Safer grooming for men

By Erin Covey-Smith

The men’s grooming industry in the US has seen incredible growth over the past decade, and that growth is expected to continue. Historically, men’s grooming products were primarily limited to shaving and deodorant. Today, nearly half of all men report using an array of skincare products on a regular basis, including moisturizers, anti-aging creams, eye gels, luxury facial cleansers, and concealers.

Despite this boom in the men’s grooming market, it is still women’s products that we hear the most about, including the availability of non-toxic alternatives. It’s time we shine a light on healthier skincare options for men.

According to an Environmental Working Group survey, men use an average of six grooming products a day, exposing themselves to more than 80 potentially hazardous ingredients. Some of these ingredients, like phthalates, are hormonally active and can disrupt men’s reproductive systems. Others, like coal tar hair dyes (listed in ingredients as Aminophenol, Diaminobenzene and Phenylenediamine) are carcinogens. And the ubiquitous “fragrance” is too broadly defined on ingredient labels and could contain any number of harmful chemicals.

What to do if you are a male (or shopping for a man in your life) and you want to avoid toxins in your grooming products? Start by reading labels. The simpler the ingredient list, and the more pronounceable the ingredients, the safer they tend to be. You are likely to have more luck at your local natural foods store than your typical drugstore aisle.

A few words of warning: the words “organic” and “natural” have no certification standards in the cosmetics industry, and even if a product contains organic ingredients, it can also contain harsh chemicals. Also, do not be deceived by simple packaging; often men’s products are packaged in understated, more utilitarian ways for consumer appeal. But simplicity of packaging does not necessarily imply purity of ingredients.

Another tip: just because a product is marketed for women doesn’t mean that only women can use it. Generally, men do have thicker, more oily skin than women, so some moisturizers and soaps may be specifically formulated. But most other items, like deodorants and hair products, are gender neutral as far as their ingredients go. If it works for you, use it, regardless of what aisle you find it in.

The Environmental Working Group’s “Skin Deep” database is a great resource for finding safer skincare products. You can search the database specifically for men’s grooming products and find a list of EWG approved options to meet your needs. In addition to natural food stores, a few local shops and manufacturers also provide male-specific grooming supplies that are made with safer ingredients. Check out the Portland General Store and the Mensroom for beard care, hair gels, and more.  Next time you need to re-stock your deodorant, aftershave, cologne, or styling gel, do a little research. It could go a long way to preserving your health. 

The average man uses 6 products daily with more than 80 unique ingredients. Some ingredients are hormonally active; some of these are linked to male reproductive system disorders. For instance, phthalates have been associated with altered hormone levels in men and boys and sperm damage. Here’s a quick reference chart to help you filter ingredients.

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