compound), you can end up with a concentration of that substance underneath the silicone layer.

Who should avoid silicones?

Those with sensitive and acne prone skin should stay away. A good natural skincare product will treat your skin gently and nourish it rather than simply forming a layer over the top. Silicones provide a temporary smoothing effect, but they don’t actually help the skin heal on its own.

One of the most worrying things about silicones for the environmentally aware person is that heavier silicones are not biodegradable. Siloxane D4 is currently being investigated over concerns of a toxic build up in the environment and may be banned in the future.

Considering how much silicone we’re producing nowadays, all this is a real cause for concern. At least with organic skincare you don’t have to worry that your face wash is destroying the environment.

How can I recognize silicones in the products I buy?

The word ‘silicone’ is probably not going to show up on the ingredients list. It’s an umbrella term that refers to a variety of substances. In general, look for terms ending in ‘cone’, ‘conol or ‘siloxane’. Here are some examples:

  • Amodimethicone: often found in hair care products. It sticks to your hair, so it’s a great conditioner but can build up over time.
  • Cyclopentasiloxane: this is a water-based silicone that evaporates quickly. It adds slip to cosmetics and skin and hair care products so that they glide on smoothly.
  • Dimethicone: a very heavy silicone, dimethicone is an efficient detangler and frizz buster. It doesn’t evaporate at all and will definitely build up over time without thorough cleansing.
  • Dimethiconol: a very fluid silicone that acts as an anti-foaming agent. It also works as an emollient, plumping up fine lines and wrinkles.
  • Dimethicone copolyol: works as an emulsifier, keeping the oil and water components from separating.
  • Trimethylsilylamodimethicone: often used as a detangler in hair care products.

However, some silicones are sneaky:

  • Polymethylsilsesquioxane: a resin that is often used in tiny little spheres that act as anti-caking and water-repelling agents.

In fact, if you’re in doubt about an ingredient in skin and hair care products or cosmetics, there’s a good chance it’s a silicone.

Which skincare products contain silicones?

Short answer: All of them can contain silicones. If it’s not an organic skincare line it probably contains silicones. These compounds do so many useful things and are generally safe for most people.

Adding silicones gives products that cosmetically elegant texture that we’ve all come to know and love. You know – that silky light and fast drying, yet emollient, lotion that feels so pleasant as you spread it over your face. Or maybe it’s the hair conditioner that provides instant detangling, or the serum that applies smoothly without foaming or pilling.

As you move away from silicones towards natural and organic skincare you’ll find that the products may feel heavier or stickier than you’re used to. However, as silicone-free formulations improve this issue will only get better.

Silicone substitutes

Cosmetic and skincare companies are investing a lot into researching natural silicone replacements. Some substances to look for are:

  • dicaprylyl ether
  • dicaprylyl carbonate
  • coco-caprylate
  • dicaprylyl ether
  • decyl glucoside
  • glyceryl oleate

Many others will become available as more people look for silicone free products.

Silicones, while useful, don’t have any part in an organic lifestyle. With a little effort you can find natural skincare products that are just as good for your skin, but much better for the environment.

Looking for silicone free makeup? You can find a wide variety of natural makeup here at Hello Charlie.

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Shopping Guide: What To Look For In Natural Laundry Powders

natural laundry powder

Your favourite laundry detergent may get your whites white and your colours fast, but have you ever wondered how it affects everything else it touches? What does it do to your skin, your lungs, your pets, the air in your home and the waterways downstream?

Unfortunately, if you’re still using conventional laundry products, you might not like the answer to that.

natural laundry powder

I made the switch to green cleaning products a long time ago, after learning about the many questionable chemicals in the big name brands I was putting in my shopping cart. I’ve learned that laundry detergents leave a chemical residue that can be absorbed into our skin or inhaled into our lungs. Sometimes, the chemicals in that leftover goop have ill effects like eczema, eye irritation, and rashes. Some of them are endocrine disruptors and possible carcinogens. And we don’t even need many of these ingredients in the first place!

After being clued in on all this, I decided to green up my family’s laundry. Today, we’re helping you do the same by showing you what to look for and what to avoid when choosing natural laundry products.

Say ‘no’ to:

Manufacturers have already removed some of the problematic chemicals from laundry products. But there’s still a lot of sneaky ingredients out there that can really harm your health and the environment. There’s also a lot of greenwash in so-called natural laundry powders and liquids. Here are some ingredients of concern:

Synthetic fragrance

We’ve come to expect a certain aroma from freshly laundered clothes. However, that “spring morning” or “ocean breeze” scent usually comes from synthetic fragrance – and fragrance is sneaky.

Fragrance isn’t just one ingredient. Usually, it’s a cocktail of chemicals of varying levels of safety. When you inhale that familiar “clean” smell, you may actually be breathing hazardous air pollutants. In fact, there are nearly 4,000 stock chemical ingredients used in fragrances, and some of these are hormone disruptors, allergens, and carcinogens. Manufacturers don’t have to list which chemicals they use because fragrance ingredients are considered trade secret.

Why do companies include potentially harmful chemicals in fragrance? Because natural ingredients, like real essential oils, are expensive. So when choosing laundry products, look for those that specifically indicate that the scent comes from natural sources. Steer clear of anything with ‘fragrance’ or ‘parfum.’ Personally, I think fragrance is unnecessary because clean laundry should smell, well, like nothing. ‘Clean,’ after all, doesn’t really have a smell, does it?

Phosphates and EDTA

Phosphates make laundry detergents more effective at lifting dirt off clothes. However, phosphates are a real menace to the environment. They increase algae growth in streams and waterways, which then depletes oxygen levels in the water, essentially suffocating marine life.

Most laundry detergent companies have already removed phosphates from their products. However, some of them replaced phosphates with EDTA, another problematic chemical that doesn’t biodegrade easily and is toxic to animals.

laundry detergent cheat sheet button

Optical brighteners

Optical brighteners don’t get clothes clean. They just make them look that way. These chemicals create an optical illusion by absorbing UV light and reflecting back blue light, making clothing look whiter and brighter. Optical brighteners are designed to bind to fabrics after washing. They can then rub off onto skin and may cause irritation and allergic reactions if you happen to be sensitive to them.

Optical brighteners are sometimes made from benzene, a known carcinogen. They’re also terrible for the environment. They biodegrade poorly and may be toxic to aquatic life.

Harsh Surfactants

Surfactants help loosen grease and dirt from clothes. They’re really, really good at cleaning. Unfortunately, the most common surfactants used in laundry powder (SLS, SLES, and ALS) can cause skin and eye irritation. Studies have also linked these sulphates to neurotoxicity, developmental toxicity, and cancer. Another big issue with sulphates: during the manufacturing process, they can be contaminated with 1,4-dioxane, a Group 2B carcinogen.

Chlorine bleach

It may help you get rid of that annoying coffee stain on your favourite white shirt, but chlorine bleach is still really bad stuff. It’s a definite environmental toxin and a suspected endocrine disruptor and carcinogen. It can cause serious damage if inhaled and is irritating to noses, eyes, and throats. There’s also evidence that even just passive exposure to bleach can increase your child’s risk of respiratory and other infections.

Dyes

Dyes aren’t there to clean. They’re only added for aesthetic reasons, like that blue stripe in toothpastes. They’re totally unnecessary. Worse, dyes can be irritating and can cause allergic reactions in people who have skin sensitivities.

Say ‘yes’ to:

There’s no need to pollute the planet or compromise your health just to have clean clothes. Look for natural laundry powders with these safer ingredients:

Essential oils

Essential oils give your clothes a lovely fresh scent. They also have the added benefits of being naturally antibacterial, antifungal, antiviral, and mood boosting.

Try: That Red House laundry tonics; Little Innoscents essential oils; Mt Retour essential oils

Baking soda

Bicarb soda is probably the most versatile green cleaning product there is. It’s an ingredient that gets all sorts of messes out, and yet is about as simple and natural as it gets. It’s tough on stains (like crayon) and funky smells (like sweat). It also softens fabrics, discourages bacteria growth, and even helps clean your machine!

Try: Abode Laundry Powders and Liquids, Ecostore laundry powders and liquids

Washing soda

Also called sodium carbonate or soda ash, this alkaline compound is a highly effective cleaning agent. Like baking soda, it’s great at getting stubborn stains and grease out. It also acts as a water softener, helping laundry detergent work better.

Find it in: Resparkle Laundry Powder, Abode Laundry Powders and Liquids, Ecostore laundry powders and liquids.

https://www.hellocharlie.com.au/resparkle-laundry-powder/

Oxygen bleach

Unlike chlorine bleach, a potent irritant, oxy bleach is gentler on clothes and won’t produce toxic chlorine gas. Ecostore’s excellent Laundry Soaker and Stain Remover uses sodium carbonate peroxide instead of chlorine bleach to get even the nastiest of stains out.

Try: Kin Kin Naturals Soaker; Ecostore Laundry Soaker; Ecover Laundry Bleach Oxygen

Soapberries

If you haven’t tried doing the laundry with soapberries yet, you’re missing out. These little cuties are actually the fruit of a tree grown in Nepal. The shells contain a natural soap that removes grease and grime just as good as conventional detergents. They’re naturally antibacterial and anti fungal, and you can chuck them in the compost when you’re done with them.

Try: That Red House Soapberries

Woolen dryer balls

No need for wasteful (and toxic) dryer sheets — woolen dryer balls are chemical free and eco friendly, and can help reduce wrinkles and decrease drying time.

Try: That Red House Dryer Balls

Natural laundry powders vs. supermarket brands

If you think natural laundry powders and liquids can’t possibly compare to supermarket brands in terms of cleaning, think again. Ecostore, for instance, has topped mainstream brands like Surf, Persil, and Cold Power in categories like Quality of Clean, Feel of Clothes, and Overall Satisfaction.

Ready to make the switch to green laundry products? Hello Charlie has a good selection of natural laundry powders, natural laundry liquids, soakers, and fabric softeners that are better for you and the planet. Go check it out now!

What are your favourite natural laundry products? Share below!

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Shopping Guide: What To Look For In A Natural Laundry Powders

Electromagnetic Fields (EMFs) And Radiation: What You Need To Know And How To Minimise Exposure

EMFs and radiation

Electromagnetic hypersensitivity isn’t a recognised medical diagnosis. But don’t we all know (or have heard of) at least one person who gets a headache every time he takes a call on his mobile? Or someone who swears she gets dizzy when she walks into a room where there’s WiFi? Are EMFs and radiation really affecting your health? 

EMFs and radiation

Mobile phones, laptops, WiFi – these are all just parts of our way of life now. We rely on them for a lot of things – work, communication, entertainment, staying organised, staying fit, and so much more.

But while they do make our lives easier, there’s some fear about the potential risks these technologies pose. Could they lead to health issues later on? And why do some people claim to experience debilitating electromagnetic hypersensitivity while others don’t?

There’s a lot to unpack here. Let’s dive in.

What are EMFs and radiation?

Electromagnetic fields (EMFs) are areas of energy (aka radiation) around objects that use power. Power lines, electrical equipment, electrical wiring, railway lines, microwave ovens, TVs, computers, and mobile phones are common sources of EMFs.

We’re constantly swimming in a sea of radiation. But mobile phones are, by far, the closest source. We hold them up to our ears (near the brain), keep them in our pockets, sleep with them beside our heads, and so forth.

Should we be concerned about EMFs and radiation?

Given how we’ve come to rely on WiFi and wireless devices, it can be very uncomfortable to entertain the notion that they’re bad for our health. And yet we have to ask the tough questions. After all, things like mobile phones and WiFi are new(ish) technologies and not enough time has passed to determine their long term effects on human health.

Scientists still need to do more research to establish the links between EMFs and disease. But so far, human health studies and lab experiments have linked EMFs and radiation with:

On 28 March 2018, a scientific peer review showed that there was ‘clear evidence’ that radiation from mobile phones causes cancer.

Children may be more at risk

Babies and children are more vulnerable to EMFs and radiation because their nervous systems are still developing, their skulls are thinner, and their brain tissue is ‘more conductive.’

And compared to us adults, children will have much longer exposure over their lifetime. While our generation didn’t have iPhones, iPads or even WiFi growing up, today’s preschoolers watch Peppa Pig from their parent’s tablets and play with WiFi enabled toys on a regular basis.

Then there’s the phone radiation testing, which only takes into account how adults are affected — not children or babies in the womb. In 2013, this prompted the American Academy of Paediatrics to remind the US Federal Communications Commission (which does the tests) that “children are not little adults and are disproportionately impacted by all environmental exposures, including cell phone radiation.”

Another issue with radiation testing is it’s assumed that phones will be held a certain distance from the body. For the iPhone 7, for example, it’s 5 mm. Unfortunately, smartphone users tend to hold their devices much closer to their bodies than that. For instance, if you keep your phone in your pocket (like most men) or prop your tablet up on your tummy while you stream Netflix (like lots of kids).

What expert agencies say

The International Agency for Research on Cancer lists radio frequency electromagnetic fields as Group 2B or “possibly carcinogenic to humans.” The decision was based on a link between wireless phone use and an increased risk for a malignant type of brain cancer called glioma.

That might sound terribly alarming, but most public health institutions say the levels of radiation we’re exposed to are actually within the safety limits. But, as with most things, moderation is key.

In 2011, the Council of Europe urged member states to choose wired connection over WiFi in schools, regulate the use of mobile phones by schoolchildren, and set thresholds for levels of long term exposure to microwave radiation in all indoor areas.

Some countries have already acknowledged that WiFi can be harmful to young children and have proposed or enacted policies to ban or reduce WiFi use in schools. These include Cyprus, Israel, Germany, Finland, and Russia.

In 2015, France enacted a law banning the use of WiFi in daycare centres and nursery schools. It prohibited wireless Internet in spaces “dedicated to the reception, rest, and activities of children under 3 years old” and was the first French law to take a precautionary approach to the potential health risks from electromagnetic fields.

Managing risk

So here’s what we know:

  1. Scientists haven’t ruled out the possibility that EMFs have detrimental effects to human health.
  2. Children, infants, and foetuses are more susceptible.
  3. Long term effects are hard to predict.
  4. Current standards for mobile phones and other wireless devices are based on how adults — not the youngest and most vulnerable members of the population — are affected.

There’s still a lot of research to be done. But as the Council of Europe pointed out in 2011, perhaps we need to learn from our mistakes.

“Waiting for high levels of scientific and clinical proof before taking action to prevent well-known risks can lead to very high health and economic costs, as was the case with asbestos, leaded petrol and tobacco.”

In short: better to play it safe.

While we can’t completely shield our families from EMFs and radiation, there are ways to reduce exposure.

Small changes can make a great impact. I always remind my family to text instead of call, keep calls short, and use hands free devices whenever possible. And for added protection from EMFs and radiation, both my children and my husband and I use anti radiation phone covers and headphones.

 

If you want to further minimise your family’s exposure to EMFs, you might also consider radiation shields for major sources like your laptop and microwave.

 

Anti radiation armbands let you safely use your phone while jogging or working out (remember that 5 mm safe distance?).

Do you worry about EMFs and radiation? What do you do to keep your family safe? Share below!

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How to Find the Best Natural Lip Balm

natural lip balm

Why is it that some lip balms seem to leave your lips dry and flaky, no matter how many times you reapply?

It’s because some of the ingredients in lip balms can do more harm than good, even natural ones. So how do you find the best natural lip balm?

best natural lip balm

What to watch out for

You might think your lip balm is completely harmless, but some mainstream lip balms may contain ingredients such as camphor, phenol, and menthol. While they’ll give you a cooling sensation and a little temporary pain relief, these ingredients are can be toxic and highly irritating, especially to the sensitive skin of your lips.

Phenol is used to kill bacteria, but can cause liver damage when ingested over time. It’s not really something you want to apply on your lips several times a day. Another ingredient that you may find in some mainstream lip balms is salicylic acid. Salicylic acid can be great to dissolve away warts, but you don’t want it on your lips.

A lip balm made with natural ingredients is a much better choice. Mainstream lip balms may also include petroleum-derived ingredients such as mineral oil, petrolatum, and paraffin. When these ingredients are not properly refined, they can contain polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) which may be carcinogenic. They can also cause allergic reactions and won’t allow your skin to breathe.

You should also keep a lookout for artificial dyes and colorants such as D&C red no. 6 and yellow no. 10. Synthetic fragrances are another no-no. There are a variety of ‘generally-regarded-as-safe’ ingredients that can be found in cosmetics that really don’t belong there, in my opinion.

Get a good natural lip balm

Your lips deserve natural, non-irritating ingredients that allow your skin to breathe. The best natural lip balms will have a mix of hydrating and occlusive ingredients.

Hydrating ingredients, such as hyaluronic acid and glycerine, are powerfully moisturising, but they can actually pull moisture out of the skin and allow it to evaporate into the air. Your poor lips can end up even dryer.

Humectants, such as hyaluronic acid, should always be combined with occlusive ingredients, which prevents evaporation. These includes shea and cocoa butter, beeswax, squalene, coconut, jojoba, and various oils.

Lanolin can also be a great addition to lip balm, since it keeps moisture in while still allowing the lips to breathe. However, some people can be sensitive to it, and others may not want to use it since it’s derived from lamb’s wool.

Sunscreen is something else to look for. It’s especially important in summer, but it doesn’t hurt to use it during winter as well. Look for a mineral-based full-spectrum sunscreen such as zinc oxide, with an SPF of at least 15. And remember to reapply throughout the day if you’re at the beach. The skin on your lips is very thin and prone to sunburn.

With a little care, proper hydration, and a good natural lip balm, your lips can stay soft, smooth and protected throughout the year.

Did this article inspire you to switch to organic or natural lip balms? Head on over to Hello Charlie and check out our wide range of natural lip balms

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Shopping Guide: What To Look For In A Natural Toothpaste

what to look for natural toothpaste 2

We all use toothpaste twice a day. So it makes sense that our toothpaste should be one of the things that we look at first when we’re making the switch to natural products.

Have you ever looked at the label of your favourite toothpaste? If you’re looking at a supermarket brand, you’re likely to find a list of synthetic antibacterials, detergents, chemical additives, and artificial flavours and sweeteners.

However, even toothpaste brands marketed as ‘natural’ or ‘organic’ may contain controversial ingredients like fluoride and carrageenan.

Shopping Guide: What to Look for with Natural Toothpaste

While you don’t usually swallow your toothpaste, your mouth is one of the most absorbent parts of your body. While you’re brushing with toothpaste or swishing mouthwash, some of the ingredients can enter your bloodstream through the tissues of your mouth.

Fortunately, you can get your pearly whites sparkling clean without having to compromise your health or the environment. As you’re scanning those natural toothpaste ingredient lists, here’s what you should look for and what you should avoid.

Toothpaste ingredients to avoid

Sulfates

Sulfates are foaming agents that you’ll find in things like shampoo, hand soap, and body wash. In toothpaste, they don’t serve much of a purpose other than creating the suds that we’ve come to associate with cleaning.

Although sulphates can come from natural sources like palm kernel or coconut oils, they can still be harmful to your body. In your mouth, they can irritate the soft tissue and create microscopic tears that grow into painful mouth ulcers. Sulfates may also contain toxic manufacturing impurities like carcinogenic 1,4-dioxane and ethylene oxide

Diethanolamine (DEA)

This is another toothpaste ingredient that gets that foaming action going. Unfortunately, repeated exposure to DEA may lead to hormone disruption, cancer, and organ system toxicity.

Like sulfates, DEA isn’t something you want to be brushing your teeth with. And though we’ve been conditioned to equate that sudsy sensation with ‘clean’, foam doesn’t really help make teeth any cleaner. What’s strange is that if I ever use mainstream toothpastes these days, they feel gross to me now – almost slimy with the foaming stuff.

Artificial sweeteners, colours, and flavours

More ingredients that have no dental health value whatsoever. FD&C Blue 1 and other synthetic colours can enter the bloodstream and accumulate in the body over time. Meanwhile, studies have linked aspartame, a common artificial sweetener in toothpaste, to a multitude of ailments, including headaches, seizures, dizziness, depression, anxiety, insomnia, and behavioural and learning problems.

Triclosan

The US FDA banned triclosan from soaps and body washes in 2016 because manufacturers were unable to prove that it is safe for daily use over a long period of time. Strangely, they didn’t ban it in toothpastes. Triclosan has not been banned in Australia, so it can still be found in toothpastes and personal care products.

This antibacterial compound is linked to endocrine disruption, impaired cardiac function, allergies, and cancer.  Studies have also found that the widespread use of triclosan may have contributed to making bacteria resistant to antibiotics.

Titanium dioxide

This chemical gives conventional toothpaste its bright, white colour.

However, titanium dioxide nanoparticles may be able to penetrate your gums and enter your bloodstream. A recent study showed that oral exposure to titanium dioxide causes cancerous growths in rats, although whether this is applicable to humans is still open to debate.

Carrageenan

Carrageenan, which comes from red seaweed, is a common thickening agent in toothpastes, dairy products, medicines, and pet food. Although it’s in some natural toothpastes, carrageenan may be problematic. Studies have found that it can cause inflammation in the intestines.

Fluoride

This is a tricky one. We’ve all been told that fluoride is necessary because it helps prevent cavities and tooth decay. However, this notion came under scrutiny after scientists found that the protective shield fluoride forms on our teeth is nowhere near thick enough to actually protect our enamel and is quickly removed by ordinary chewing.

Another problem is that fluoride is harmful when ingested. This is why toothpastes marketed for children are usually fluoride free. Fluoride can accumulate in our tissues and can cause fluoride toxicity, the signs of which include stomach pain, vomiting, skin rashes, bone deformities, and brain development problems in children.

If you do decide to choose a toothpaste with fluoride, look carefully at the other ingredients. There are good, natural toothpastes with fluoride available.

Natural toothpaste ingredients to look for

Activated charcoal

This highly porous substance effectively removes surface stains and helps prevent tooth decay by raising the mouth’s pH.

Coconut oil

The lauric acid in coconut oil helps get rid of mouth bacteria and stops plaque buildup. Lauric acid also helps prevent and reduce gum inflammation.

Coconut oil in natural toothpaste

Xylitol

Xylitol is a derivative of xylose, a sugar that comes from birch bark. Studies have shown that because xylitol can’t be metabolised by plaque bacteria, it effectively reduces plaque buildup.

Essential oils

Natural toothpastes often contain essential oils because they have powerful antibacterial, antiviral, antifungal, and general cleansing properties. Essential oils of tea tree, neem, chamomile, clove, peppermint, spearmint, eucalyptus, myrrh, fennel, lemon, and cinnamon help freshen breath, remove plaque, and kill oral bacteria.

Want to to know which natural toothpaste is right for you? Check out our article on “14 Natural Toothpastes Tasted, Tried and Tested for You“.

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