As a surgical physician’s assistant specializing in breast reconstruction at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Orlando, Fla., Tammy Dragon has heard her share of questions about personal care products. Some women develop sensitivities to certain ingredients after chemotherapy or radiation. Others read up on potential links between synthetic compounds and increased cancer risk, and come to her for advice on natural alternatives that really work.

So when it came time to help her husband, Paul Dragon (an herbalist and personal trainer), create a personal care section at their new Sustain Natural Market in Apopka, Fla., Tammy didn’t take the task lightly.

“Seeing what I see every day, it just motivates me more than ever to promote products that are not made with any ingredients that may have negative health effects down the line,” she says.

Step into the 3,000-square-foot Sustain Natural Market, which opened on Earth Day 2010, and the Dragons’ deeply personal commitment to the health of people and the planet is reflected in everything from the building materials to the painstakingly selected products that grace the shelves. In creating the store’s sleek, industrial-looking interior, the Dragons used toxin-free paints and glues, recycled flooring and shelving, and cabinetry Paul built out of renewable wood. When choosing meat and produce suppliers, the Dragons prioritized local, sustainable, and chemical- and cruelty-free farms.

And when it came to selecting personal care products, they took a “minimalist approach,” limiting their selection to roughly a dozen companies that met their extremely strict criteria.

Careful product selection
Tammy sought out hard-to-find products like gluten-free lipstick; aluminum-free deodorant; organic tampons and pads made without bleach; and creams and lotions free of parabens, petrochemicals, artificial colors and potentially carcinogenic ingredients such as dioxins and sodium lauryl sulfate.

Then Paul raised the bar even higher. “I narrowed it down by calling all the companies whose products I liked and asking them not only ‘what’s in your product?’ but also ‘what kind of humanitarian or environmental issues are you involved in?’” says Paul, who collected information on everything from the manufacturers’ recycling policies and carbon footprints to ingredient-harvesting methods and corporate giving.

The information he gleaned was too valuable, and at times touching, for the Dragons to keep to themselves. So they went a step further, creating colorful placards throughout the personal care section (and ultimately the entire store), which read: “You can feel good about purchasing products from …

 “ … Aubrey Organics because all products are 100 percent natural, with no petrochemicals of any kind, because they don’t introduce chemicals into our air and water, because they are made by people instead of machines.”

 “ … Kiss My Face because they use solar power, saving 23.4 tons of CO2greenhouse gas from being emitted each year.”

“ … Himalaya Herbal because in the summer they help provide food for children who would otherwise go hungry, they donate school supplies, they provide financial support for survivors of domestic violence.”

“It is really emotional for people to find out the commitment to humanity that some of these companies have,” says Tammy. “We’ve had people tear up in the aisles. It’s incredible.”