Health & Beauty Green Shopping Guides

Cold Remedies

When buying cold remedies you need to consider what it is you’re trying to combat, how you want to take it and whether what you’re buying is worth the money you’re paying. Of course it’s all very well to advise that you make sure you have a balanced diet to provide all the vitamins you need to be healthy, but when you’re ill that’s little consolation.

Be sure to check the ingredients when you’re buying either a hot drink remedy or some form of syrup. Ideally you should aim for a combination of painkillers and some hot water mixed with honey and lemon. You could also try menthol or eucalyptus to clear the airways.

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Essential oils

The market for essential oils has boomed in recent years, though we should not somehow think that this is a new invention – essential oils and aromatherapy have been around in various forms throughout the history of humanity. Ancient Egyptians burned frankincense to clear their minds; the Aboriginal people of Australia have long used tea-tree oils as an antiseptic; pomanders of oranges and cloves were used to ward off the Black Death in fourteenth century England.

These oils as we see them today are usually provided for use in baths or oil burners but can also be found blended with other substances to produce a massage oil. They are obtained by the process of distillation: plant material is placed in large vats and processed using steam which means that the cooled water can then be separated from the essential oil. No waste products occur!

Look out for essential oils which have the ‘organic’ symbol on them as these guarantee that the plants from which the oils have been extracted were not treated with pesticides.

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Eye care products

You may be surprised to learn that there are ethical concerns related to eye care products. As technology improves, some of the new materials used in the manufacture of spectacles, contact lenses and the various solutions involved may have environmental problems attached to them.

Consider the case of plastic spectacle lenses – many are made from CR39 – a synthetic material that is kept in cold storage and cleaned with Freon gas before coating. For frames, titanium or petroleum-based plastics should be avoided as these too have an environmental impact. If you want to find an environmentally-friendly frame, we would suggest looking around for those made from cellulose acetate which is a plant-derived material and is quite sustainable. Furthermore contact lens solutions may well have been tested on animals so it is in your interests if you are offended by such practices to contact the Vegan Society which publishes a list of vegan-friendly contact lens solutions.

Alternatively you could try laser eye surgery which corrects your sight without the need for glasses or contact lenses. The only drawback with that particular option is that it is very expensive, sometimes upwards of £1,000 per eye, so most likely you’d expect to pay £2,000 unless you want to save money and are happy to walk around with a monocle.

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Disposable nappies constitute a large amount of the landfill waste create each year in the UK. Up to 3 billion disposable nappies are thrown in the bin per annum, making up 4% of total landfill domestic waste.

On average each baby will mess its way through 5,000 nappies before it is properly potty trained. Most people do not actually realise that throwing a nappy in the bin without cleaning off the waste is illegal; and far too many of us are flushing nappies down the toilet which is a hugely irresponsible action that sends nappies out to sea but not before clogging up the sewage network.

So, are we destined to have wrapped-up baby excrement floating about for all the fish to enjoy or is there a solution?

Re-usable nappies are one possibility – currently the uptake in the UK is pretty low, certainly when compared with the use of re-usables in North American and Australia, but with greater awareness we can rectify the disparity. Disposables were initially introduced because washing nappies was seen as hard and dirty work, but with washing machines in abundance that problem has been consigned to the history books. Additionally with companies like the Real Nappy Association offering thin biodegradable liners to be placed inside the terry, solid waste can be simply peeled away and safely disposed of.

The clincher has to be the savings made by making the choice to go for re-usables. Total nappy expenditure for a reusable throughout the time that a baby will require a nappy would be around £250. For disposables, you can expect to spend £700-£1,000 – so not only would you be saving the planet from huge piles of crap-filled nappies and floating versions of the same along our beaches, you’d be putting another £450-£750 back into your own pocket!

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Pain remedies

One of the main worries with drugs/medicines is that by buying branded drugs you are in effect simply adding to the profits of major pharmaceuticals. Painkillers can be bought in either branded form (such as Nurofen) or in generic form, the latter of which is a lot cheaper for you and can be produced by any company which means you will not necessarily be funding a one of the pharmaceuticals engaged in animal testing or the monopolising of crucial drugs in the third world.

Beyond these popular methods of pain remedies, what alternatives are there if we decide we do not wish to consume huge amounts of aspirin, paracetamol or ibuprofen? If we consider that pain is actually the result of something else, would it not make sense to identify the cause and deal with it before having to resort to a painkiller? Fundamentally this would mean analysing our lifestyles and altering them to reduce the impact on our physiologies which bring about the need for pain relief.

What can we do?
Regular exercise which can be anything from speed walking to participating in a team sport. Relaxation techniques such as yoga, meditation, tai chi or various forms of massage are also reported to be effective in relieving mental and physical stress.

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Perfumes and Aftershaves

These bottles of smelly chemicals used in our dating/mating rituals appear to be very valuable – recent EU laws passed that required mandatory labelling to include full ingredient listing exempted perfume on the basis that there were too many chemicals to list. This might seem like sense when you consider that there are up to 8,000 potential ingredients that a cosmetics firm might choose to utilise, but when we then realise that only about 20 or so of these are actually going to be employed in the manufacture of any particular smelly product it raises suspicions as to why the fragrance companies don’t want us to know what goes into our bottle of armpit water.

You may not be aware of some of the ingredients that go into fragrances, certainly not those that are cruelly derived from animals. For example, musk is a dried secretion from the preputial follicles (pubic hair for the layman), civet is taken from the scent glands of the Ethiopian civet cat, ambergris is taken from sperm whales and castor is taken from follicles near the genitals of beavers (once again, pubic hair!).

Child protection authorities have noted that the perfume industry is starting to target children in its marketing campaigns, with many major labels having introduced children’s perfumes for those aged between 4 and 15.  The authorities are concerned that this represents a further escalation in the premature sexualisation of children.

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Sanitary protection

With the fact that girls now start to menstruate at a younger age than in previous generations, the sanitary protection industry is cashing in on the expansion in business. So with that in mind, what factors should you consider as an ethical buyer when purchasing such necessary items?

Possible toxicity of sanitary products
According to manufacturers up to 10% of women have stopped using the tampon due to fears of the blood infection Toxic Shock Syndrome, a rare but potentially fatal disease.

Often caused by the rayon-blend variety of tampon – the most common type on sale – it can also be linked to the superabsorbent polyacrylate gel AGM which was banned in 1995 (but still finds its way into certain towels). The problem with the gel is that there is the temptation to change gel-filled towels less regularly which causes a build-up of bacteria. Other potential risks linked to this gel are that when dry, AGM powder has been known (in babies at least) to travel up the urethra to the kidneys and cause scarring.

The environment
Although not quite the same problem as with nappies, flushing of sanitary protection is still a common occurrence and needs to be stopped. By flushing these items, much of it ends up in rivers and sewage outfills which can act as a sort of breeding ground for disease. When sent to landfill sites, it can take six months for a tampon to degrade, while plastic packaging and applicators may persist indefinitely in the environment.

Reusable sanitary protection represents the best environmental option as by its very nature it reduces the need to dispose of waste materials.

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The desire to look good and hair care go hand in hand in this modern world of fashion consciousness and the power of the image cannot be understated. ‘Organic’ kinds of shampoo and conditioner are in the market, but we must be wary of such claims and analyse them for the claim to have an organic product that still contains a large element of non-natural chemicals is surely an oxymoron. This is a classic example of big corporations cashing in on a raised awareness of environmental issues. people want to enjoy the same benefits to their follicles as before but would like to do so in an ethical manner,

So if the cosmetics companies can include a few well-known organic ingredients and play upon this fact in the advertising and on the cover of the product packaging then they’ll be onto a winner.

Natural alternatives
One way which might not seem initially altogether pleasant would be to use soap – this is a method of washing hair that has gone on down the years but as our water has become hard water, the effect is not the same and leave us with tangled messy hair. If you live in a soft water area then it is perfectly reasonable to wash your hair with soap and then following it up with conditioner. If you would like to use soap but live in a hard water area, then we can suggest that you add something acidic with the soap to neutralise the effect of the alkaline in the water – something like lemon juice or vinegar – this when followed up with conditioner will leave your hair nice and healthy. The only initial problem you might find is that at first the scalp’s naturally-produced oils return (naturally produced oils which are washed away by shampooing).

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Now you may be surprised to learn this, but because of a lack of appropriate industry regulation a product can be deemed to be ‘natural’ even if it only contains 1% natural ingredients! Friends of the Earth have created a good guide to the sorts of chemicals you should try to avoid: propylene glycol, formaldehyde, ammonia derivatives, isopropyl, alpha hydroxyl acid and benzoic acid.

These chemicals are deemed by FOTE to be particularly of concern with regards the human body – they interfere with the hormones and ‘bio-accumulate’ which means that the body cannot eliminate them. These chemicals should be withdrawn from use and replaced with ethical alternatives that are not harmful to the body.

Friends of the Earth’s recommended list:
Boots Skin Kindly Rich Moisturing Cream
Boots Fragrance Free Moisturising Cream
Boots No.7 Essential Moisturising Cream
Crookes Healthcare E45 range (E45 Moisturising Cream)
Estee Lauder’s Clinque Dramatically Different Moisturising Lotion
Clarifying Lotions – Mild 2,3 and 4

Friends of the Earth’s avoid list:
(because they contain worrying ingredients)
Beiersdorf Nivea
Boots Oil of Evening Primrose Moisture Cream
Elida Faberge Vaseline Intensive Care Products
Procter & Gamble Oil of Olay
P&G Secret Products

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Made from animal or vegetable fats, oils or grease, soap is formed when the fats interact with an alkali. Preservatives, salts, colours, perfumes, moisturisers and emulsifiers may then be added, with the more adventurous brands including fruits, spices and essential oils.

Although there are vegetable alternatives, most of the major soap brands still contain animal fats and consequently are not suitable for vegetarians or vegans. Even with some vegetable alternatives these might include honey, lanolin or milk which would prevent them from being suitable for vegans.

The process of manufacturing soap is very interesting. Most common brand soaps are actually formed from a standard soap bar which is sold on by large commercial producers to individual soap makers in the form of dried soap nodules to be reprocessed. These soap makers claim to leave all the ingredients in the mix; that their soap is hand made and also that only the energy necessary to heat the mix to the correct temperature is used, rather than the more energy-hungry commercial processes used to make 1 tonne of soap. Additionally these alternative soap-makers claim that the commercial producers actually remove the glycerine, extracting it and then selling it as a by-product, which when you consider that glycerine is a natural moisturiser, explains why so many soaps can dry the skin.

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Sun protection

This isn’t going to be a tirade against people who love to sun themselves, nor against those who actively desire a Des O’Connor-esque orange façade. The aim of this article is to just point out a few tips on how to enjoy the sun in a healthy manner and the potential hazards associated with excessive reliance on suncare products.

First things first – how can we reduce our need to rely on sun-related skincare products? Well the obvious logical answer is to spend less time in the sun! According to the British Department of Health although sunscreen can prevent sunburn there is no proof that it actually prevents cancer. The main problem with sunscreen is that people believe it to be a totally effective shield that buys them extra sun-time, and so when they apply sunscreen they actually increase the amount of time they spend exposed to the sun, which in turn increases their risk of skin cancer.

It is worth noting that products advertising themselves as ‘sunblock’ are being targeted by the EU because it is potentially misleading to customers.

Effective use of sunscreen takes place when you apply it thickly at least half an hour before you go outside as it does not work immediately – so it’s no good setting up your towels and deck chairs, sitting yourself down and then applying the sunscreen as it won’t work.

There are studies which show that sunscreens with a factor of SPF 15-20 are generally acceptable, but above this level the increase in factor involves the addition of certain chemicals to the formula which may cause skin irritation.

Things to remember:

  • Skin cancer can be brought on by excessive exposure to the sun
  • Over the last 20 years skin cancer rates have doubled in the UK
  • Use physical objects to block the sun wherever necessary – this can mean wearing a hat, sunglasses and tightly woven clothes.
  • Only expose your skin to the sun for very short periods of time.
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What we need to remember about toothpaste is that the primary purpose of the activity is to clean our teeth for the sake of our dental health rather than for them to act as a dangerous weapon to blind others.

A recent trend has seen the introduction of cosmetic-related toothpaste that focuses on the idea of ‘whitening’ your teeth – be wary of these as they can contain abrasives.  Most toothpastes include sodium lauryl sulphate which causes the foaming effect you get when brushing, try to look out for this and steer clear if you can – not only has it been associated with recurrent mouth ulcers, but it is also an industrial-strength detergent, which you may prefer to keep away from your mouth.

Alternatives do exist! Instead of this kind of chemical mouth cleanser, you could try a bicarbonate of soda-based toothpaste which is equally effective at cleansing the mouth.


Vitamins, we are told (on an almost daily basis) are necessary for our busy lifestyles – the abundance of low-nutrient convenience foods means that our general diet will not contain all of the vitamins and minerals we need to stay healthy. This therefore means that taking vitamin supplements is a good way of boosting levels of vitamin that may be missing due to insufficient consumption of vegetables or fruits, although it should be noted that a balanced diet including all of these is the better way to go rather than eating poorly and using these vitamins as a backup. Moreover it will probably come as no surprise to learn that vitamins are bought on the whole by people who are less likely to need the supplementation as they already eat healthily.

People most in need of these kinds of vitamin supplements are those on both ends of the age spectrum – children and toddlers; elderly people; the immobile; housebound or the institutionalised elderly; vegans and some vegetarians; smokers; alcoholics; the chronically ill; people on a restrictive diet and long term slimmers.

The trouble with ingredients
Artificial sweeteners such as aspartame, sorbitol find their way into some vitamins, as well as talcum powder(!), silicon dioxide and anti-caking agents. A survey by the Food Commission found that Redoxon contained a colouring which has been banned in virtually all foods.

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