Recommendations for Safer Products
I was successfully treated for stage 1 breast cancer in 2016. The best possible gift from that experience is to be able to share what I learned from it with others—to offer advice and encouragement to those on a similar journey, to spread the word about cold cap therapy for protecting hair during chemo, and to share some recommendations for anyone looking for safer hair & beauty products. I hope you might find something useful, hopeful, or inspiring here.
Getting cancer made me begin looking for natural, organic beauty products that contain fewer chemicals. During this process, I learned (via the company BeautyCounter) that in Europe, over 1300 chemicals or substances are banned for use in beauty products, but in the United States, the number is, um, 11. Yeah, 11. And the last one banned was in 1938. It horrifies me that it appears the FDA is doing little to police this, since most of us have no way of knowing what we’re putting on our bodies in our shampoos or deodorants, etc., or how these ingredients might be affecting us.
I’ve also learned that many products will call themselves natural or organic without actually being so. That’s disturbing, too, but I guess it’s part of what happens when no one is strongly regulating this industry. So be warned: just because a company uses those words, you still need to research the ingredients to see if it bears out.
My personal attitude is: If I can find a more natural product I really like or love that replaces one filled with chemicals, I use it. If I can’t, I stick with the ones I’m already using, knowing that at least I’m getting SOME of the chemicals out of my system. Because I had to look long and hard for most of these online or through other time-consuming personal research, I want to share with you the ones I’ve used and liked.
In addition to my quest to try natural products, changing to a non-aluminum deodorant was mandatory for cold caps use. Most all commercial brand deodorants contain aluminum, and further, from asking around I found that most natural deodorants don’t work well. This one, however, has worked for me. It was on Shark Tank, by the way, and is charcoal based. Most natural deodorants are paste or cream and are applied with your fingers, which is kind of annoying, and the same is true of this one, but I can live with it. Though I’ve heard rumors they may come out with a roll-on and I’d be all over that! I also am not in love with the container—it’s a bit narrow for dipping fingers in and if you have long nails, there’s no way not to get it crammed up under them. I actually keep a plastic spoon with my deodorant and dip it out, then use my fingers to apply. The scent of this is what a friend called “clinical mint” and I personally thought that was very accurate. Don’t love it, don’t hate it, would say it’s grown on me.
Also consider: My second choice of deodorant is a brand called Meow Meow Tweet. Love the name, love the tropical grapefruit scent, like the consistency (a little more creamy than Piper Wai) but don’t love that I can’t get the chalky residue off my fingers after application without washing my hands. Because I don’t have that issue as strongly with PiperWai, it’s my winner. But this one is right up there.
Coconut oil has, for the most part, replaced my body lotions and body creams. And yes, I’m talking about the same coconut oil you find in the cooking oil section of the grocery store. This didn’t come about in relation to cancer—I’ve been using it on my skin, and also my hair, for about a year. Totally natural and pure, and is a great, not to mention inexpensive, moisturizer. It’s affected by temperature, turning from solid to liquid at about 74 degrees, which, for me, means that in the summer I’m usually putting on a liquid version and in winter a solid. But when it’s solid, it quickly melts on the skin.
(previously Ava Anderson)
Now, I have to be honest—I do not love this shampoo. It isn’t sudsy and I have to use a lot of it to get any soapiness at all. But I’m recommending it for a very important reason. If you use cold caps, you have to use a chemical-free shampoo with a specific ph balance and it must be clear. Other than those specifications, you’re on your own coming up with such a shampoo, and the Pure Haven/Ava Anderson shampoo fits the bill. I’m also using the conditioner (which also requires using a lot more to soften my hair) and the detangler, as keeping the hair from tangling is super important during cold cap use and the six months after.
This was recommending to me by a friend for use during radiation to help keep the skin from burning. I’m using it in conjunction with other products recommended by my doctor. I like the consistency as a general moisturizer—it goes on easy and absorbs well. Scent is tropical—not the best tropical I’ve ever smelled, but I like it okay.
Why is softening cuticles suddenly key? If you clip them off and get any bleeding at all, during chemo, you may invite infection. And for me personally, I’ve been on blood thinners due to getting blood clots after chemo port surgery, and that means if you bleed at all, even a tiny bit, it can be hard to make it stop. So I’ve gotten pretty serious about cuticle conditioning and I love this product because it softens and smells wonderful.
It was challenging to find a truly natural hairspray that really worked for me. But this one seems to contain no chemicals at all and it works really well. It has alcohol, which, yes, is drying, but from my research, most hairsprays contain alcohol, including most natural make-at-home recipes, and at least this hairspray uses only natural ingredients. Has a fresh sea-salt sort of scent.
It’s hard to find a good, easy-to-use nail polish that doesn’t have chemicals in it. The most natural type is water-based, but by all accounts, those don’t go on well or they require an involved or laborious application or drying process. That’s not for me, so I instead learned about “safer” nail polishes. These still contain some chemicals, but they are free of the biggest offenders in nail polish land. And they go on well. The Zoya covered in two coats for me, the Mineral Fusion in one. I’m also using Mineral Fusion clear coat and find it to be good quality and easy to use.
This is to be used in conjunction with the cleanser above (or BeautyCounter’s other face cleanser, which I haven’t tried.) I use it in place of the cleanser once every few day. It has tiny exfoliating beads that help remove any bits of dead or dry skin, or anything that’s hanging around on your face that shouldn’t be. I really like this product a lot. I’ve used other exfoliators on my face that are much more harsh—this one works very gently yet seems to do just as good a job.
I’ve used a number of “firming” or “aging” creams in recent years, and I have to be honest and say I’ve never seen a difference in my face—which is why I keep trying new ones. That said, I’ve always heard that the point of these is that if you’re at least using something, you’re nourishing your skin and slowing the signs of aging going forward. As usual, I haven’t seen any huge decrease in age lines from this, but I do like the texture—it’s light, not greasy, and smooths in easily—so I’ll probably keep using it, and maybe I’ll see more results over time.
BeautyCounter Clean Everyday Shampoo
I tried this before cold caps (when I had more shampoo freedom) and I love it. It’s a safer, more natural shampoo than most, but it’s super sudsy and has an amazing tropical scent that I adore. I’ll go back to using it when my hair is a little less sensitive and doesn’t require a clear shampoo to stay in line with cold cap rules.
I also came across a few other products that had nothing to do with being natural or avoiding potentially harmful chemicals, but which really helped me out during this period.
What’s so special about this place? Wide headbands. Super wide. And I couldn’t find anything else like what they offer when I was looking for ways to hide partial hair loss. Should you have a need for extra wide headbands, this place is a lifesaver. The products are good, many of them inexpensive (I got 6 super-wide headbands for $9.99 in addition to others I paid a little more for), and you can also buy them via Amazon, which is where I got mine.
This one isn’t about chemicals or safety, either—it’s about nerve pain. After surgery to remove lymph nodes to check for cancer, I had terrible, sharp nerve pain down my arm, up into my shoulder, and through my breast. It was really one of the worst parts of this whole journey, and no one had any solutions except to wait for it to go away. It was pretty unbearable and nothing helped—until I remembered Australian Dream Cream. It’s actually an arthritis medicine, but my mother used it years ago for nerve pain. It works like a charm and was really a lifesaver for me for a few weeks. It’s available at Walmart, Amazon, etc.
Okay, this isn’t a chemical-free product. But it might help save your eyelashes and eyebrows during chemo. My oncologist okayed it and my dermatologist gave me the prescription. It’s only technically for use on eyelashes, generally used to increase their growth, but it was recommended to me to use it on my brows as well and I can say it has definitely worked in both places.
Don’t use the applicators that come with it on your eyelashes – this stuff is pricy and the applicators really soak it up. Instead, buy a cheap eyeliner brush – I got the below one at Target for around $5.
Use the applicators provided to press it into eyebrows.
The way I used it was to put one drop in the cap and use the eyeliner brush to apply it to lash lines, then another drop in the cap, which I then used with the applicator on my brows.
Don’t stop using it until several months after chemo as it can take a while for lashes and brows to react to the chemo. And if they fall out anyway, continued use of Latisse should help them come back more quickly.
Miaderm Radiation Cream
Now, this is typically something you’ll only want to use if you’re having radiation, and it’s a bit pricy, but my doctor recommended it and I like it. It goes on easy, absorbs easy, isn’t greasy. And I’m mentioning it here because my understanding is that some radiation doctors don’t necessarily suggest a skincare regimen during radiation. If yours doesn’t, this is a great product to start with, a week before treatment begins, throughout and for a couple of weeks after.