A Little About My History
So, like many people, I have allergies. I may have had them all my life, but it wasn't until I really pursued getting medical treatment, that I eventually discovered that many of my 'colds' I had as a teenager (living in an overall, fairly dirty house in a rural area, with two double-coated dogs, a cat, rabbits (and that was the pared-down version, because prior to that we had three dogs, rabbits, a horse, and no less than a dozen cats at any given time - but they all lived outside, so at least there's that)... surrounded by woods, trees and plants, and with two parents who, let's just say, cleaning was not their priority. There were books to read and things to think about. The carpet, and cigarette-stained wood-panelled walls, and wood chimney full of tar, and multiple families of mice my stepfather was not only allowing to thrive but feeding, were not even remotely on the list of priorities.
Family life was anything but serene. Volatile would not be an exaggeration. So it was a blessing [and smart decision], for all of us, when I managed to scrimp up enough savings (a few months' worth of rent and living expenses) and left, the spring following graduating from high school. It was a turning point in the relationship between me and my less-than-parental stepfather. But for a while, I would go back pretty regularly, and the more space I got from them, the more I diverged in how I, myself, wanted to live. As if I didn't already know it before, it confirmed that I like things clean and orderly. It wasn't a coping mechanism so much (though I suppose a little), as just my inherent natural preference. I often cleaned up after them, not the other way around. Sometimes these were considered "part of [my] duty as a member of the family", but what it really felt like was like I was cleaning up after the children.
Anyway, I took pity on my mother, who for whatever reasons, both physical and psychological, just wasn't up to any deep cleaning. So when she asked, when I visited, if I would wash the windows, vacuum up the dog hair, etc., etc., I often did. It was then that I noticed the pattern - they almost always coincided with an allergy attack. 'Dust' (which is really just a softer euphemism for skin dander, dust mites, etc. - ewww), pollen, pet hair, chemicals, noxious fumes - they caused massive allergic reactions every time I agitated them. Me agitating them, agitated my immune system. Big time. It wasn't anaphylactic, thankfully, but it was pretty much an all-out attack, and the only thing I could do was dose myself with antihistamines, pseudoephedrine, and corticosteroids, by the fistful, and go to bed. Often, by the time I woke up, I could breathe again. Though not always.
So I've always been sensitive. Emotionally, physiologically, sensorially. At some point, I started calling myself 'the canary in the coalmine', an old mining-industry reference which means the first-line indicator of something being amiss in the environment. More than a decade later, after dozens and dozens of sinus infections that turned chronic, I was finally able to get sinus surgery, and it changed my life. My quality of life, in that respect, is better than it's ever been (although new problems crop up, of course. That's life. And death.)
What this means is that I have an inherently sensitive system. It's not good, convenient, or advantageous, and it's often simply an unnecessary reaction to what the immune system deems a threat; but it's a cross I have to bear. We all have our own health battles, genetically, geographically, environmentally, so I don't spend time pitying myself. It is what it is. What it has resulted in is a careful avoidance, as much as possible, of chemicals, toxins, pets, pollens, and anything else known to be carcinogenic or questionably-safe. I clean my kitchen and bath countertops several times per day, but I rarely use chemicals to do so. I don't like many perfumes, I buy unscented and hypoallergenic products whenever I can, as pretty much most things do have an odour, no matter what the manufacturers claim. So when a documentary showed up on the TV, called 'Toxic Beauty' I watched it; now, twice, and it was that, that prompted me to write this.
So let's talk about cleansing, personal care, and beauty products.
Things the Industry Doesn't Want You to Know
I'm not one for hyperbole. As tempting as it is sometimes, I object to it philosophically. So I really considered whether I would use this phrase... and decided on 'yes': Our everyday products are killing us. And before they do that, they're contaminating us with rashes, burns, tumours, hair loss, infertility, early onset menopause, gynaecomastia (aka 'man boobs'), disrupting our endocrine and hormonal systems, cancer, and shortening our lifespans. (And just because we live long nowadays, comparatively, doesn't necessarily mean we live well in those later years.)
Walk into any retail store selling row upon row of beauty and health care products, and what do you see? Essentially, claim upon claim, ‘We can make you better, more beautiful, healthier, reverse aging, turn back time. Essentially, we can rebuild you, if only you buy our product.’
If there is one takeaway it is this: don't trust them. You cannot trust them. But they wouldn't put a product out unless it was safe... right? Wrong. That is exactly what they are doing. Why? Because it makes a whole lot of people a whole lot of money. The Global Beauty and Personal Care Market was valued at USD 422.72 billion in 2020 and is expected to reach USD 558.12 billion, growing with the CAGR of 4.82% by 2026. The per capita expenditure on beauty and personal care is strong, and growing stronger every year.
And so are cancer rates. Why is cancer the number one killer, when based on whole lifetimes? Is it really simply due to a natural decay of cells and systems, one of the byproducts of increasing longevity?
Daily life today is filled not just with the toxins we can see and smell, but it’s in the foods we eat, laden with antibiotics given to livestock to make them grow more efficiently, with more mass (sold by the pound) and fend off disease from overcrowding; and pesticides in the produce we eat.
Lead exposure (prevalent in many of these products) is associated with ADHD.
Cancer has potentially always been with us. It was there in ancient Egypt, ancient Greece, but the rate of increase today is unprecedented. It has now been proven that breast cancer cells grow faster and stronger when in the presence of parabens, heavy metals, and endocrine disruptors. From everything I've read, I believe the products we consume, not just genetic and environmental factors, is a key reason cancer rates have effectively skyrocketed.
Unless something is done on an infrastructure level, it is predicted we will see exponentially more cases of allergies, endocrine disruption, hormone disruption, infertility, cancer, neurodevelopmental disorders, and birth defects.
And... the industrial processes that make some of the additives in these seemingly benign products are the same processes involved in chemical warfare and biological weaponry.
What's Your 'Chemical Body Burden'?
What poisons are in your body? That is the question, of which you don’t know the answer. And why should you? The answer is being deliberated shielded from you.
How many products do you use, put on, and ingest, each day? The more you use, the higher the toxins, and the higher your risk of adverse health effects. It's called your 'chemical body burden.'
We all have relatively high, relatively constant, levels of chemicals in our bodies. They mimic our own naturally-occurring hormones, but unfortunately, disrupt, distort, degrade, and alter our hormonal, metabolic, and neurologic systems. In small doses, the body can deal with them, expelling through through the liver and eventually outside the body.
The issue is not only the volume of toxins in each product, or the total load when combined; it is that each and every day, we unknowlingly re-up yet again, and thus, the toxin levels remain high, over time breaking down our body’s natural defences, and ability to ‘clean house.’ The constant re-exposure is key. We are unwittingly marinating ourselves in chemicals.
So the topic of beauty, on a molecular level, is neither light, nor meaningless. And it is not a female-only problem.
Who's at Risk?
Everyone. Every single person on the planet who uses any hygiene, beauty, or personal care products.
Even bath products 'specially designed' for kids sometimes contain these very toxins, and children are literally soaking in them.
Baby boys are very, very, susceptible to estrogenic compounds. Exposure either before birth, in the womb, or just after birth can have profound effects on hormonal reproduction in men. Several epidemiologic studies indicate male reproductive disorders have become more prevalent in the last 50 years. The incidence of testicular cancer has increased, and, at the same time, sperm counts appear to have declined, although geographic variations tend to blur the picture. (Remember all the recent talk about plummeting male hormones? It's true. Male Although 'soy boy' is a myth.) Even natural substances such as essential oils are powerful endocrine disruptors. Male breast growth is linked to endocrine disrupting chemicals in lavender and tea tree oil.
What will happen to children exposed to these chemicals during those vitally important early years? We don’t know for sure, but we do know that toxins can have a lifelong impact on children, and even low levels affect brain development.
Who's Most at Risk?
- People who work in factories, packaging and producing
- People who work in the cosmetics, nail, and hair industries
- People who use skin lighteners. There are cases of mercury poisoning due to use of skin lighteners. (Not to mention the lasting psychological effects of attempting to achieve some 'beauty standard' counter to one's genetic makeup)
- Women of colour are exposed to higher levels of toxic ingredients in cosmetics due to the darker pigments necessary to achieve these tones
How just is a world where you can die simply from working in the business of applying these products, having done nothing wrong other than putting your faith in governments supposedly meant to protect you?
What Types of Products?
- Shampoo & conditioner
- Soap, shower gel
- Bath products for babies and children
- Lotions and creams
- Nail polish
- Shaving cream
- Essential oils (especially lavendar and tea tree)
- 'Just For Men' beard dye
- Etc. etc.
Home cleaning products are another big culprit and another area of products where the less you use, the better off you'll be. Hot water, steam, vinegar, and the occasional bleach, can take you far, and if done often enough.
Your kitchen sponge or damp dish cloth has more germs than your toilet. Use paper towels, primarily, and for any cooked on or grease issues, the method is more important than the chemical.
Avoid air fresheners. They cover up problems; they don't fix them. Scented oils, patchouli, and Febreze, for example, all mask odours. They is no 'magic formula' to actually 'neutralize' germs.
Scented candles also contain trace amounts of toxins that, when in closed environments (a home where the windows are not opened regularly), cause a notable level of toxins. You can have candles, you just need to open the windows regularly, as well.
What are good are enzyme cleaners. They're very useful for treating protein stains - basically anything that comes out of your body or your pets. Try them first, preferably shortly after a stain is noticed, before reaching for chemicals. And as with beauty products, avoid aerosols.
So use as few products as possible, and secondarily, buy as many plants are you can (potted, not cut.) Plants are incredibly efficient at combatting and neutralizing minor toxins. They also bring the outdoors in, add some life, and show you care about your home and quality of life.
Innocent Until Proven Guilty
The world operates with what is called a post-market regulatory system. Meaning, the product is put onto the market first, and then if there are incidences, only then is when the regulatory system kicks in.
Thanks to corporations’ deep pockets and an often corrupt system of government oversight (I'm talking to you, proponents of 'Less government!'), we now live in a world where the products we use and consume are awarded the fortunate [unwritten] label ‘innocent until proven guilty.’ We put them into use, and later discover – and ask – if they are good for our health.
Why take such a risk? Well, on the consumer end, because we don’t even know of the risks. We presume that the everyday products made as our ‘health care products’ will be safe, otherwise, why would they be allowed to be put on to market? The answer is...
The Beauty Industry & [Lack of] Regulation: Worse Than Big Tobacco
The best available science points to the cosmetics industry as being even bigger than the tobacco industry, because we’re talking about thousands of different chemicals, most of which have not been adequately tested.
The European Unions is banning 1394 chemicals.
Canada is banning 459.
The U.S. is banning 11.
Labels do not disclose what is in perfume, aroma, or fragrance. Those catchall terms conceal a range of hazardous chemicals. Why are there rules for what chemicals we spray on crops and food, but no rules for what we spray on ourselves?
The $84 Billion U.S. domestic cosmetic industry is regulated, currently, by about a page and a half of federal law. The FDA is putting its faith in an industry to self-police through a panel called the Cosmetic Ingredient Review, funded by the very industry it claims to oversee. It reviewed only 11% of the more than 10,000 ingredients contained in cosmetics.
Lawmakers (mostly Democrats) have tried for decades to reform this essentially unregulated industry, but pretty much every time they introduced legislation that would require stricter regulation, the industry fought back and said, essentially, ‘We will regulate ourselves.’ What the industry wants is for people to use their products, without any governmental oversight or regulation, and that is, essentially, what they are getting.
What Toxins Do We Need to be Concerned About?
- Heavy metals such as lead and mercury
Many people have been alerted and are catching on to the dangers of some of these chemicals and metals, so what does the industry do? They sneakily replace them, rename them, or change to another version.
Examples: Parabens have been substituted with methylchloroisothiazolinone and formaldehyde. Formaldehyde is a fantastic, slow-release preservative, and they didn't want to give it up, so they gave it a new name, so that consumers would not know it was still just actually good old, nasty, classic, formaldehyde.
So What's the Solution? What Can You Do?
1. Look at the ingredient list on every product you might purchase. Find out what to avoid
2. Seek out organic products. [And note that 'natural' is not a regulated term and means very little. Natural products may be better, but there is no true accountability regulating the term, specifically]
3. Avoid aerosol sprays
4. Avoid products using animal testing in their research & development
5. Contact your lawmakers and push for regulatory change
6. But mainly... use as few products as possible
Then ask yourself, what is your health worth to you? Your quality of life?
And then, what is your appearance worth to you? And how intoxicating you smell? What is the cost of being pretty and put-together? Is your self-esteem based on how you look, or smell, or how soft your skin, how smooth your wrinkles? What lengths are you willing to go to achieve such social standards of beauty? Is your value in the 'prestige' name brands you wear, or in your own name and the person you have worked to become?
Makeup, once used more to enhance natural beauty, has now taken off as something aspirational. That shouldn't be much of a surprise, as quite often, beauty is aspirational. Beauty is idealized. And, apparently the beauty industry has done such an efficient and persuasive job of convincing girls and women that perfection is possible... if only juuust out of reach... now. But the right product will surely solve that.
The products are not evil - inanimate objects cannot be evil - but the same cannot be said for corporations and producers who knowingly put out products proven to be harmful. Products which are counterfeited and even contain rat feces, from the unclean warehouse conditions in third world and developing nations, where the counterfeit products are often produced. So next time you have your hand on that bottle, or finger hovering over the online shopping cart, or are tempted by the words 'New' or 'Improved' or 'Discounted' or a price that seems too good to be true, ask yourself what you're willing to give up, for another chance to look good, or smell good. We need to stop sacrificing our long-term health for what amounts to the ultimately unnecessary. And if you're ever around me or someone sensitive to them like me, and we start sneezing uncontrollably, or saying "Something doesn't smell right" if I were you, I'd stop using that product, and follow us out of the building.
And remember these words: Q: “Are the products safe?” A: “I cannot say. I cannot say everything is safe. Everything is relative.” – Dr. David Kessler, former Commissioner, American Food & Drug Administration (you know, the ones apparently assigned to protect the American public.)
Before this documentary could be finished, three of the interviewees died from exposure to these products. "How many more people will be affected?" A: "Millions."
One Final Word About Talc
Talcum powder is not safe. Use of talc-based body powder (aka Johnson & Johnson’s Baby Powder, and all other brands) is carcinogenic and directly linked to ovarian cancer.
If you are using it, stop immediately, throw it out, and if you have, or have beat cancer, I you may also want to seek litigation, as many other women have done. There are thousands of women across Canada and the U.S. who have joined class action lawsuits against J&J.
Talc is a mined product, but just because it comes from the earth does not mean it’s safe. It’s a magnesium silicate, the same chemical in asbestos. In addition, it has silica and heavy metals – all known carcinogens. It affects the uterus, colon, spleen, intestines, all of which may have to be removed.
J&J has known about this for decades. The internal documentation goes all the way back to the 1960s. They began looking for a replacement then, but never finding one, they carried on. Instead they said, "Yes, it’s safe," and then ten years down the line, a young person asks "But why did I get cancer? There’s no history of cancer in my family."