We’ve talked about body love, what it means, and how to become more comfortable in our own skin. Now we’re taking that to the next level by talking about what happens once our mindset is in place regarding our bodies and what we put in them. I like to think of this as an evolution because first we get the mind together, then we think differently about our bodies, then the body starts to shift, then we feel better, then we increase our awareness of what’s possible by getting exposure to new information, then with new information we make different and better decisions for our bodies.
This is exactly what happened for me. As I shared before in the “Loving the skin you’re in" blog post I was never quite comfortable in mine. There ended up being several reasons for this, but once I cracked the code, I realized I started feeling better. Now, I’ve always considered myself to be a healthy person, exercising and eating relatively well, but I see now that I was naive to the many layers beyond this that contribute to being healthy and well. You see, an autoimmune, or any diagnosis really, will do that to you. I shifted because I had to, but in the end it’s turned into a desire to give my body the best where possible.
Once I was able to move beyond mindset and make better decisions, it became about getting as much information as possible, then re-building my world so it was more supportive of what I knew and believed in. I had new information, so it was up to me to use it and find ways to integrate it into my life consistently. The farther I get on this body and wellness journey, the more I realize how much our environments and the products we use can make us sick and cause more stress than we need.
Ok, what should I know first?
We’ve talked about stress and how our bodies are subjected to different types of stress daily whether we know it or not. I’ve mentioned oxidative stress, which occurs from environmental factors, but contributes to the toxin load in the body. This can come from air, water, cleaning supplies, beauty products among others. When the body encounters these toxins, it absorbs into the cells and tissues, but once the systems realize what’s going on, the body immediately attempts to expel the toxins and get back in balance. But what if there’s a lot of toxins or toxin overload? Well, the body will kick into high gear to get them out, and sometimes there’s an effect. Skin changes, body odor changes, diarrhea, mood shifts, and congestion are all ways the body can respond to expel toxins. In order to get balance back, some systems have to work harder and others less so…and this is the result.
One of the things I didn’t know is that many of the products we use daily have ingredients that can cause our bodies to do things we don’t want. Painful periods, mood swings, acne, cancers, infertility, nervous and immune system issues, and more can be caused by products that contain carcinogens and endocrine disruptors. These are substances that prevent our body systems from talking to one another to perform optimally. I don’t know about you, but I know I’ve experienced some of these things. Painful periods…check. Mood swings…check. Nervous and immune system issues…check. And the products I consume can cause all of these things? Holy crap!!! That was my reaction when I started putting the pieces together. How could I not know this? Why is this not broadly distributed information? And how do I fix it? I don’t want all of this stuff in my body!
Now I want ALL of the information! Give it to me!
This information isn’t something I gathered through general curiosity. I began to increase my awareness of products through my exposure to and use of essential oils. What I’ve found interesting about that is the drive for the quality products and their ingredients causes one to become more inquisitive about how things are made. When in the oil world, there are oils (or combinations of them) for just about everything. You want to know where each is from and how it can be used to enhance your life. Whether something can be ingested or not, and why? What happens when an oil is added to something and then put in the body?
I know I became more curious about oils and how they interact with my body out of necessity, but it turned into a love affair of sorts. But my natural desire to learn and grow contributed to my expansion into oil infused products, and then the understanding that just like the origin of oils mattered, so did everything else I used. And I’ve also found that many of the people in these circles are here for health reasons, see results, and then see the benefits and don’t look back. It becomes a lifestyle and a desire to learn as much as possible so you can help yourself and others be as knowledgeable as possible about the world around us.
You have my attention, where are these things hiding?!
There are several common places to find culprits with potentially harmful chemicals. And one thing to be aware of is your location in the world. Different areas of the world consider certain substances to be more dangerous than others, so this is even more reason to do your research to understand what’s locally available and the regulations around your products. This one really blew my mind when I learned about it. Our local and national governments set the laws and regulations that determine the chemicals and ingredients that make it into our products. The “acceptable” levels of them and how/where they can be used. Sometimes this is for our own individual good, but other times…not. There are many interests that play into the products we have access to and that is something we need to be aware of.
I notice that when I travel and go to a supermarket there are differences in the products on the shelves. Even if some of the products are the same as here in the USA, the ingredients often are not. A great example of this is soft drinks. For the longest time, there were limited options when it came to available sizes for soft drinks (let’s just say medium (which would be 12oz) and up, but that has changed. Now there are smaller can sizes available, which has almost always been the case in Europe. You’ll also find that soft drinks taste different in the USA vs most other countries because of the ingredients used, but you’ll still have the same label. Even candy bars and eggs taste different!
Here are some of the most common places you’ll expect to see these sneaky (or not so sneaky) ingredients hidden:
- Cleaning - household cleaners, laundry detergents, dish soap
- Beauty/Personal Care - soaps, makeup, lotions, toothpaste, deodorant, hair products
- Food/pesticides - fresh produce and vegetables, water, food storage containers
- Other - candles, air fresheners
Ingredients to look out for
Knowing where to look for these products is only part of the battle. Many of these substances have multiple names depending on the product they’re in and how they’re being used. So this is why doing research, reading labels, and equipping yourself with accessible research is important to stay ahead of the game. Here are some of the common ingredients found in the products listed above to be aware of, but they are by no means an exhaustive list.
Parabens - Parabens are synthetic preservatives used in makeup, lotion, hair care products, shaving creams, toothpaste, suntan products, personal lubricant, and some deodorants. They are not regulated by the FDA, but used as microbial to prevent spoilage of products (https://www.fda.gov/cosmetics/cosmetic-ingredients/parabens-cosmetics). According to available studies they are safe for use in trace amounts as used in individual products. In 1984, it was originally determined that they were safe for consumption by the Cosmetic Industry Review (CIR) and then again verified in 2006 (https://www.cdc.gov/biomonitoring/Parabens_FactSheet.html).
Sulfates - These are used in shampoos, face and body cleansers, toothpaste, soaps, laundry detergent and household cleaners to help create the suds and lather we all love. They are, however, also used to clean and degrease heavy machinery in the manufacturing and construction industries. This means they are extremely powerful and may be stronger than our bodies actually need, deleting needed naturally produced substances, rather than supporting or helping them grow. There are 9 different types of sulfates, so be on the lookout for all of them )https://www.illumai.com/blogs/biome-beauty/what-are-sulfates).
Fragrance - This is a catch all used in products to make them smell good. Unfortunately, there’s no way to tell what’s actually included in this category. It is a category to look out for because if there are too many extra things to enhance the smell of a product, it usually means it’s far from natural and good for us.
Triclosan - This chemical was first registered as a pesticide in the US in 1969. It is a germ-killer commonly found in antibacterial soaps. In the United States it has been banned except for usage in toothpaste, hand sanitizer, and mouthwash, making it still pretty widely used in products. Exposure has been linked to allergies, asthma, and food sensitivities. Studies have linked this chemical to problems with the body’s thyroid hormone metabolism and could be a potential endocrine disruptor (https://www.beyondpesticides.org/resources/antibacterials/triclosan/health-effects).
Phthalates - These are a group of chemicals used to make plastics more durable. Phthalates are in hundreds of products, such as vinyl flooring, lubricating oils, and personal-care products (soaps, shampoos, hair sprays). Once they enter the bloodstream, they can aggravate allergy and asthma symptoms in some people and have been found to alter hormone levels. Human health effects due to exposure to phthalates is not clear, but they have been shown to affect the reproductive system of animals (https://www.cdc.gov/biomonitoring/Phthalates_FactSheet.html).
BPA - BPA stands for bisphenol A, an industrial chemical that has been used to make certain plastics and resins since the 1950s. You can find this in containers to store food and drinks, and even consumer goods. Some research has shown that BPA can seep into food or beverages from containers that are made with BPA. Exposure to BPA is a concern because of the possible health effects on the brain and prostate gland, and even possible links to increased blood pressure, type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. However, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has said that BPA is safe at the very low levels that occur in some foods (https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/expert-answers/bpa/faq-20058331).
Metals are also used in many of our products, sometimes hidden and sometimes not. When consumed (absorbed through the skin or ingested through the mouth) in large amounts, this can lead to hormone imbalances, metal poisoning, liver and kidney damage, among other things.
Ok, this is good. What can I do now that I know all of this?
Read labels - This is the easiest place to start. Now that you know some of the most common names, you can look for them in the products you use regularly. Most labels list ingredients in descending order, which means if a product has a lot of an ingredient it will be listed toward the top of the list.
Find and replace - This one seems obvious, right? Once we know we have harmful ingredients in our products, they simply must go. But what do we replace them with? For fruits and veggies you can buy organic or locally sourced foods. Think farmer’s market and potentially lesser known grocery chains. I also check the organic section of my normal grocery store to see if there are good options. For products, a little research is always helpful to obtain product reviews. I personally use many products infused with essential oils, so that is a route to take as well. Also, instead of throwing away old products, donating them to an organization or non-profit may be a good idea.
Be flexible - Sometimes finding and replacing products means changing the way you purchase your food and products. It may mean going to a new store or two because the ingredients are more cost effective or higher quality. It also may mean ordering from a farm or having food delivered. Being open to new and different options will be beneficial so you can find out what you like and what works for you and your family.
Add to your arsenal - If you aren’t able to access there are products that can support cleansing on a broader scale, you can try something small to support the products you already use. An example of this is to soak produce in baking soda water to remove pesticides before eating/cooking if you aren’t able to purchase organic.
Diet - Changing up your diet is a great way to support your body to filter out the chemicals from these pesky toxins and then build up your defenses so all of your systems are more resilient. Reducing processed foods as much as possible and eating whole foods is the best way to go here, but if that isn’t possible, read your labels carefully. You may consider foods and/or supplements that have increased antioxidants to assist your body in expelling the toxins that may be in your system. If you do this, you may want to consult a medical professional for guidance.
Read and educate - Do your research. Now that you have some keywords to be aware of in your products, you can do more digging and get more educated on this topic. You can go through your cabinets and see what is present in your most used products and then decide what you’d like to do about it. There are a number of websites and apps that exist to understand which products contain dangerous chemicals. Here are several that you can try to support your research, assessing your existing products and picking new ones.
- Think Dirty
- Environmental Working Group (EWG) Healthy Living
- Dirty Dozen
- Food Scores
- EWG Skin Guide
- Good Guide
- Bobby Approved
- Non-GMO Shopping Guide
This is such an important topic and we just scratched the surface! I hope you’ve found it helpful and are able to use this information to make at least one change in the products and foods you’re consuming to lessen the toxins in your life. If you have other information that you use or tips to share about your low/no-tox life, I’d love to hear it. Shoot me a note at firstname.lastname@example.org to share. And if you’d like some help taking the next step to clean up the toxins in your life, I’d love to chat with you. Click here to setup some time to talk.