This is a long overdue wake up call for those of you who shower, brush their teeth and use personal care products.
Every day, for most of my life, I used personal care and cleaning products and not once did I think they might be doing me harm. But little did I know that the majority of mainstream products we use contain a cocktail of carcinogenic chemicals, allergens, and irritants that harm our health.
The average person is exposed to over 100 chemicals from personal care products before leaving the house in the morning. Not all chemicals are bad, but some chemicals are toxic, and even tiny doses can be incredibly potent. There are chemicals that disrupt the endocrine system as they mimic the way our bodies naturally interact with hormones. And when our bodies are undergoing certain periods of development (in the womb, during infancy, puberty), we are more susceptible to hormone disruption, which can have big health effects later in life.
CHILDREN ARE PARTICULARLY VULNERABLE TO TOXINS, ESPECIALLY IN FOETAL DEVELOPMENT AND AFTER BIRTH. TESTS OF UMBILICAL CORD BLOOD FOUND TRACES OF NEARLY 300 POLLUTANTS.
Your skin is the largest organ of your body and since it is porous, it absorbs whatever you put on it. This means if you’re using products that contain toxic ingredients, they are making their way into your body, bloodstream and lymphatic system.
Mia Davis, head of health and safety for the personal care product company Beautycounter explains: “Even known offenders such as formaldehyde, triclosan, and phthalates are still legally permissible in product formulations. Chemical exposure has been linked to rising rates of breast cancer, asthma, autism, reproductive problems, and other health issues”.
Are natural or organic products safer?
If you are like me, you’d assume the logical thing would be to buy organic and natural labelled products from a health food store, but people are becoming aware that these labels don’t necessarily mean they aren’t toxic.
Davis says: “Companies are allowed to label their products organic, natural, or hospital-approved, based on their own interpretation of the terms. They can also hide problematic ingredients in proprietary formulations by listing them as “fragrance” on a label.”
The law doesn’t require cosmetic products or ingredients, other than colour additives, to have FDA approval before they go on the market, and it doesn’t require cosmetic firms to share their safety data with the agency.
There are no warning symbols on personal care products, because they are exempt from the obligation to classify and label products that contain hazardous substances above the thresholds for classification. Companies use these ingredients to increase cosmetic effectiveness and produce a longer-lasting product. US National Library of Medicine states that although studies show that these products may indeed adversely effect human health, they are conducted using levels of the aforementioned chemicals at much higher levels of exposure than those found in cosmetic products. When products are used as per manufacturer’s instructions, it is estimated that the levels of harmful additives are considerably lower than reported toxic concentrations.
So should we not worry then?
Kim Erickson states in her book “Drop-Dead Gorgeous: Protecting Yourself from the Hidden Dangers of Cosmetics”: the adverse effects of toxins is compounded over decades, confusing hormone receptors and slowly altering cell structure. Chemicals are transmitted into the bloodstream in a number of ways: powders have the least absorption, while oily solutions or those designed to increase moisture and allow more of the chemical to be absorbed. Eye makeup can be absorbed by the highly sensitive mucous membranes. Hair sprays, perfumes and dusting powders can be inhaled, irritating the lungs. Lipstick is often licked off and swallowed.
We’ve been misled to believe that if you’re exposed to any toxic ingredient in a low enough dosage, you won’t be harmed. For example, lead (found in most lipsticks) is a cumulative toxin that affects multiple body systems. It is distributed to the brain, liver, kidney and bones. It is stored in the teeth and bones, where it accumulates over time. Lead in bone is released into blood during pregnancy and becomes a source of exposure to the developing foetus. Science indicates there is no safe level of lead exposure.
WHAT YOU PUT ON YOUR BODY IS JUST AS IMPORTANT AS WHAT YOU PUT IN YOUR BODY.
Another dangerous chemical is sodium lauryl sulfate found in most toothpaste, hair products and anything that foams up. The Journal of the American College of Toxicology reports that SLS is easily absorbed into your skin and builds up in your heart, liver, lungs, and brain — even if you wash it right off after using it.
According to the Environmental Working Group, six research studies on SLS has been linked to irritation of the skin and eyes, organ toxicity, reproductive toxicity neurotoxicity, endocrine disruption, ecotoxicology, and biochemical or cellular changes, possible mutations and cancer. It can also damage the immune system and have a degenerative effect on the cell membranes.
Richard Bence, a biochemist who has spent three years researching conventional products, said: “We really need to start questioning the products we are putting on our skin and not just assume that the chemicals in them are safe. We have no idea what these chemicals do when they are mixed together, the effect could be much greater than the sum of the individual parts.”
This would be bad enough if we only used products every so often, but we use them every single day (mostly twice a day!) Let that sink in for a minute… scary right? We are slowly but surely poisoning ourselves, literally.
The negative health effects of these chemicals
The United Nations Environmental Programme estimates that approximately 70,000 chemicals are in common use across the world with 1,000 new chemicals being introduced every year. The last formal study done on chemicals in everyday products was done in 1994. Out of the 2983 chemicals tested, 884 of these were found to be toxic (poisonous to the body). The most well known ones being Sodium Laurel Sulphate (SLS) and Propylene Glycol. The Chairman of the Cancer Prevention Coalition Samuel S. Epstein, M.D. explains in his book “The Politics of Cancer” that these chemicals can contribute to health issues including:
- biological mutation
- neurodevelopment effects
- reproductive complications
- acute toxicity
- skin and eye irritations
Some ingredients to watch our for
Benzalkonium, chloride, BHA and BHT, ethylenediaminetetraacetic acid (EDTA) ethanolamines (MEA/DEA/TEA), formaldehyde hydroquinone, methylisothiazolinone and methylchloroisothiazolinone, oxybenzone, parabens (methyl-, isobutyl-, propyl- and others), phthalates, polyethylene glycol (PEG compounds), retinyl palmitate and retinol, sodium lauryl sulfate and sodium laureth sulfate (SLS and SLES), fragrance, toluene, triclosan and triclocarban.
Unfortunately the world we live in today is chemical laden. Obviously you can’t live in a bubble, but there are steps you can take to reduce the toxic load on your body and look after your health, and this includes controlling what products you bring into your home.
What you can do to protect yourself
Look for products that are made by companies that are earth-friendly, animal-friendly, green, non-toxic, and/or 100% organic. But beware these products can still contain harmful chemicals, so ensure to check the ingredient list. This applies to everything from food and personal care products to building materials, carpeting, paint, baby items, upholstery, and more. If you’re feeling creative you can even try making your own products.
Products I use and recommend
Here are some of the best brands I use and recommend. Use the links depending on what country you live in.
Australia: Dr. Bronner’s is a fully biodegradable, multi-purpose cleaning product which can be used as a body wash, laundry soap, shampoo, general cleaner and more. For makeup, skincare and haircare products I use 100% Pure. They are a cruelty-free brand which create high quality products out of plant foods. Their makeup even uses pigments from fruits for colour. I absolutely love them! Sunscreens are one of the more toxic skincare products. For a natural alternative I suggest this product by Little Urchin.
This is further proof that we need to step up and take responsibility for our own health because as much as you’d like to think the producers of these products have our best interests at heart, this unfortunately is not the case. This is something we have control over and if you take the steps to create a healthy home you are ensuring a much healthier and brighter future for you and your family.