Greetings Cool Healthy Lifers!
What if I said to you, “Chances are, you’re being exposed to at least 5 toxins on a daily basis.” Would you want to be informed, so you could make some changes to your daily routine? Yes? Then read on!
During our last post we talked about the dreaded gluten protein and reviewed some of the differences between having a gluten sensitivity and having celiac disease. Today we’re going to switch gears a bit and focus on a topic that we haven’t discussed much on Cool Healthy Life: Stuff to Avoid. Living a healthy life is as much about avoiding certain things that may be harmful, as it is about eating the right foods and following the right exercise plan.
The genesis for this post came to me after reading Donna Jackson Nakazawa’s The Autoimmune Epidemic, a very interesting read concerning the impact that environmental toxins play on the development of autoimmune diseases. While Nakazawa’s book is mostly focused on immune responses, it really got me thinking that many of these toxins may have a much broader impact on our overall well-being.
Unfortunately, there are hundreds if not thousands of specific chemicals, toxins and other compounds that “may be harmful” to our bodies and overall health. The purpose of this post is to highlight five products you’re using on a daily basis that may be filled with toxins.
1. Makeup & Skin Care Products
Believe it or not, the more care you take to improve your appearance on the outside, the more you could be contributing to feeling poorly on the inside! Beauty products in general are loaded with all sorts of unnatural ingredients and chemical compounds. While not every chemical has been proven to be toxic, there are several that you should steer clear from. Below are three specific toxic substances that could be hiding in your makeup or daily cleansing lotion.
Found in nail treatments, hair straighteners and other beauty products, formaldehyde is a gaseous substance that helps protect cosmetics from bacteria contamination (hmm, isn’t this the same reason we used formaldehyde when we dissected that frog in high school?!?). Formaldehyde is recognized as a carcinogen by the FDA and is believed to potentially lead to certain types of cancer. In 2011 OCSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) warned that certain hair straightening treatments contained unacceptable levels of formaldehyde that resulted in salon workers complaining of nose bleeds, eye irritation and trouble breathing after using the product.
Like formaldehyde, parabens are used in beauty products as a preservative and to keep bacteria at bay. Unlike formaldehyde, there is less general agreement around the harmful impact of parabens on our bodies. As recently as 2007, the FDA stated they believe there is no reason for consumers to be concerned with the use of parabens; nevertheless they continue to loom as a carcinogenic substance. Parabens are known to disrupt hormone function by mimicking the role of estrogen in the body. Some of the longer chain parabens (propylparaben and butylparaben) may disrupt the endocrine system and cause reproductive and developmental disorders.
You know the ingredient that gives your face wash that great smell? Yeah, its labeled on your bottle as “fragrance,” but it probably contains about a dozen different chemicals. By federal law, companies aren’t required to list all the ingredients that make up their super secret “fragrance.” Fragrances can contain all sorts of chemicals such as: phthalates, thought to cause damage to the male reproductive system; hormone disruptors, one of the 5 top allergens in the world; and neurotoxins, chemicals that are toxic to the brain.
2. Lawn and Garden Sprays
This item really hit home for me. I was that guy we all see on the Roundup weed control commercials. I would walk up and down my driveway spraying Roundup on any weed that crossed my path. The Roundup worked great and my driveway was free of weeds. Unfortunately, I wasn’t aware of the chemicals I may have been inhaling, tracking into our house where our girls and dogs play, or leaching into our groundwater.
The main ingredient in Roundup, glyphosate, causes extreme disruption to the function and lifecycle of bacteria (in our body). Studies show that this disruption of bacteria, mostly in the gut, can lead to many types of diseases, from autism to cancer to autoimmune disease.
I imagine some of you are already familiar with BPA (Bisphenol A), a chemical compound that’s been used in the industrial manufacturing of plastic (and other items) since the 1960s. We frequently encounter BPA in our plastic bottles, metal cans and plastic toys. What we may not be aware of is that BPA can seep into our food and beverages and may actually be ingested by young children when they chew on their toys. But, why be concerned?
It is thought that BPA has a wide range of negative effects on the human body, from disrupting hormone levels (BPA can mimic estrogen) to causing some types of cancer, heart problems and other conditions, such as ADHD. Frighteningly, BPA’s impact on the body can be more pronounced in children, since their immature immune systems aren’t as efficient at flushing toxins from the body.
Now known as BPA’s evil twin, BPS (or Bisphenol S) is a common replacement for BPA in some plastics, such as baby bottles. BPS is supposed to be more resistant to “leaching out” of the plastic and into the human body. However, according to a recent Scientific American study, nearly 81% of American’s have detectable levels of BPS in their urine, suggesting that BPS is seeping into our bodies just as BPA did before it.
The concerns with BPS are similar to those with BPA: the chemical is thought to disrupt normal cell functioning and can lead to all sorts of illnesses and cancer. The moral of the story is to stay away from plastics as much as possible. Use glass or stainless steal for drinks and replace your tin food cans with Tetra Paks.
Who would think that the item we reach for to wash away dirt, grime and bacteria could be doing more harm than good? What most people don’t recognize is that some or many soaps contain numerous toxic substances. Parabens and fragrance (discussed earlier) lead the long list of chemical compounds contained in soap. Some additional toxins in soap are sulfates and triclosan.
Sulfates are used in soap to help create that bubbly lather that makes you feel like you’re really getting a deep clean. While not as toxic as other ingredients, sulfates tend to strip away moisture and protective barriers from your skin. Heavy usage can lead to dry and/or irritated skin. Sulfates are also found in toothpaste, and you can imagine what that corrosive ingredient will do to the inside of your mouth!
Triclosan is a much bigger issue. Triclosan is a chemical normally found in anti-bacterial soap. I always used to purchase anti-bacterial soap because I thought it did a better job at killing bacteria … this is what we want soap to do, right? It turns out that triclosan promotes the development of bacteria that is resistant to antibiotics, while also releasing dioxin, a carcinogen associated with endocrine toxicity. If dioxin sounds familiar, it’s because it’s one of the primary ingredients used to produce Agent Orange.
5. Sofa and Chairs
Ahhh … its the end of the day, you walk in the door from work and plop yourself down on your plush, overstuffed couch. It gently enfolds you and embraces your tired body. Your favorite couch: so soft and cushy. Go ahead, breathe in and inhale those PFA and PBDE toxins. Yuck! When you bought your couch did you put some Scotchgard on it? Or maybe you “passed” on the waterproofing and just bought the floor model that had the latest in flame retardant coating. Well either way, your couch in all likelihood is filled with some pretty dangerous chemicals.
Since the 1970s, the US and Canada have passed well-intentioned regulations ensuring that upholstered furniture is sold with flame retardant chemicals to minimize fires in our homes. While decreasing our risk of fire, we’ve increased our exposure to toxic chemicals. Net-net its probably not a good trade off. PFA, PBDE and other chemicals found in flame retardant and Scotchgard sprays have been linked to birth defects, cancer, hormonal changes and other health concerns.
Holy Crap. Toxins Are Everywhere. What Do We Do?
There’s no doubt about it. The more we learn as a society, the more vigilant we must become to the risks posed by exposure to dangerous toxins and chemicals. It can be a scary world out there. But there are strategies you can take to limit your toxin load.
We’ve never said living the healthy life is quick or easy. Take time to learn about toxins. A simple Google search goes a long way to obtaining information about some of the leading toxins and the top concerns with certain consumer products. Follow Cool Healthy Life across the social space and sign up for our email newsletter so you receive timely blog updates at your fingertips.
Don’t just read labels for food you eat. Read labels for anything that you purchase. If it’s in a package, can, bottle or box, learn what ingredients went into it. There’s a very simple rule –> if you can’t pronounce it then chances are it’s not good for you! Try to select products with ingredients that aren’t foreign to you. In almost every industry there are “greener” alternatives to most products, so pay attention when you’re at the store.
A really handy tool that will help you with labels is the Environmental Working Group. EWG has all sorts of guides that help you see what toxins are in what products and actually gives each product a (0-10) toxin rating. For those of you that use lots of skin care and beauty products, check out Skin Deep, a free app that scans bar codes and provides a summary of toxins in thousands of products!
Be Smart With Toxins
This is a journey. We should do what we can to minimize the toxin load on our bodies, but it doesn’t mean that certain exposure to these toxins leads to immediate illness. If you’re using cleaning chemicals in your house or toxins in your yard, protective yourself appropriately.
In the house:
- Wear disposable (or washable) gloves to prevent cleaning solvent from touching your skin
- Wear a mask or open windows to avoid directly inhaling gases from the toxins
In the yard:
- Wear gloves and cover your arms and legs to minimize direct exposure to chemicals you’re using
- Take off your socks and shoes before returning indoors so you don’t track toxins back inside
Don’t feel like you need to immediately throw out every product in your house after reading this article! But consider this: think of one product in your house that you know contains some toxins and throw it in the trash. Next week, or perhaps next month, choose another product that you know contains toxins and chuck it in the garbage. Before you know it, you’ll have removed a large portion of the daily toxins that you’ve been exposing your body (and your family) to for a very long time!
Remember, the more knowledgeable you become about everyday toxins, the better equipped you are to decrease the toxic load you’re exposed to.
Until next time…
This Video Caught My Attention
We’re starting something new in the blog. After each post we identify an interesting ‘healthy living’ video that we found particularly insightful. Consider this our version of a healthy living YouTube channel!
The Toxic 12
This is a short video that digs a bit deeper into some of the major toxins found in our everyday products. Its a great supplement to the post.