As a nutritionist, I’m always educating my clients about becoming conscious of how chemicals and toxins enter our body via our diet and our mouth. Our awareness however needs to continue beyond our plate to all the other potential ways toxins and chemicals can enter our bodies. Whether through our nose and lungs with smells and airborne chemicals, our mouth through food and beverage, our eyes and ears with toxic situations, or our skin with anything we put on it or touch, there can be an overwhelming number of ways and potentially harmful ingredients that we need to become aware of. But like anything overwhelming, it’s about breaking it down into manageable pieces to determine what is in your control to change in a gradual, baby step manner. And here’s the place to start!
First though here’s the scary stuff to get your attention.
- Regulation of chemicals in our personal care products in Canada is nil. According to DavidSuzuki.org, ‘many chemical ingredients in cosmetics have never been tested for their effects on human health and the environment’. It’s often a case of innocent until proven guilty – and in the meantime it’s on our shelves and in our bodies. Many of the chemicals are flat-out carcinogens – adding to our body’s burden of things that can cause or contribute to cancer. It makes sense to use the precautionary principle when putting these products on your skin and in your body; if there is some inkling that a chemical might have a harmful effect, decrease your exposure now instead of waiting until it’s pulled off the shelf.
- Terms like ‘organic’, ‘natural’, and ‘pure’ are not regulated in the personal care industry. It’s up to you to do your due diligence to ensure the product lives up to your expectations.
- Many ingredients that are legal for use in Canada and the U.S. are banned in countries in Europe. Do they have different skin over there? No, so until our regulations catch up, avoid ingredients that are illegal elsewhere.
- Chemicals that are tested are done so individually, but there is rarely only one chemical that we’re exposed to at a time. Chemical synergy occurs: instead of the effects adding like 1+1=2, they can be magnified like 1+1=4 or 10. The accumulative effect is not tested. This is definitely a case where less is more; decreasing your amount number of products can decrease this synergistic effect.
Yikes – that’s a lot of potential health hazards that can be occurring in one’s bathroom.
We have become much more conscious of chemicals in our food, which is a fantastic huge step. We forget though that our skin is a very large and very absorptive surface. Often that’s the goal of our skin products – how well does it ‘rub in’ and not leave a residue? As our skin is also a major channel of elimination, blocking our skin and pores with products and purposefully stopping elimination of wastes with items like antiperspirants decreases our ability to release toxins, trapping them inside.
So where to start? Here are some steps to decreasing your toxin personal care load.
- Take a daily inventory of what you put on your skin, hair, and teeth. Are they all necessary? Can you eliminate a product or two? Watch videos like the Story of Cosmetics (http://storyofstuff.org/movies/story-of-cosmetics/) to get a better understanding of the problem.
- Evaluate your current product choices. Does it have an ingredient label? Full disclosure allows you to make more informed decisions. You can also use databases and apps like Skin Deep (http://www.ewg.org/skindeep/), Think Dirty (http://www.thinkdirtyapp.com/), Campaign for Safe Cosmetics (http://www.safecosmetics.org/get-the-facts/chemicals-of-concern/red-list/), or Environmental Defence’s Shopping Guide (http://environmentaldefence.ca/reports/just-beautiful-personal-care-products-pocket-shopping-guide) to determine if your current choices are harmful.
- Upgrade your products as you run out. Time for new toothpaste? Is there a less toxic option for you to try? The above databases are great for finding healthier alternatives. Try them out! Just like commercial mainstream products, they don’t all work for everyone, so don’t give up if one natural deodorant doesn’t work for you. The fewer toxins you put in your body, the less smelly you will be anyways!
- Make your own products at home. This can be a simple way to decrease toxic exposure as well as save you money. There are endless sites on line with simple, tested recipes, like the Wellness Mama (http://wellnessmama.com/category/beauty/) and David Suzuki’s Queen of Green (http://www.davidsuzuki.org/).
Not only are these healthful changes for you, they are important for the whole family. Children’s skin is four times more absorbable that adults, though toxic chemical levels are determined and product testing is done on adults. If you think about how these products enter your body through your skin, a great concept to start to think about is if you wouldn’t eat it, is it good to put on your skin?
Hopefully with this information instead of feeling overwhelmed and helpless, you feel enpowered to make a few easy changes to decrease your personal care product toxic load. Feel free to share recipes and how changes are going through our Facebook page. I look forward to hearing how your new adventures go!
Angela Wright, BSc, CNP, RNCP, is the Lead Nutritionist at InspireHealth, based out of the Vancouver Centre. She prides herself in putting into practice what she teaches – being conscious of food choices and their effects on the body, making gradual tweaks and upgrades to a healthier way of eating and living, and being kind to yourself while doing so. Before Ange discovered nutrition, she received her bachelor’s degree in Environmental Science, and has much interest and knowledge in the chemicals and toxins that are found in our everyday lives, and more importantly, how to decrease our exposure. If you are in Vancouver please join her for ‘Clean Body’ – part 2 of our Clean Living Series on May 21 from 2-4pm to learn practical steps to putting these changes into practice. Call the centre or drop by to register.