OH my gosh, this is SO much harder than I thought…
As I sit down to write this blog post, I literally feel lost. I sit, type, delete. Whose idea was it to start a blog? AHHHH! I am going to persevere through this though. Sharing this topic has grown my passion even more and I’m so excited to have a platform to share with you all!
I have gotten a lot of funny looks when I tell people I am working to eliminate chemicals from my life. Yes, I know, I sound like a hippie. I’m ok with that though. As I share the WHY behind it, I am shocked to find out what little people know about the products they use every day. Why would anyone question what they’re putting on their bodies? There is surely someone looking out for them and their health, right? Companies have little regulatory oversight, and are free to put their products on store shelves without a thought to the long term harm they are causing to their customers. We are basically test subjects, if I’m being honest.
The turning point for me happened when I watched the documentary ‘Stink!’ on Netflix. Leading up to this point, I had some knowledge about the typical practices in the cosmetics and personal care industry. I follow @Ashnordman on Instagram (I know, I hate saying that out loud but it’s true) who’s health has been heavily impacted by the chemicals used in personal care products, and have learned loads of information from her. ‘Stink!’ really was the confirmation of all that learned knowledge.
I could go on and on about what I learned as a result of watching this documentary, but it’s kind of overwhelming. I would like to briefly explain those topics that really helped me understand what we face as consumers.
EDC’s (Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals)
EDC’s are chemicals which interfere with the normal working of hormones and the endocrine system in general. They can mimic certain hormones, affect their production, block them, prevent their movement through the body, or affect how they are metabolized. EDC’s get into the body when we breathe in contaminated air, drink contaminated water, eat food with traces of EDC’s, or if our skin comes into direct contact with them.
The heavy hitter for me is the ability of these chemicals to mimic hormones, including estrogen. Over-production of estrogen is shown to increase odds of developing breast and thyroid cancer in women. This issue is particularly concerning for women because we, on average, use 12 different products in any given day. Those products expose us to 168 unique chemicals, that often include the chemicals I’ll share below.
BPA: This chemical is linked to breast cancer, reproductive problems, early puberty, and heart disease. Avoid canned foods, and plastics, like most reusable food storage containers.
Dioxin: Research shows that low levels of dioxin in the womb and early life can affect sperm quality and low sperm count. Build up of this chemical is shown to affect the immune and reproductive systems. Avoiding this chemical is difficult, as it is found in most American foods such as meat, fish, eggs, milk and butter. Cutting out your exposure to animal products will help you avoid this chemical.
Atrazine: Atrazine is widely used in corn crops in the US. It has been linked to breast tumors, delayed puberty and prostate cancer. Purchasing organic produce and a water filter certified to remove atrazine are the best steps to reduce exposure.
Phthalates: This is a big one, people. Research shows that this chemical can trigger “death-inducing signaling” in cells, making them die earlier than they should. Phthalates are also linked to hormone changes, low sperm count, birth defects and thyroid irregularities. Phthalates are used in plastic food containers, children’s toys, plastic wrap, and personal care products. It’s important to watch for the word “fragrance” on labels, which can indicate hidden phthalates.
Perchlorate: A component in rocket fuel, perchlorate contaminates much of our produce and milk. Ingesting too much can lead to altered thyroid hormone balance. This is important because thyroid hormones regulate metabolism and are critical for proper brain and organ development in infants and children. To avoid perchlorate in your drinking water, install a reverse osmosis water filter. As for food, you can’t really avoid it, but you can reduce it’s effects by consuming enough iodine (salt).
Fire Retardants: The chemicals in fire retardants are shown to imitate thyroid hormones and disrupt their activity. Their use was so widespread in the 20th century that scientists believe they will contaminate people and wildlife for decades to come. The use of fire retardant has mostly been phased out, but has been found to be used in clothing and furniture production, and carpet padding.
Lead: Research has linked lead exposure to many different health affects, including affects to hormone function. Lead has mostly been phased out in every day use, but avoid further exposure by installing a good water filter. Also, ensure any crumbling paint around your home is disposed of carefully, especially if it was built before 1978.
Arsenic: Arsenic can cause skin, bladder and lung cancer, along with effecting your hormone function. Specifically, it can interfere with systems that regulate how our bodies process sugars and carbohydrates. Reduce exposure by using a quality water filter that lowers arsenic levels.
Mercury: Mercury is a naturally occurring toxic metal that gets in the air and oceans through burning coal. This leads to contaminated seafood. Pregnant women should be cautious, as this chemical is known to cause birth defects in unborn babies. Mercury can also cause hormonal issues, specifically interfering with women’s menstrual cycle and ovulation. Avoid mercury by eating sustainable seafood like wild salmon and farmed trout.
PFC’s (Perfluorinated Chemicals): PFC’s are use to make non-stick cookware. This chemical is so widespread that 99% of Americans have these chemicals in their bodies. Specifically, PFOA has been shown to resist breaking down in the environment. PFOA has been linked to birth defects, thyroid disease, and many more health issues. Avoid this chemical by using high quality stainless steel pans and avoid water-resistant coatings in clothing, furniture and carpets. Watching the documentary “The Devil We Know” was incredibly insightful into this specific issue.
Pesticides: This one is HUGE. Search glyphosate online, and you will get tons of hits on the health affects. Glyphosate or “Round Up” have been shown to effect brain development, behavior and fertility, among other affects to the human body. Avoid pesticides by shopping organic, or locally grown produce.
Glycol Ethers: This chemical is commonly used in paints, cleaning products, and cosmetics. Europe has banned this chemical as it is linked to infertility, or birth defects. Avoid cleaners with 2-butoxyethanol and methoxydiglycol as ingredients. Again, READ THOSE LABELS!
So the gist of all of this? You have to be afraid of anything and everything. Ok, I am kidding… kind of. That’s truly what it feels like to me after learning all of this information though. I am slowly phasing out the products that I use on a daily basis. It’s not easy to just go out and buy new pots and pans, or replace every single item in your bathroom. My advice is to replace things as you run out.
Many people feel that the exposure to these chemicals is so minimal that we shouldn’t be worried. In my opinion, we are using so many different products in our every day lives, and that minimal exposure adds up very quickly. Carcinogenic and hormone disrupting chemicals are building up in our systems with every use, putting our environment, our children, and ourselves at risk. Knowing that alone is enough for me to make a change.
Information provided by www.EWG.org
Regulation of Personal Care Products
The last legislation passed in The United States regulating the cosmetics industry was in 1938. A lot has changed in 81 years, and to think the cosmetics industry has been self-policing all this time is quite frightening. The 1938 act is focused mainly on regulating adulterated or misbranded products, or products that are falsely packaged. However, labeling products as natural or organic does not qualify as misbranding. The 1938 act also does not require the FDA to recall potentially dangerous items or monitor the ingredients used in products (CNBC.com).
Did you read that? I seriously cringed. There is no law requiring cosmetics companies to ensure the safety of their products prior to coming to the market. The FDA does not require a recall for those ingredients found to cause harm! Europe has taken a more progressive approach to the regulation of cosmetics, banning 1400 different chemicals in their production. The US on the other hand has only banned 15. Companies can continue to use of those chemicals that are banned as ingredients in their fragrance as a result of the ‘fragrance loophole’.
The Fragrance Loophole
Look at any personal care product or cleaner in your bathroom, and you will likely find ‘Fragrance’ among the list of ingredients. A major loophole in FDA’s federal law lets manufacturers of products like shampoo, lotion, and body wash include nearly any ingredient in their products under the name “fragrance” without actually listing the chemical. (Source: EWG.org) Companies consider their fragrance to be proprietary knowledge, and do not have to share the ingredients of their fragrance to protect their ‘secret sauce’.
Many companies advertise themselves as clean or healthy. I admit, I have been tricked by clever labels and marketing more than once. Cleaners like Method; Make up like Bare Minerals; Body wash like Aveeno; they all appear harmless from the outside. Each product varies, but my advice to you is to do your research. Look at those labels! I use the “Think Dirty” app that is provided by Smartcosmetics.com. It helps to make sense of those long and confusing lists of ingredients.
I have said it once, and I will say it again – there is no way I could cover every single area of concern in just one sitting. These topics are the ones that have caused me to start thinking about what I am consuming, but there is so much more to be learned. I would HIGHLY encourage you to access these resources I’ve provided below, and educate yourself. Unfortunately in today’s world, we can’t really take the face value of anything. Doing your research will ensure a healthy and long life for you and your family. That is what I want for myself, and for all of you!
www.safecosmetics.org – The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics works to protect the health of consumers, workers and the environment through public education and engagement, corporate accountability and sustainability campaigns and legislative advocacy designed to eliminate dangerous chemicals linked to adverse health impacts from cosmetics and personal care products.
www.EWG.org – The Environmental Working Group’s mission is to empower people to live healthier lives in a healthier environment. With breakthrough research and education, we drive consumer choice and civic action.
www.healthychild.org – Healthy Child Healthy World’s mission is simple – help parents protect their children and families from harmful chemicals.
www.bcpp.org, Breast Cancer Prevention Partners – For 26 years, we have been the leading science-based policy and advocacy organization working to prevent breast cancer by eliminating our exposure to toxic chemicals and radiation. Our focus is on the intersection of breast cancer prevention and environmental health.
Documentaries: ‘Stink!’ ‘The Devil We Know’ ‘The C Word’