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The liquid hand soap guide + the latest on neurotoxic chems

NMFSC_033_0220 handwashEveryone washes their hands (we hope) – the question is what are you washing with? Bar soap is a good way to avoid plastic packaging and unrecyclable pumps (click here for my bar soap guide) but considering the popularity of liquid hand soaps, they deserve their own special guide. So voila! In this issue of Ecoholic in NOW, I looked at a handful of products (warning: puns are inevitable), including soaps that still have the gall to contain triclosan when the feds have said it’s dangerous to aquatic life and doesn’t even kill cold and flu viruses. What’s the point? Marketing! Yes, they’ve convinced us regular soap and water isn’t enough to kill germs, which is a complete fabrication. So, go ahead and dump your “antibacterial” handsoap. Good news is brands like Softsoap have already ditched triclosan and others like Bath & Body Works are finally offering options that are triclosan-free (though they still carry triclosan soaps).

Beyond that I review a selection of liquid soaps from green to greenest. How does Method measure up? Is your health store soap as eco-friendly as you think? There’s only one way to find out, and that’s by reading the latest Ecoholic, naturally (by the way, the print version – which you get a snapshot of above – had a few typos and corrections made under Nature Clean, so check the online version at for the most up-to-date file). I was really excited to be able to include Green Beaver’s newest product, a castile soap that’s made with some Quebec-grown organic sunflower oil. Why is it special? Because it’s entirely organic (so no workers, wildlife or waterways had to be harmed to grow the plants needed to make your soap) AND it tries to include ingredients not grown thousands of miles away. Green Beaver wanted the whole thing to be made with local organic sunflower oil but there’s just not enough of the stuff to keep up with demand. Love that they’re actually encouraging the expansion of Canadian organics. And by the way, most castile soaps are essentially concentrates that can be used in a million and one ways, including diluted with water (1 part soap: 3 parts water) and placed in a reusable hand soap pump.

I also wrote a piece on a new study documenting the startling rise of chemicals now known to trigger neurological problems like ADHD and autism in children. The study was published in the Lancet Neurology and if you want to read the original study itself, here’s a link. Fascinating and terrifying really.

Oh and let’s not forget this week’s Greenwash of the Week: Tarte Cosmetics. I can’t tell you how many times I walked into a Sephora and was told Tarte is a great natural brand. Their marketers are genius, but definitely stretching their green cred. Anyway, enjoy the issue! If you can’t read the version above you can always click here to take you to the online version.


Battle of the Balms + Rashy Preservatives & My DIY Salve

battling balmsEver since my early bowl-cut days, my skin would flare at the oddest triggers. Chocolate, tomato juice, oranges, hot showers, they all left me scratching if I had too much of a good thing – a real downer when everyone else gets chocolate bunnies come Easter and you get those weird white ones. Now it turns out sensitive skin isn’t only set off by certain foods or the dry gusts of forced air that drive up winter itching.

St Ives image

New research is confirming the chemicals you use on and around your body could also be pushing your epidermis to the brink. The stuff you buy to keep your skin clean and, irony of all ironies, moist is probably one of the biggest culprits. In this issue of Ecoholic, we talk about the latest findings on the unpronounceable bodycare preservatives (namely Methylisothiazolinone as well as Methylchloroisothiazolinone) triggering a, ahem, rash of skin problems. These bad boys were typically brought in as replacements for estrogenic parabens so you’ll find them everywhere from shampoo to lotion (yes, this St Ives lotion has it), and most notoriously now in wipes. Kind of freaky considering the big marketing push the wipes people are doing to convince people to ditch toilet paper and switch to wipes that could be giving them serious crotch itch. Yeesh. Here are some links to the latest study on wipes as well as a few more.

Also in this issue, you’ll find my guide to a handful of dry skin balms.  Some truly natural and lovely, others like Herbacin top left, not so much. Thanks to ALL of you that responded to my Ecoholic FB poll with great suggestions on the best balms. There are so many great ones on the market that there just wasn’t room for, including balms by New Brunswick’s Anointment, Eastern Ontario’s Green Beaver, New Hampshire’s famous Badger, as well as some I haven’t yet tried like BC’s Mayan Magic Healing Balm and Alberta’s Rocky Mountain Soap company body butter (especially now that RMS is switching to organic ingredients and away from GMOs- yay!). Also didn’t mention two of my fave more medicinal first aid ointments by Clef Des Champs and St. Francis’ fab Red Clover Plus Salve, both out of Quebec.

And finally, you’ll also get my super buttery, quick ‘n easy DIY body salve/balm/DIY balmointment recipe! I’m in love with this stuff. I made my last batch with just 1/3 cup grated beeswax, 1/2 a cup of organic, fair trade coconut oil and 1/2 cup of local, organic sunflower oil with a drizzle of organic vanilla extract (since I couldn’t find my vanilla essential oil) and it’s friggin’ delicious…at least it smells that way. I haven’t yet tried eating it but it reminds me of fresh baked cupcakes. Can’t stop smelling my hands when I smear it on. For the expanded recipe, my full article on sensitizing chems and the official balm guide, check out the complete column. 


Toxin Toxout: the new brave book, the authors, and me?

Toxin Toxout coverI’m a huge fan of Slow Death by Rubber Duck, the bestselling book by Rick Smith and Bruce Lourie, so when Rick called me up and asked me if he could interview me for his next tome on toxins, I was pretty pumped. We met in a sunny east end Toronto park and chatted about the rise of green consumerism along with pseudo-natural and genuinely green products for a couple hours. He also asked me if he could include an excerpt of Ecoholic Body’s guide to label decoding. What an honour!

Now, drum roll please, I’m excited to announce Toxin Toxout: Getting Harmful Chemicals Out of Our Bodies and Our World is on shelves and it, my friends, rocks – and not just because I’m in it, of course. You’ll learn more about how easily everyday toxins seep into our bodies, in the most up close and personal way, as the authors, once again, turn themselves into human guinea pigs. This time they take on the often whacky world of detoxing in some pretty hilarious experiments. If you’ve ever eyeballed ionic footbaths or infrared saunas and wondered whether they actually pull toxins from your bodies, well, the boys dig up some answers. I sample a few of those answers in the latest Ecoholic product guide (hint: organic food and green products actually do lower your body’s chemical levels!). You’ll also find my Q&A with Bruce and Rick. Click here for the full story, Ranking Detox Strategies. If you pick up the book, I promise you this: you’ll laugh, you’ll wince, and you’ll learn a hell of a lot.


Busting lice & the campaign against hormone disruptors

Lice guide

Hey kids, After taking a few weeks off work to get away from it all and unplug, I’m digging back in the vaults to share the columns that have been running while I was living the Luddite life!

First up, got something crawling on your scalp and it ain’t just a bad feeling? Well, have no fear Ecoholic is here with a breakdown of all your options, both toxic and non…and yes, you can get a grip on the situation without resorting to nasty pesticides banned from lawns but allowed on heads. Plus you’ll get a roundup of the latest heavyweight campaigns to get hormone disruptors out of our products for good. For the full column read on here.

Ethical coffee guide: Is your cup green ’til the last drop?

Coffee guide columnI’ve got to confess, I actually gave up coffee cold turkey about a decade ago because it wasn’t waking me up, just messing with my stomach. But I know an ethical cup o’ joe when I see one, and I also live with a coffee snob, who insists that the java that gets brewed in my house is as fresh ‘n potent as it gets. So what do we buy? We get Merchants of Green Coffee, roasted in east end Toronto. They’re awesomely ethical and crazy fresh. But if you live in BC or Calgary or anywhere else, I really ethical beanrecommend supporting the local, organic, fair trade beans roasted closest to your home. As I say in the column though, if you’re in a major grocer and in urgent need of beans, Kicking Horse and Ethical Bean are two excellent organic, fair trade Canadian  companies with nationwide distribution.

As for the trashy score I gave coffee pods, a few of you emailed me to say that pods don’t always have to be landfill bound. Keurig does offer a reusable filter so you can fill your machine with whatever certified fair trade, organic beans your heart desires. Also, you can start a Tassimo Brigade and mail in your old pods to TerraCycle for upcycling into new products like cutting boards and plastic garbage cans. I still say there is less of an enviro footprint to going the reusable filter route but at least it’s an option for those that already own Tassimos.

Also in this Ecoholic, you’ll find nature notes on the illegal carcinogen found in 100 shampoos (is your ‘natural’ brand guilty?), as well as enviro orgs legal push back against censorship, a petition for bike lanes on Bloor and our Greenwash of the Week…SmartKlean!

Mouth piece: from lipstick to grow-your-own student lunches


The latest Ecoholic offers up a collage of goodies. We kick things off with a lipstick/gloss product testing guide, prompted by a recent study on heavy metals in lip products. Then we circle back to #betterbacktoschool brigade issues, in week 3 of our collaboration with the David Suzuki Foundation’s Queen of Green Tovah Paglaro.

This week’s brigade theme is detoxing schools, so I interviewed one of the leading Canadian organizations working to get a major form of toxins – junk food – out of school cafeterias and student lunches. They’re also bringing nature into schools and students into nature by getting them to role up their sleeves and grow their own veggies. Actually, the farmers’ market near me in Toronto even has a FoodShare School Grown veggie tent where you can buy produce straight from students. Pretty awesome! Definitely inspired and hopefully inspiring for schools across the country.

You can read all about it, as well as our Greenwash of the Week (which just so happens to be a school binder) in the latest issue of NOW.


Bite Me: Health Canada chews out natural bug repellents

bug sprays I don’t have to hang around the cast of True Blood to be told I’ve got really tasty blood. Mosquitoes, sand fleas, you  name it, they devour me. I’ve tried a lot of natural bug repellents over the years and was looking forward to sharing some of my faves with you, but then I’d have to kill you – or least write up my reviews in pig Latin so the authorities wouldn’t storm these lovely natural bodycare companies and squash all sales of their repellents. You see, Health Canada and its Pesticide Management Regulatory Agency have gotten their undies in a knot over natural bug sprays that aren’t registered with the PRMA and thus told companies to stop calling themselves bug sprays. Green Beaver, amongst others, complied and checked with HC if they could vaguely call their products “outdoor sprays.” That was kosher for a while. Then after changing their packaging, Green Beaver was later told that outdoor spray labels would have to go, too. Management of the Big Carrot health store near me was told the same thing (though other indy brands told me Health Canada okayed their outdoor spray labelling for now). What’s the big deal?

Banned bug sprayShouldn’t Health Canada and the PRMA be allowed to make sure that products calling themselves bug sprays in any way prove their efficacy and safety, you ask? Absolutely, but let’s establish an even playing field. Interestingly enough, HC doesn’t ask homeopathics to prove their efficacy before approving them. It also doesn’t stop DEET products from being on shelves even though they can cause rashes and melt plastic. Another interesting factoid, anyone in the country can sell a body oil or a shampoo or a lotion that contains citronella, cedar oil, peppermint oil and all the same ingredients found in natural bug spray formulas, no problem, but if you call it an outdoor spray, watch out. It’s now contraband.

I agree that claims should be proven and unwarranted claims shouldn’t be allowed on products. So yes, ask natural companies to go the University of Guelph and pay for (lower cost) testing to show how well their formulas work against bites if they want to make specific claims about repelling bugs. And if they have to be reapplied every 20 minutes to work, then say so on the bottle. But allow these smaller companies to pool their safety data and trials on ingredients that they happen to share (like say citronella or eucalyptus oil), or else no one can afford the process (see my story Black Bug Down for details – just click on the pic below).  And if you force companies to do that, then please, Health Canada, go after all those bodycare companies in drugstores claiming to be natural or organic, then filling their bottles with all kinds of harmful chemicals and flat out lying through their teeth. In the meantime, leave the outdoor sprays making no claims on their bottles in peace….and click on this week’s Ecoholic column below for reviews of legal bug sprays and lots more….


What’s lurking in diaper creams, umbilical cords & more


As a label hunter, I find toxins in all sorts of weird places (lube, douches, just to name a Photo1few), but there’s nothing more outrageous than pollutants in products designed for use by children. Case in point: what the hell are propyl paraben doing in diaper creams like Li’l Goat’s and Aveeno Baby when these preservatives have been outlawed in children’s articles in Denmark because of their hormone-disrupting potential? I get into all this in my Ecoholic column on the topic, but I wanted to add a couple bonus reviews to the list. PS definitely check out my Q&A with Environmental Defence’s Maggie MacDonald on their new Pre-Polluted disturbing report on toxins in Canadian umbilical cords, as well as Nature Notes & more in this Ecoholic.

PENATEN DIAPER RASH CREAM: Yes, this old school parental fave has oat extract, sPhoto3hea butter and sunflower oil but it’s also got a lot of other junky synthetics, including suspected endocrine disruptor propyl parabens (see above). Penaten cream (in the tin) isn’t quite as bad since it’s paraben-free, but it’s all petrochemicals as well as allergenic and GMO-heavy soy oil.

WELLSKIN BARRIERE SILICONE SKIN CREAM: This stuff has not just one but four parabens including propyl and butyl parabens banned in Denmark. Come on. It also contains suspect BHT and TEA. A definite thumbs down.

ZINCOFAX: This one’s not as bad as these others, but honestly, you can do better than petroleum by-products as a base for zinc. Live Clean is a safer drugstore pick for zinc fans.

PENNY LANE: If you want a natural zinc cream, Penny Lane makes an awesome one with calendula, chamomile oil, shea butter , beeswax and naturally antiseptic coconut oil. Local, indy, handmade and it works.

LALABEE BOTTOM BALM: This one’s 90% certified organic and vegan (organic olive oil, sunflower oil, calendula/chamomile flowers/lavender flowers and vitamin E). Though not everyone is into lavender in baby stuff – they use less potent lavender flowers over lavender essential oil.

The list could go on and on since there are so many amazing indy bum balms out there. Which one is your fave?




Raise your hand if you’re sure: natural deo reviews & recipes!

NMFSC_032_0620Clearly I hit a soft spot. Or a stinky spot. Either way, over 100 people responded my latest Facebook poll on which natural deodorants people loved or hated. Julia summed it up nicely: “I’ve tried a few and hated them all.” That seemed to be a popular consensus. Trust me, I’ve tried probably 35+ brands over the years of Ecoholic testing (19 reviewed in Ecoholic Body alone) and the vast majority made me smell worse than I would if I wore nothing at all. How possible? I swear some replicated the scent of a dead animal. Just wrong. Some of my old favourites have shifted out of favour…Weleda stopped cutting it for me, and I still miss Dr. Mist roll-on, since it offered such better coverage than the spray (which vanishes quickly, making it more costly), and Savonnerie Des Diligences worked but it left yellow marks on a lot of clothes. SO after another year and a half of  deodorant testing since the last draft of Ecoholic Body was sent off to publishing, I’ve written up my newest deo reviews in NOW Magazine, which you can read here. And I’m including a couple extra bonus reviews (and recipes!) below. Share your own reviews in the comments!


Tried this “guy” deodorant on recommendation of a girlfriend. Scented version worked for several weeks and loved it, but it started conking out of me. The unscented was a no go from the get go. NN


I wanted to love this Toronto-made deodorant cream and many people swear by it, but it reached its limits during last summer’s never-ending heat wave.  I officially gave it the boot after I stunk up a beach party at Sugar Beach. Was NOT going to wave my hands in the air like I just didn’t care, that’s fo’ sho.’ But since it’s got a lot of fans, I’m giving it 3 N status. NNN


This was my go to deo after I gave Crawford the boot (it’s more organic too).  An American indy deodorant cream loved by a growing lot. I put it to the test last super hot summer. It got me to the end of the day without creating weird odours. At worst, after a sweaty day of cycling in 35 degree heat I sort of smelled like dirt, but nothing offensive.  I still think Penny Lane and PurelyGreat are better at keeping you smelling benign to be quite honest. Purely Great just uses more essential oils to help things along. NNNN

PLAIN BAKING SODA: Seriously. Just put some in your palm and dust under your arms after your shower. At the end of a few hot summer days, like Soapwalla, at worst I smelt like dirt, but not BO – yay!


Tons of Ecoholic readers have given up on store bought deos because the truth is the most natural DIY formulations work so damn well (their ingredients are pretty much the same as what you’ll find in deodorant creams and products like Penny Lane)…You can just mix basic corn starch with baking soda, though it works even better in a coconut oil base. And you can ditch the corn starch if you prefer and stick to baking soda and arrowroot powder in coconut oil. This one’s from Prairie Homestead and others: 1/3 cup coconut oil (fair trade organic is best!), 1/4 cup baking soda, 1/4 cup arrowroot powder, 4 tablespoons cornstarch (GMO free is best), organic essential oil of your choice (ie grapefruit seed oil).

Bang-on title courtesy of Morgan Rae


While these guys may be free of aluminum, they’ve replaced it with something even worse, triclosan – an ingredient that Environment Canada is in the middle of officially labeling a “toxin” and is voluntarily asking companies to remove. Lots of other deodorants have switched to triclosan’s slightly less evil cousin, triclocarban. N


Luckily they sell these in small sample sizes too so I didn’t need to waste money on a whole stick. Great ingredients, high in organics but definitely not a winner. NN


The original Lavilin used to promise an end to odours for up to 7 days and always creeped me out. But when they came out with their “bio” underarm/foot version promising 48 then 72 hours of protection I decided to give it a try. The label said to give it several days before expecting it to work. Well, I made it day 4 of use and could not bear to subject the guests at my friend’s wedding to the horrors this stuff was triggering under my arms so I put an end to the Lavilin experiment. NN


If you’re still using A&H’s Natural Essentials, beware, it gets its stink-fighting power from official enviro toxin, endocrine-disrupting triclosan. South of the border, a class action lawsuit was actually launched in 2012 for misleading natural labeling. However, in Canada, the product has been phased out – possibly because the feds are declaring this ingredient toxic. It’s been replaced with Arm & Hammer Advance, which, while it does contain petrochemicals and artificial fragrance, does actually rely on baking soda (go figure) to get the job done. Haven’t tested it myself to see if it works because it’s still too synthy.

Score: NN

ALSO IN THIS WEEK’S ISSUE…PREGNANT PAUSE: UK DOCS WARN PREGNANT MOMS AGAINST HOUSEHOLD CHEMS, oil spill news, pollution tool kit, and Harper’s greenwashed action ads.


Here Comes The Sun: Natural sunscreen reviews & more

3239NOW Ecoholic_038_0530Testing a bar of soap is one thing. Rub, rinse, you’re done. Testing sunscreen, on the other hand, is a much more weirdly communal affair. I usually accost friends and family of all skin tones and hairiness levels to rub various thick white creams into a good dozen quadrants on their bodies. But for the latest NOW Test Lab on sunscreens, I was short on time and bodies, which meant I had to accost strangers at my local health store, Big Carrot, into product testing.  I asked random men to role up their pant legs and rub sunscreen samples into their hair (the hair clumping test). I asked shoppers, light and dark, to rub/mist sunscreen onto body parts.

On top of this latest Ecoholic column in NOW, I’ve reviewed over two dozen body and facial sunscreens in Ecoholic Body, added a few more new ones and updates in last summer’s blog on sunscreens here and now I’ve got a couple more updates. New reformulated Badger Daily  sunscreen is much better than it used to be (used to be like applying white tar to your skin).  BUT it’s still not great for dark skin or hairy guys, especially their water resistant formula.

For those of you insistent that you want higher SPF than 30, well, the pickings are slim on the natural side but there are a couple. Mexitan 50 is SUPER whitening unless you’re alabaster white. You’re better off with Livestrong Think 50+, which rubbed in without whitening, at least on moderately tanned skin and men’s hair.

PLUS don’t forget to check out my Greenwash of the Week (sorry Body Shop Virgin Minerals lovers), the dish on Greek yogurt, as well as my take on the Island Airport jet expansion plans all in the latest NOW.