5 ways to ‘green’ your medicine cabinet

Your medicine cabinet could be hiding hidden dangers to the environment’and possibly even your health. Here are five swaps to make yours more eco-friendly

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olive oil soap

Swap antibacterial handwash for olive oil soap

Many antibacterial soaps contain triclosan, an ingredient that kills bacteria and acts as a preservative. But the David Suzuki Foundation identified it on their "Dirty Dozen" list of chemicals to avoid in cosmetic products because research shows it may interfere with hormone function and may contribute to a rise in antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Environment Canada has identified triclosan as potentially toxic to aquatic life because it doesn't biodegrade easily and can hang around in the environment long after you rinse it down the drain.

Research suggests that good old-fashioned soap and water is just as effective at preventing illness as antibacterial formulas. Try replacing often-pricier "germ-killing" products with fragrance-free, olive-oil based soap, which is both gentle and moisturizing. For clean hands on the road, the EWG suggests using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer rather than an antibacterial formula.

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essential oils

Swap an acne treatment with benzoyl peroxide for tea tree oil

Benzoyl peroxide is an effective zit zapper used as the active ingredient in many over-the-counter acne treatments. But the Environmental Working Group, a non-profit organization that evaluates toxicity of chemicals everyday products, warns that it can be irritating to the skin and eyes, and some evidence suggests it may negatively affect the immune system. Plus, other more potentially harmful chemicals such as fragrance and chemical preservatives may be present in OTC acne creams and cleansers.

Try swapping your drugstore-bought acne treatments for ones that contain tea tree oil. This oil, derived from the Australian tea tree, is used topically as an antiseptic treatment. Research suggests that applying a product that contains five percent tea tree oil is as effective in treating acne as a product that contains the same amount of benzoyl peroxide.

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summer safety first aid kit

Swap antiseptic first-aid products for arnica or comfry

Some antiseptic products used to treat minor cuts and wounds may fragrances, cleansing agents and solvents that research suggests might be harmful. Read labels carefully and try to avoid ingredients such as pafum, a mix of fragrances that can trigger allergies and be harmful to the environment, and methylparaben, polyparaben, butylparaben and paraben, commonly used preservatives suspected of interfering with hormones and male reproduction.

Another option is to clean small cuts and scrapes thoroughly with soap and water before applying a product that contains comfrey or arnica. These herbs are commonly used topically in ointments or creams to treat small wounds, skin irritations and bruises. You can find these products in your local health food store or online, but check with your healthcare provider before using them to make sure they're right for you.

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sick kid cold and flu

Swap your old mercury thermometer for a digital thermometer

In 2011, the Canadian government proposed a ban on all products containing mercury, including the old-fashioned glass thermometers. Mercury is a toxin that does not break down in the environment. If your thermometer happens to break, inhaling mercury vapours could put you at risk for health problems, including damage to your respiratory tract and lungs.

Digital thermometers are a safer alternative, but don't toss old environmentally hazardous mercury thermometers in the trash. Contact your local household hazardous-waste collection facility to find out how to dispose of them safely.

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nail polish remover

Swap cotton balls for reusable cotton pads

Make your nightly make-up removal routine more eco-friendly by taking cotton balls out of the equation. These fluffy little medicine-cabinet mainstays can create a lot of unnecessary waste. Instead, browse Etsy for handmade reusable cotton pads. They come in a variety of adorable prints and super-soft fabrics like chenille and flannel. Collect the dirty ones in a lingerie laundry bag and pop them in the washing machine to clean. Not only will you reduce your waste, but you'll also save money on restocking the disposable variety.

Related:
The best ways to wipe out germs at home
A quick way to spring-clean your medicine cabinet
Could your medication be harming your health