Organic smoothies and green facial masks may be trendy these days, but if I ask any of my teenagers if my baking soda and coconut oil deodorant is cool, they gawk at me like I've got kale in my teeth. (I probably do!)
The "cool factor" of going green bypassed my kids' generation entirely, which isn't surprising considering enticing products like Axe and Pantene are so popular and easily accessible.
But products like these contain a potentially toxic brew of chemicals that don't belong anywhere near developing bodies. What's especially alarming is that the nasty chemical cocktail is likely masked by innocuous catchall words and phrases like "fragrance," "plant-derived," or "contains natural and organic botanicals."
Unfortunately, these generic terms are meaningless marketing tools that are not regulated by the FDA. In fact, only 11 ingredients are banned in personal care products in the United States—compared to a whopping 1,300 in the European Union. These ingredients are found in thousands of items, and they can add up to a heavy toxic load over time.
A recent study out of Berkeley found that teenagers had lower levels of chemical exposure within days of dropping products that contained phthalates (found in most fragrances), parabens (used to preserve most products), triclosan (found in antibacterial soaps and hand sanitizers), and oxybenzone (found in most sunscreens).
So what is a health-conscious mama who's concerned her family's well-being to do? Here are five of my favorite ways to protect my five children from toxins around the house:
1. Don't sweat it.
All kids possess a highly intuitive radar that’s hard-wired to pick up on parents' "vested interest" barometers. Play it cool and lead by example. Keep living the green life like it's the best thing since authentic natural products hit Target—because it is!
I always assume that my kids will eventually find their way to healthy lifestyles, so I focus on applying my natural sunscreen and homemade beauty products that look and smell fabulous. Eventually, they come sniffing, and I'm ready for them once they do.
2. Wait until they need your help.
Wait until they really, really need your help. When my teenagers started breaking out, I casually handed them Blissoma’s natural cleansers and instructed them to use the product once in the morning and once at night. Then, I let them handle the rest—I didn't nag them or come after them. But I did make sure to speak up once I noticed their complexions improved when they were using it. The performance spoke volumes, so I didn't have to.
The same proved true when my son wanted my help to resolve the psoriasis on his scalp and my daughter needed to get rid of warts on her face and fingers. Both took homeopathic remedies, and the issues disappeared. Visible proof is one of the most compelling teaching instruments. That brings us to the next tip.
3. Don't preach it; teach it.
I try to leave preaching to the clergy and look for teachable moments instead. When I could have wasted a lot of time explaining why it’s important to use natural products on the skin, the proof was all my kids needed to see.
I also know that actions do speak louder than words, so if I'm talking about health but I'm sneaking a smoke on the sly, my kids aren't going to buy it. There's no need to be perfect (and boy, I'm not), but I'm striving to be better every day, and there's value in letting kids know that it's about the journey, not the destination.
4. Trust the process.
Force never works. Worry certainly doesn't either. Allow your kids to find the way themselves with metered guidance in the background. When my son started breaking out in a body rash, as soon as he eliminated cream cheese from his diet, the rash vanished. It was the best visible demonstration of the way diet affects the health of our bodies and skin.
Life's an amazing teaching instrument. Sometimes, we moms have to step aside and let the process run its course—it's more powerful than we realize.
Also, no failure is a closed door. I tried to get them to take nondisposable water bottles to school every day and that failed miserably. It's OK; just pick up and try again. It's about finding other clever ways to present green options and encouraging them to choose them for themselves.
5. Make room for cheating.
If we never give our kids access to the "forbidden" items, they become all the more attractive. When my kids do pull the Axe off the shelf—or the sugar cereals or the occasional soda—I don't stop them.
By allowing my kids to indulge in "sometimes" foods and replace their personal care items one product at a time, I plant the seeds for long-lasting impact. Besides, every time my kids take a bite of chocolate cake, I don't want them thinking, This is bad for me. I want them to enjoy the moment and move on. Bless the moment, and release it. That's what truly makes for a healthier world.