From the Archives: Six Dangerous Products Men Use Daily—And What To Use Instead

Some of you may recall this popular GOOD post from my darling cowriter Siobhan. But because we have so many new readers (welcome!), and some of you are indeed men (yay! welcome!), and also because a few of you specifically requested a repost, voila: the original post for the boys (and the women who love them). Have you (or your boyfriends, besties, husbands) tried these recommends? Coming soon: A real-live guy will review his favorite boysturizers.

Gentlemen, listen up. Whether you think you do or not, most of you use an average of six personal care products a day, which sounds like a lot until you get out your fingers and count: Deodorant, shampoo, cologne, and shaving cream all count—and so does the moisturizer you steal from your girlfriend. With each of these products containing anywhere from 10 to 40 unique ingredients, it’s worth your while to think about what it is you’re actually using every day, and whether those products are even doing your looks any favors—especially when some of it is so toxic it’s getting fines for air pollution in the state of California.

When, in February 2010, Axe Body Spray’s parent company was fined $1.3 million for air pollution, it sounded like an Onionesque joke. Except that it wasn’t, because in California, progressive environmental laws limit the amount of certain chemicals used in consumer products. According to the California Air Resources Board, the fragrance was in violation of the volatile organic compound limits for aerosol deodorant.

So here’s a primer on the stuff in your everyday products, plus what brands and products to buy instead. If you don’t want to do it for the planet, or yourself, do it for your sperm.

Cologne: Most conventional colognes (and “body sprays”) contain a host of synthetic chemicals that can affect your little swimmers. Phthalate metabolites in male urine was shown in several studies to be linked to sperm DNA damage, a lower sperm count, and less mobile sperm. Unfortunately for all of us, synthetic fragrance is used in just about every conventional product on the shelves of pharmacies and Sephoras, so weeding it out can be a bit of a bear. That said, naturals have gotten really sophisticated, and there are countless lines that are either synthetics-free or at least phthalate– and petrochemical free. Diptyque, a high-end candle and fragrance line, makes gorgeous scents for men (and women) that are paraben-, petrochemical-, and phthalate-free. Intelligent Nutrients, Tsi-La, and Honoré des Près also make amazing woodsy fragrances for guys.

Deodorant and Antiperspirant: Most antiperspirants and deodorant contain some if not all of the following: triclosan, aluminum salts, BHT, penetration enhancers, and artificial fragrance. Many of these are problematic from an environmental perspective, and none of them are good for your health. And yet deodorant is a must for modern living, so try a natural one from Soapwalla, a small Brooklyn company that sells on Etsy, which makes a unisex deodorant cream that works like a charm. For store-bought, look for Tom’s of Maine long-lasting deodorant, which is relatively clean and can be found at most drugstore chains.

Shaving Cream: Besides the propellants and butane in many shaving creams, there is also diazolidinyl urea, which is a formaldehyde releaser, triethanolamine, which is often contaminated with carcinogenic nitrosamines, parabens, which are weak estrogen mimickers, and synthetic fragrance. (See the slide on cologne for a reminder on why that’s not desirable for your health.) Instead, we recommend using organic oils, such as olive or coconut, if you can get past the whole oil-on-face thing. For a store-bought option, try Dr. Bronner’s Organic Shave Gel, which is 100 percent free of synthetics. If you break out, get the one with tea tree oil. Weleda also has a nice one.

Aftershave: Most aftershave contains alcohol, the toxicity of which is less a concern than the fact that it can dry out your face when it needs moisture. Cold water is sufficient to close your pores, and a nice organic cologne is a better bet if you are using aftershave as your cologne. Fill up the sink with cold water and put in a few drops of a woodsy scent like cedar, or something minty if that’s more your speed, and splash your face with that instead. That said, if you like the antiseptic sting of alcohol (who doesn’t, really?) go for a natural alternative with other ingredients to soothe your skin. Jurlique’s Calendula Lotion is soothing on freshly shaved skin, and so is pure aloe. For a splurge, Living Nature, which is an amazing line out of New Zealand, has a great one with antibacterial manuka honey, soothing calendula, and witch hazel, and Dr. Hauschka’s spray-on toner is another favorite.

Shampoo and Conditioner: Our scalps are one of the most porous parts of our bodies, and are easily penetrated by the products we lather onto them—which is counterintuitive, because we tend to think of hair as something separate from our skin, and we think shampoo must wash down the drain too quickly to do any harm. Not so. Shampoos and conditioners are both loaded with skin-, earth- and hair-unfriendly ingredients that dry out our locks, necessitating more products, like leave-ins. Instead, try a sodium laurel/laureth sulfate-free shampoo that won’t lather like a traditional one, but gets the job done without stripping your hair. Alaffia, Giovanni, and Aubrey’s all make nice affordable clean shampoos and conditioners. On the higher end, you can’t beat John Masters Organics. If you have dandruff, find a natural shampoo with tea tree or neem oil, or get JMO’s Zinc and Sage Shampoo With Conditioner.

Moisturizer: Whether it’s your body or your mug you’re slathering in cream, this is an important one to make sure is clean—mainly because you probably use it daily (which ups exposure to whatever is in there) and over a large surface area. Instead of a 30-ingredient lotion filled with silicones, penetration enhancers, fake fragrance, and petroleum derivatives, go for something simpler like a pure body oil (coconut from the health food store works well), or pure aloe vera. For a store-bought lotion for your body (and your face, if you aren’t picky or prone to breakouts) Everyday Shea lotion from Whole Foods is just over $10 for 32 ounces. Dr. Bronner’s, which is also shea-based, is another affordable all-over lotion. For your face, there’s the high-end Dr. Alkaitis, which is a unisex celebrity favorite, and Organic Apoteke, which is light and doesn’t smell like girls.

Read other posts from our GOOD series here.

26 Responses to “From the Archives: Six Dangerous Products Men Use Daily—And What To Use Instead”
  1. Lolly says:

    I have a quick question for Siobhan and Alexandra: in all the discussions about deodorant, you guys never seem to mention Thai Secret Crystal. I was turned on to it by my very green and very awesome Pilates instructor and it’s incredible: completely natural and non-toxic, comes as a crystal, roll-on and spray (I use the spray) and works like a charm. I have tried using Soapwalla, but it gave me a terrible rash – something that many of your readers haev complained about. This one seems like a great, clean choice (cleaner than Tom’s, I think?) and a nice alternative. Is it that it’s too good to be true and not as clean as it seems or do you guys just not know about it? If so, I can’t recommend it highly enough!

  2. Alexandra says:

    Hey Lolly, we will check this out and get back to you (and everyone).

  3. JJ says:

    Lolly has a good point. People often mistake the potassium alum in the crystal for aluminum, which we do want to avoid. These two are not at all the same chemically and basic science distinguishes the two easily but some environmentalist groups lack basic scientific knowledge, unfortunately lumping the two into the same category,.

  4. Lolly says:

    Brilliant, thanks! By the way, I have been waiting for your guys’ review of Tammy Fender’s Spontaneous Recovery Cream, but ended up buying it to try and help my winter-parched skin and it’s AMAH-ZING! I used to be a huge fan of Creme de La Mer and I figure Spontaneous Recovery is like a dream version of La Mer, if La Mer was 100% actives, rather than 80% marketing and 15% glycerin. Anyway. Just thought I’d mention it :)

  5. I recently learned about a natural men’s line called Ursa Major. You guys heard of it? I received some of their products and can’t wait to make my gentleman friend give them a try! He wants to use naturals but usually hates the smell…

  6. Ariel says:

    Just last week, I purchased some shave gel from Portland General Store on Etsy for my boyfriend. The ingredient list is much friendlier than generic products, and it’s local too for me since I live in Portland. Plus, they have surprisingly awesome packaging for such a small company! I believe they also sell cologne, shampoo, and other manly products. My other strategy besides gifts to get my boyfriend to use all-natural products is to buy organic products like unscented body lotion and herbal shampoo that we both can use.

  7. sam says:

    @ A & S I think you ladies should check out this line called Dchess Marden. They look good.

  8. sam says:


  9. Caralien says:

    Tom’s of Maine deodorant gave me a rash & made me smell really funky–I can’t recommend it to anyone!

    For shaving, Kiss My Face is now paraben free. The men I’ve switched onto it over the past 13 years love it & claim not to need an aftershave or moisturizer. Cheap too–$8/11oz lasts over 6 months.

    At this point, my husband still uses P&G shampoo and deodorant (never antiperspirant); I keep trying to find replacements he might like, but we are not there yet.

  10. Karen says:

    I just ordered the deodorant from the etsy store and am keen to try it out. As for Tom’s of Maine – I’d never heard of this brand but a google search led me to this article ( which makes me wonder how natural their products actually are?

  11. E. Palencsar says:

    I agree with Caralien about Toms deoderant. I made it only 3 days of using that stuff before I couldnt take it anymore. I kept wondering where that awful odor was coming from and realized it was me. I quickly threw out the Toms and ran to the store to get me a bottle of Secret. It was such a relief not to stink.
    I would also like to mention the many uses of apple cider vinegar. Toner for the skin makes me glow,love it. Great for dandruff and as a rinse to get rid of the chemical buildup of the oh so many products we all put in our hair. Improved my son’s eczema, cleans the coffee pot very well and great on salads.

  12. Anne says:

    Do you know Senteurs du Sud? It a French Brand for organic cosmetics, my husband love it!

  13. Kris says:

    I am a fan of the effectiveness of Soapwalla’s deo but after using it on and off for almost a year now, my hubby and I are both sick of the rash that seems to keep re-appearing after a few weeks use.
    I would LOVE to hear about any other clean and effective men’s deodorants out there.
    I have come across a couple of others that work well for me but no-so-good for men, especially on a hot day!!!

  14. Kris says:

    Lolly, where can I buy the Thai Secret Crystal? I live in Australia so not sure if I can get it over here???

  15. Lolly says:

    Kris: In the US it’s sold in most natural and organic stores, but I actually bought mine on Amazon. I know that Amazon US tends to deliver most places worldwide. Sadly, you will probably end up paying more for delivery charges than for the actual product, but it could be worth it? Or else just do a simple Google search to see if there are any online retailers that sell it in your neck of the woods.

  16. Stephanie says:

    Hey I just thought I would mention I have used soapwalla deodorant too and I broke out in a rash. I absolutely love bubble & bee’s. I have used the cream and also the stick. Love them both and no rash! I think they smell better too.

  17. Fritz says:

    Baking soda works great as a deodorant.Just a light powdering under arm pits will keep you dry and unfunky

  18. Colin says:

    Just out of curiosity, why haven’t you picked up on the health concerns with zinc gluconate, one of the chemicals in the John Masters shampoo you are positively recommending? The case against it would seem to be at least as strong as many of the other issues that seem to bother you guys on this blog.

  19. Siobhan says:

    Oh thanks for the tip, Colin! We will look into it. We’re always looking for tips on new ingredients that deserve attention and investigation. Your site will be our first stop. Have you written about it?

  20. Colin says:

    I haven’t written about it because of the ‘dose makes the poison’ principle. The risk isn’t relevant in cosmetic applications because the quantities involved are too small to worry about. Basically it is sold as a nutritional supplement, but it might interfere with the working of antibiotics. But to worry about it in cosmetics would be a bit daft because you are going to only get a tiny trace if any getting into your body. It would be like worrying about nitrosamines in shampoos when your entire life time exposure from washing your hair would be less than from eating a single wholemeal peanut butter sandwich.

  21. I’ve no idea if the creation of almond oil is sustainable, or ecologically sound, however, it makes a great shaving cream alternative. Wet your face with warm water, but 5-6 drops of almond oil in one palm, spread the oil between both hands and the run on face vigorously. Shave before you face dries.

    After shaving, do not dry you face, leave the almond oil as a moisturizer. The only negative side effect is that the blades of desposible razors will clog up, this can be remedied by washing warm water and blowing vigorously through the blades. A small 8oz bottle of almond oil should cost less than $10 and will last for at least a year.

  22. kareem says:

    Just ordered Soapwalla and going to give it a try. Would also love to know your thoughts on Sam’s Natural Deodorants for men:

    Love the site, thanks for the great reviews!

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