Why you need to go clean
So on average, women use 12 personal care products every day that contain around 168 ingredients. And get this; our skin absorbs 50-70% of these ingredients when we apply them to our skin. It’s time to stop sweeping it under the carpet and pretending it’s not doing you any harm. Let's get informed and make cleaner choices.
Do you look at the ingredients list on your skincare/haircare and personal care products? Generally speaking, we, the consumers are completely in the dark about the hidden dangers of all the toxins lurking inthe products we use. The thing is that many of these synthetic ingredients have not been tested for safety in humans, are not well regulated and are therefore legally permitted in our products. So this really leaves us no choice but to start gathering our own knowledge and making positive changes to minimise our exposure.
I get it; switching to a more clean and green lifestyle can be pretty daunting. The first step is understanding why it’s important and this is what I want to address for you today. There is just so much crap piled into all of our everyday products and they affecting us in ways that are, well….incredibly scary. Synthetic chemicals are added to everything from toothpaste, body wash and shampoo to dish and laundry detergent, all our cleaning supplies, our food and, well, everything really. They have a multitude of purposes including as emulsifiers, thickeners, stabilisers, pH adjusters, preservatives and plenty of others; the vast majority not tested for use in or on humans (and they don’t have to be - thanks to the Australian Government). In Australia, our laws don’t restrict the use of a huge array of chemicals (many nasty ones) that are used in the manufacture of these products – unlike in the EU and Japan where there are much more stringent regulations. You can read more about global cosmetic regulation here.
There are so many studies out there that highlight how synthetic chemicals are detectable in various bodily fluids and tissues. If you’re science-minded (like I am) and want to look at some of the evidence, there is plenty out there including a great review article looking at the cumulative chemical exposure during pregnancy and early development (Mitro, et al., 2015) and an interesting read about the effects of chemical exposure on reproductive health (Wang et al. 2016). These chemicals don’t just affect US, they are affecting the development of our children and we are only just scratching the surface on how.
So what are these toxins and what harm are they doing?
Since many of the synthetic chemicals used in cosmetics have not been evaluated for safety in animals or humans, there is a distinct possibility that they are having an impact on your health and not likely in a good way. This is not a complete list but some of the main ways that toxins can be damaging. Our next blog will delve deeper into which specific toxins to start looking out for.
These substances trigger your immune system by acting like a flag; alerting your body that they are foreign invaders and causing an allergic response. What does this response look or feel like? Well, it could mean stinging, burning, hives, itching or a red rash that shows its face whenever you use that product or could be worse by causing a full-blown allergic reaction. The interesting thing is that this type of response can happen straight after using a product or after years of using a product with seemingly no issues. Some of the main culprits here are; sulfates, fragrances, acids, triclosan (a chemical similar to Agent Orange and DTT, the pesticide, read more about it here and Weatherly and Gosse, 2017), ammonia, formaldehyde, Bisphenol A (BPA) and aluminium compounds.
These are substances that are capable of causing cancer. They do this by altering normal cellular reactions and processes that ultimately causes damage to cells. This makes them replicate faster than they die resulting in the formation of tumours. Formaldehyde and formaldehyde-releasing preservatives are fairly common in personal care products and behave in this way (read more about formaldehyde as a cancer risk here). Others are less common but still used. I’ll talk about these in more detail in my next blog but include; formaldehyde-releasing preservatives; Quaternium-15, diazolidinyl urea, imidazolidinyl urea, DMDM hydantoin, benzene, untreated or midly treated mineral oils and ethylene oxide.
These compounds are problematic on several levels;
1. They accumulate in both our bodies and the environment
2. They don’t degrade, they linger and
3. They are TOXIC
Referred to as PBTs (Persistent, Bioaccumulative and Toxic chemicals), our bodies just can’t process or excrete them quick enough so they build up, mostly in fat tissue, bones and brains (Check & Marteel-Parrish, 2013). It has been suggested that accumulated mercury and pesticides may affect metabolism, circulation and may trigger chronic diseases. As you could imagine, studies supporting this in humans would be difficult to carry out but Ali & Khan, 2019 have written an interesting paper about bioaccumulation in food chains. Some common ingredients considered PBTs are nanoparticles, oxybenzone (think sunscreens), ethanolamines (MEA, DEA and TEA), cyclisiloxanes (the basis for many silicones), aluminium salts, mercury, lead, heavy metals and PABA (UV absorbers in sunscreens).
These ones get into your cells and mess with your DNA; your genetic material, which means you create more genetic mutations than would be normal without exposure. Some of these mutations can cause cancer but this isn’t always the case. Gocke et al., 1981 and others have looked at the mutagenicity of various cosmetic chemicals if your interested in reading more.
There are far too many of these Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals (EDCs) in everyday products, from cosmetics and makeup to cleaning supplies. This is big topic and covers synthetic chemicals that disrupt the endocrine system and may affect several other systems too. These have been linked to lowered sperm counts (Sumner et al., 2019), thyroid dysfunction (Calsolaro et al., 2017), endometriosis (Reddy et al. 2006), PCOS (Palioura & Diamanti-Kandarakis, 2015), several cancers (Soto & Sonnenschein, 2010) and autoimmune conditions (Kuo et al., 2012) . Learning to avoid these compounds can help protect your hormonal balance and while there are lots of these around, the most common ones are:
Parabens; The most notorious endocrine distruptors that have been shown to mimic estrogen. Multiple parabens have been detected in biopsies of breast cancer tissue (Barr et al. 2012). Look out for any ingredients ending in ‘paraben’.
Pthalates; Found in a huge array of products from perfumes to plastic kids toys, vinyl and PVC products and have been linked to reproductive disruption in both men and women, increased prevalence of breast cancer and tumours. Look out for the term ‘fragrance’ or ‘parfum’ on the ingredients list and just swiftly return the product to the shelf.
Bisphenol A (BPA); Studies have linked BPA (Mikołajewska, et al. 2015) to accelerated puberty, breast cancer, behavioural changes, diabetes and obesity, which is why lots of your plastics are now labelled BPA free, which doesn’t necessarily make them safe by the way.
Perfluorinated Chemicals (PFCs): These are pretty nasty. They build up in the bloodstream and liver which can affect women’s fertility. Studies have shown that they are passed via the placenta and umbilical cord to a fetus (Mitro et al, 2015) leading to a whole range of issues like low birth weight, increased rate of miscarriage and can negatively impact organ and skeletal development in a fetus. You’ll find these in products formulated to repel grease and water; think nail polish, moisturiser, eye makeup, non stick cookware and stain/water resistant clothes.
Triclosan; Used as an antibacterial and antifungal, triclosan has been shown to mess with the endocrine system, particularly thyroid hormones (Weatherly and Gosse, 2017), which control many of our metabolic processes. Hmm. I wonder why so many of us have thyroid issues?
Synthetic fragrances; These can contain thousands of toxic chemicals most of which do not need to be divulged to the consumer.
Where to Start
This is not meant to scare you or make you feel bad for using products with these ingredients….they’re EVERYWHERE, but there ARE alternatives. We want you to make the switch to tox-free and safer products but doing this can feel like a big ask. Cleaner products may not feel or behave like the conventional products you’re used to but that’s not a reason to dismiss them; they are better for you and will reduce your exposure to the nasty stuff. We recommend switching out to cleaner products slowly so the process isn’t a huge upfront expense and seems much more achievable. Baby steps... but the first step is becoming informed, which you've already chosen to do....10 points for that my friend! If you’re keen to make some changes but don’t know where to start, we recommend Alexx Stuart's book Low Tox Life, A handbook for a healthy you and a happy planet. Alexx also has some pretty awesome podcasts, resources and courses to learn more. Check out her website here.
Another really useful tool is to download the Healthy Living App prepared by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) so that you can scan products (mostly US products though) but more importantly look up individual ingredients to assess their safety (they give ingredients a score) and get a little more familiar with those crazy lists of ingredients.
Although daunting at the start, you will quickly get familiar with the nastiest of ingredients, be able to spot them on the labels (and promptly put those products back on the shelf) and start opting for the cleaner alternatives.
Here is a list of some steps we think are important to start working through to start reducing your families exposure to toxins;
1. Use non- toxic personal care products, check out our range here but there are some amazing clean brands around. You just need to find one or a couple that you trust and look past all the greenwashing (easier said than done)!
2. Mop and dust often, well, try…. We know this is probably not what you feel like hearing but toxic substances (lead, pesticides and others) are often found in household dust. It’s best to use wet cloth to wipe down surfaces.
3. Clean with non-toxic products.
4. Leave your shoes at the door; so much crap is transferred from our shoes into our homes.
5. Avoid dry cleaning your clothes; they use way too many chemicals.
6. Avoid products that contain flame retardant chemicals. Here's a good resource about what types of products contain these.
7. Choose to eat cleanly, again not always possible. Eat organic where you can and if this isn’t an option choose fruits and vegies that are less likely to be contaminated (check out the EWG clean and dirty lists).
8. Choose clean meat; toxins can be found in higher quantities in animal fat. So if you are choosing higher fat meats, try to make them organic where possible.
9. Ditch the plastic everywhere, particularly for food and drinks.
10. Limit your intake of fish with high mercury levels like shark, swordfish and orange roughy.
11. Avoid canned food and drinks (can contain BPA lining).
‘Be proud of that little change you’re going to make today. Be proud of the plans you’re laying out as time, circumstance and energy permits’ - Alexx Stuart
Be kind to yourself and do what you can,
Ali, H & Khan, E. 2019. Trophic transfer, bioaccumulation, and biomagnification of non-essential hazardous heavy metals and metalloids in food chains/webs—Concepts and implications for wildlife and human health. Human and Ecological Risk Assessment. 25(6): 1353-1376. Read here.
Barr et al., 2012. Measurement of paraben concentrations in human breast tissue at serial locations across the breast from axilla to sternum. Journal of Applied Toxicology. 32(3): 219-232. Read here.
Calsolaro, V. et al., 2017. Thyroid Disrupting Chemicals. International Journal of Molecular Sciences. 18(12): 2583. Read here.
Gocke, E. et al.1981. Mutagenicity of cosmetics ingredients licensed by the European Communities. Mutation Research/Genetic Toxicology. 90(2): 91-109.
Mitro, S. et al., 2015. Cumulative Chemical Exposures During Pregnancy and Early Development. Current Environmental Health Reports. 2(4): 367–378. Read here.
Kuo et al., 2012. Immunomodulatory effects of environmental endocrine disrupting chemicals. The Kaohsiung Journal of Medical Sciences. 28: S37-S42. Read here.
Mikołajewska, K. et al. 2015. Bisphenol A – Application, sources of exposure and potential risks in infants, children and pregnant women.International Journal of Occupational Medicine and Environmental Health. 2015;28(2):209-241. Read here.
Reddy, B. et al., 2006. General gynaecology: Association of phthalate esters with endometriosis in Indian women. An international Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology. 113(5): 515-520. Read here.
Palioura, E. & Diamanti-Kandarakis, E. 2015. Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) and endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs). Reviews in Endocrine and Metabolic Disorders 16: 365. Read here.
Wang, A. et al., 2016. Environmental influences on reproductive health: the importance of chemical exposures. Fertility and Sterility. 106(4): 905-929. Read here
Weatherly, L. & Gosse, J. 2017. Triclosan Exposure, Transformation, and Human Health Effects. The Journal of Toxicology and Environmental Health. , Part B. 20(8), 447-469. Read here.
Check, L & Marteel-Parrish, A. 2013. The fate and behavior of persistent, bioaccumulative, and toxic (PBT) chemicals: examining lead (Pb) as a PBT metal. Reviews of Environmental Health. 28(2-3), 85-96. Read here.Soto, A. & Sonnenschein, C. 2010. Environmental causes of cancer: endocrine disruptors as carcinogens. Nature Reviews; Endocrinology. 6: 363-370. Read here.
Sumner, R., 2019. Independent and combined effects of diethylhexyl phthalate and polychlorinated biphenyl 153 on sperm quality in the human and dog. Scientific Reports. Read here.