A Quick Disclaimer
Remember when your mom used to tell you that you have to do all your chores before you can go out and play? Well, it’s time to do your chores. Although most of my posts will be fun, easy to read, and hopefully really helpful, this article is here to show you that the basis for this entire blog is backed by highly researched and tested science.
I have included a short and sweet version below, but if you want to really dig in and gain some knowledge about how toxins can influce our health, read the whole thing! If you don’t like big words and sciency stuff, feel free to just read the summary and then enjoy the rest of the blog.
That being said, I am so glad you are here because it means you care about your health and the health of people who are important to you. You and I both know that what you put in your body, on your body, and what you surround your body with in your environment, matters. And you are ready to learn more. But be prepared – we are about to really dig in.
Long Story Short
If you want the short and sweet version and not all the science and resources backing it up, then here it is:
There are many toxic chemicals in our body care products and cosmetics, cleaning supplies, air, and food. They can disrupt and harm our bodies. These are allowed in products because of a lack of regulation.
It is important to learn how to limit your exposure to them if you care about your health and the health of people around you. That is what I originally created this blog to do, so check out my site to learn the best ways to limit these toxins in your life and improve your health. Now skip to the bottom of this article to the “What We Can Do About It” section for some practical ways to make these changes in your life.
If you want to learn more, keep reading! I highly encourage it.
Now for the Science Nerds and Overachievers...
This is not for the faint of heart. The rest of this read is meant for the people who really want to dive deep into the problems that can arise from exposing ourselves to toxic chemicals. I’m going to get a little scientific here because, unlike many blogs and articles I have read, I think it important for you to be able to trust my resources and check them out yourselves if you do so desire. Alright, let’s keep going. I’ll try to keep the sciency stuff from being too dull :)
A survey by the Environmental Working Group found that the average adult uses 9 personal care products each day with an average of 126 chemical ingredients[i].
I think we all can agree that is a crazy amount…But I can’t deny using that many products, if not more, daily. When you start adding up facewash, cosmetics, lip balms, toothpaste, lotion, perfume, body wash and deodorant, it is easy to see how we can expose ourselves to a handful of chemicals every day.
There are also many toxins we can be exposed to through cleaning products in the home, pesticides and added hormones in our food, and pollutants in our air.
Now not all chemicals are toxic, and I don’t mean to scare you out of using any cleaning, cosmetic, or body care products ever again!
I just hope that by the end of this read I can show you the importance of trying to minimize the amount of exposure we have to harmful chemicals. We will go over why in a moment, but let’s chat really quick about lack of regulations and some common toxins found in our products.
Lack of Regulation
Currently, the FDA does not approve cosmetics before they go on market and can only take action against a marketed product if they are “misbranded” or “adulterated”[ii]. When it comes to cleaning products, manufacturers are not required by federal government to provide a list of ingredients[iii]. This makes it easier for companies to brush off the use of harmful chemicals that cause irritation, asthma, cancer, infertility, thyroid dysfunction, etc. Because of limited regulation, there is a lot of pressure on us as consumers to know how to pick safe products (which is confusing and challenging! I know! If you want more tips on reading body care and cosmetic labels to determine product safety, check out my post about it here).
Here are some examples of harmful chemicals found in many common products.
Cosmetics and Body Care Products
Lead – The campaign for Safe Cosmetics and FDA performed research testing lipstick brands for lead and toxic metals. They found 400+ lipsticks that contained lead, with the highest levels in Procter and Gamble (Cover Girl brand), L’Oreal, and Revlon[iv]. Recent science shows there is no safe level of lead exposure. Exposure to lead is linked to hormonal changes, menstrual irregularities, reduced fertility in men and women, neurotoxicity and more[v].
Fragrance – Found in most personal care products, such as sunscreen, makeup, deodorant, body wash, perfume and moisturizers. The International Fragrance Association has 3,000+ materials listed as allowed for use in fragrance compounds, many with links to health effects such as cancer, allergies and reproductive toxicity [vi],[vii]. Because “fragrance” combinations are often considered a trade secret, they do not have to reveal what fragrance is composed of. The average fragrance product tested contains around 14 chemicals, none of which are usually listed on the label[viii].
Phthalates – Found in a variety of products including cosmetics, bottles, nail polish, lotions, deodorant and shampoo[ix]. In cosmetics, phthalates are used as a plasticizer and solvent[x]. Phthalates are thyroid disruptors, can alter male genital development, and are linked to breast cancer and reproductive toxicity[xi],[xii].
Triclosan – Common antimicrobial agent found in antibacterial soaps, detergents, toothpastes, color cosmetics and creams. The CDC has found triclosan in the urine of 75% of people they have tested[xiii]. It is a known thyroid hormone disruptor and alters immune function [xiv],[xv],[xvi].
Benzene – A colorless liquid found in detergents, synthetic fibers, gasoline, pesticides and tobacco smoke. It is a known carcinogen linked to leukemia, aplastic anemia, and bone marrow abnormalities [xvii],[xviii].
Formaldehyde –Commonly used in dozens of cleaners as a disinfectant, fungicide, and germicide[xix]. Also used as a preservative in mortuaries, glues, and fuel-burning appliances. It is designated by the U.S. government and World Health organization as a carcinogen. They are also toxic to the immune system[xx]. Can be found in Pine-Sol and Simple Green cleaning products[xxi].
1,4-Dioxane – Used primarily as a solvent and has been classified by the EPA as a probable carcinogen. It has been detected in many brand name detergents[xxii]. It also is irritating to the respiratory tract, eyes, and exposure can cause damage to the nervous system, liver, and kidneys[xxiii].
Borax – Used in laundry or dishwashing detergents as an enzyme stabilizer. Females who were exposed to higher doses showed reduced ovulation and fertility. It also caused testicular atrophy in male mice and dogs[xxiv]. Although the study was done in animals, that doesn't sound like something men would want to risk being exposed to...
Bisphenol A (BPA) – A compound used to manufacture polycarbonate plastics commonly used in food and drink packaging and water bottles. Has been linked to a variety of problems such as infertility, obesity, aggression, prostate and breast cancer, decreased sperm production and testosterone levels, decreased immune function and thyroid and early onset of puberty[xxv],[xxvi],[xxvii],[xxviii].
And believe me, that is just a short list of the many chemicals we can be exposed to if we aren’t careful about what we buy. This doesn’t include the pollutants in our air or pesticides and added hormones in our food.
Why It Is Important to Be Aware of Toxic Exposure
It Affects Us:
As we can see from just a few examples, there are toxins out there that can be very harmful to our health. Most chemicals and products we put onto our body have the ability to be absorbed through the skin via dermal absorption[xxix]. When chemicals are absorbed this way, some are able to bypass the liver (whose job it is to filter the blood and it’s contents) and go straight into the bloodstream[xxx]. Then these chemicals are circulated through our body where they can do damage to our cells and tissues. This is one reason why it is important to care about what we put on our body.
We can also inhale these toxins when using cleaning products, perfumes, sprays, loose foundation, etc. We want to make sure that, if we are going to be inhaling elements, we limit the amount of harmful chemicals, substances and fragrances we are exposed to.
It Affects Others:
These chemicals don’t just affect us. The Environmental Working Group performed a study[xxxi] on 10 random Americans to test for toxic chemicals. There were over 287 chemicals found. Here are some statistics from the talk:
Of the 287 chemicals found: -134 cause cancer -186 cause infertility -151 cause birth defects -154 cause hormone disruption -130 cause immune system toxicity -212 are industrial chemicals and pesticides that were banned over 30 years ago -168 were from 12 personal care products that are used by women daily -85 were from ingredients from 6 personal care products used by men daily -47 are consumer products ingredients
These American's weren't exposed to these toxins through air pollutants. They weren't exposed through the food they ate or the products they used. We know this because these blood samples were taken from the umbilical cords of fetuses[xxxii],[xxxiii].
WHOA. Did that blow your mind like it did mine?
These chemicals can be passed from mother to child. If we don’t care about protecting ourselves from these chemicals, we can pass them directly to our children before they are even born.
It is also important to protect our already born children, spouses, family and friends from exposure to these chemicals as much as we can in our homes so they don’t suffer health effects because of our lack of education and pro-activity.
What Can We Do About It
Again, the goal is not to scare you out of using cosmetics or eating non-organic vegetables ever again! Like I said, not every synthetic chemical used in our products is harmful. I simply want to highlight the reality of the health effects we are faced with because of exposure to certain chemicals.
My goal is to encourage you to limit the use of toxic products as much as you can for the health and well-being of you and your family. You can learn how to use products that nourish your body instead of harm it, but still work just as well.
Now you don’t have to go throw out all your makeup or home cleaning products right now. Start by taking one step at a time to make your environment a healthier place.
Here are some practical steps you can take to do so:
Keep learning. The fact that you read all the way through this means that finding healthy, natural alternatives to common household products is important to you. Keep reading my posts to learn practical ways to do this and how to identify products that may be toxic.
Use your resources. The EWG Skin Deep and Cleaner Databases and Campaign for Safe Cosmetics are great resources. They can be used to find out if your products have any toxic chemicals in them, give examples of safe products if you don’t want to go looking for them, and share information about chemicals to avoid.
Make your own! If you know exactly what is going into the products you are using, then you can have confidence that it will be safe to use. Check out my DIY projects here!Go organic when possible. I get that organic products can often be more expensive, so it is up to you to decide whether it is worth the price. You can still find great, all-natural products out there that aren’t certified organic. All natural ingredients will be much better than a chemical slough of nastiness.
Utilize my site! That is what Pure Elements is for. I created Pure Elements to empower you to live a healthy, beautiful, fulfilling life. If you want to learn more, follow me on Instagram, Pinterest and Facebook and sign up for my email list to get updated about new blog posts that go up!
There is no way we can completely eliminate all exposure to harmful chemicals unless we lived in a concrete room in the middle of nowhere and ate dirt and grass. Even then there is still the chance of exposure! But if we can take purposeful steps to start removing the harmful chemicals we have control over, then we are one step closer to living a healthier life and impacting the health of those around us.
Some of the resources below are repeated in order of use for ease of correlating with citation in blog post. On this post, I often cite the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics and EWG Skin Deep site resources as they have dozens and dozens of research studies on each item listed.
[i] “Exposures Add up – Survey Results | Skin Deep® Cosmetics Database | EWG.” Skin Deep Exposures Add up Survey Results Comments, www.ewg.org/skindeep/2004/06/15/exposures-add-up-survey-results/#.WhJBkkqnFPY.
[ii] Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition. “Laws & Regulations - FDA Authority Over Cosmetics: How Cosmetics Are Not FDA-Approved, but Are FDA-Regulated.” U S Food and Drug Administration Home Page, Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, www.fda.gov/Cosmetics/GuidanceRegulation/LawsRegulations/ucm074162.htm#Does_FDA_approve.
[iii] “Cleaning Supplies: Secret Ingredients, Hidden Hazards.” EWG, www.ewg.org/guides/cleaners/content/weak_regulation#.WhJGXUqnFPY.
[iv] “Lead In Lipstick.” Safe Cosmetics, www.safecosmetics.org/get-the-facts/regulations/us-laws/lead-in-lipstick/.
[v] “Lead In Lipstick.” Safe Cosmetics, www.safecosmetics.org/get-the-facts/regulations/us-laws/lead-in-lipstick/.
[vi]IFRA. IFRA Ingredients, 2015. Available online: http://www.ifraorg.org/en-us/ingredients#.VW-Cdc-6eUk.
[vii] “Fragrance.” Safe Cosmetics, www.safecosmetics.org/get-the-facts/chemicals-of-concern/fragrance/.
[viii] “Not So Sexy.” EWG, www.ewg.org/research/not-so-sexy#.WhJOVrpFxPZ.
[ix] “Environmental Toxins: How to Protect Yourself and Your Family.” Precision Nutrition, 6 May 2015, www.precisionnutrition.com/all-about-environmental-toxin.
[x] Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition. “Ingredients - Phthalates.” U S Food and Drug Administration Home Page, Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, www.fda.gov/cosmetics/productsingredients/ingredients/ucm128250.htm.
[xi] Boas, M, et al. “Thyroid Effects of Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals.” Molecular and Cellular Endocrinology., U.S. National Library of Medicine, 22 May 2012, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21939731.
[xii] “Phthalates.” Safe Cosmetics, www.safecosmetics.org/get-the-facts/chemicals-of-concern/phthalates/.
[xiii] “Triclosan.” Safe Cosmetics, www.safecosmetics.org/get-the-facts/chemicals-of-concern/triclosan/.
[xiv] “Triclosan.” Safe Cosmetics, www.safecosmetics.org/get-the-facts/chemicals-of-concern/triclosan/.
[xv] Veldhoen, N, et al. “The Bactericidal Agent Triclosan Modulates Thyroid Hormone-Associated Gene Expression and Disrupts Postembryonic Anuran Development.” Aquatic Toxicology (Amsterdam, Netherlands)., U.S. National Library of Medicine, 1 Dec. 2006, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17011055.
[xvi] Clayton, Erin M. Rees, et al. “The Impact of Bisphenol A and Triclosan on Immune Parameters in the U.S. Population, NHANES 2003–2006.” Environmental Health Perspectives, National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, Mar. 2011, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3060004/.
[xvii] “Environmental Toxins: How to Protect Yourself and Your Family.” Precision Nutrition, 6 May 2015, www.precisionnutrition.com/all-about-environmental-toxin.
[xviii] Smith, M T. “Advances in Understanding Benzene Health Effects and Susceptibility.” Annual Review of Public Health., U.S. National Library of Medicine, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20070208.
[xix] “Environmental Toxins: How to Protect Yourself and Your Family.” Precision Nutrition, 6 May 2015, www.precisionnutrition.com/all-about-environmental-toxin.
[xx] “Safe Household Cleaners: Choosing Safer Cleaners for Your Family.” Precision Nutrition, 24 July 2017, www.precisionnutrition.com/all-about-safe-cleaners.
[xxi] “Cleaning Supplies and Your Health.” EWG, www.ewg.org/guides/cleaners/content/cleaners_and_health#.WhJcHLpFxPZ.
[xxii] “Cleaning Supplies and Your Health.” EWG, www.ewg.org/guides/cleaners/content/cleaners_and_health#.WhJcHLpFxPZ.
[xxiii] “Safe Household Cleaners: Choosing Safer Cleaners for Your Family.” Precision Nutrition, 24 July 2017, www.precisionnutrition.com/all-about-safe-cleaners.
[xxiv] “Cleaning Supplies and Your Health.” EWG, www.ewg.org/guides/cleaners/content/cleaners_and_health#.WhJcHLpFxPZ.
[xxv] Boas, M, et al. “Thyroid Effects of Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals.” Molecular and Cellular Endocrinology., U.S. National Library of Medicine, 22 May 2012, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21939731.
[xxvi] Clayton, Erin M. Rees, et al. “The Impact of Bisphenol A and Triclosan on Immune Parameters in the U.S. Population, NHANES 2003–2006.” Environmental Health Perspectives, National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, Mar. 2011, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3060004/.
[xxvii] “Safe Household Cleaners: Choosing Safer Cleaners for Your Family.” Precision Nutrition, 24 July 2017, www.precisionnutrition.com/all-about-safe-cleaners.
[xxviii] Braun, Joe M., et al. “Impact of Early-Life Bisphenol A Exposure on Behavior and Executive Function in Children.” Pediatrics, American Academy of Pediatrics, Nov. 2011, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3208956/.
[xxix] “SKIN EXPOSURES & EFFECTS.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 30 Apr. 2012, www.cdc.gov/niosh/topics/skin/default.html.
[xxx] Padgett, Paige. The Green Beauty Rules: the Essential Guide to Toxic-Free Beauty, Green Glamour, and Glowing Skin: What to Toss, What to Try, and What to Buy. Health Communications, Inc., 2015.
[xxxi]“EWG's 10 Americans Presentation (Full-Length).” EWG, www.ewg.org/news/videos/ewgs-10-americans-presentation-full-length#.WhMr7kqnFPY.
[xxxii] “EWG's 10 Americans Presentation (Full-Length).” EWG, www.ewg.org/news/videos/ewgs-10-americans-presentation-full-length#.WhMr7kqnFPY.
[xxxiii] Padgett, Paige. The Green Beauty Rules: the Essential Guide to Toxic-Free Beauty, Green Glamour, and Glowing Skin: What to Toss, What to Try, and What to Buy. Health Communications, Inc., 2015.