Growing up, we would watch the Wonderful World of Disney on TV every Sunday night as a family. We’d all pile into the living room and the 6 of us kids would vie for a strategic and comfortable viewing spot in front of our black and white TV. There were no remote controls, no flat or big screens, no amazing sound – just an old set of rabbit ears that often needed adjusting!
During the program there were commercials, and I still remember quite a few of them. Dupont Chemical Company commercials promoted the concept of “better living through chemistry”. Those messages suggested that we could improve the quality of our lives with chemical advancements, with the underlying message that chemicals were “progress” and were not only beneficial, but safe, and something to be welcomed.
In the decades since, there have been horrific incidents of environmental contamination, and many human and animal deaths, diseases and health challenges connected to chemicals. Public awareness of the potential dangers of chemicals has risen, but is something we often leave to others. We have been led to believe that there are policies in place and agencies overseeing the safety of chemicals, especially when it comes to the products we regularly purchase. What comes to market and is available for purchase has been thoroughly tested and perfectly safe for us to use, right? Sadly, this is not the case.
In the U.S., the personal care product industry is industry-regulated, meaning they set their own standards (my translation: no regulation!). There are no requirements for manufacturers to test any individual ingredient for safety, nor do they have to test combinations of ingredients for safety. (If you’ve ever taken chemistry, you know that a single substance can be fine on its own but disastrous when combined with other substances!)
Manufacturers don’t even have to list all of their ingredients on product labels. So even if you are a master chemist and could understand the long list of ingredients on most personal care products, you could still purchase and use something that is potentially problematic without realizing.
There are stricter standards in place in other parts of the world, including the European Union, and international companies have to play by those rules if they want a piece of that market. So the big companies are capable of making safer products when they have to, but because it’s cheaper and easier not to, most of them don’t!
Everything you put on your skin gets absorbed into your body. “The average woman uses 12 personal care products daily, exposing her to an average of 168 chemicals EVERY DAY! Teens use even more.”1 If you haven’t yet transitioned to non-toxic products, your morning routine of washing, moisturizing, deodorizing, fixing your hair and applying your makeup is likely to be a “chemical bath”. The good news is that more and more non-toxic options come to market every day, so finding safe products is highly achievable.
Sometimes I see comments from people who aren’t concerned about toxins. They reason that we have the ability to detoxify chemicals within our bodies through our liver, kidneys and other mechanisms. While this is true, we are currently exposed to more chemicals than ever before. This interferes with proper function, reducing our body’s ability to remove toxins, leaving us vulnerable to health challenges. Given the messy circumstances we live in, I believe it is incredibly wise to reduce or eliminate exposure to as many toxins as possible. This approach can significantly reduce the drain on your body and help maintain its ability to continue working hard at detoxifying the things you have little to no control over.
You may suspect that I’m overstating the risk, especially since it’s likely that you’ve been using multiple personal care products for years and are seemingly fine. However, toxins build up over time, and your body will work hard to continue functioning no matter what. It can take years, even decades, of exposure to toxins before you experience health challenges.
Here are 10 common toxins that are likely lurking in your personal care products, and the threat(s) they pose:
~Parabens: Parabens are widely used preservatives that prevent the growth of bacteria, mold and yeast in cosmetic products. “Parabens possess estrogen-mimicking properties that are associated with increased risk of breast cancer.”
~Synthetic Colors: If you take a look at your product labels and notice FD&C or D&C, they represent artificial colors. “These synthetic colors are derived from petroleum or coal tar sources. Synthetic colors are suspected to be a human carcinogen, a skin irritant, and are linked to ADHD in children. The European Classification and Labeling considers it a human carcinogen and the European Union has banned it.”
~Fragrance: This particular category is pretty scary, because what does “fragrance” mean anyway? This term was created to protect a company’s “secret formula.” But as the consumer you could be putting on a concoction that contains tons of chemicals that are hazardous to your health. According to the Environmental Working Group (EWG) Skin Deep Database, fragrance mixes have been associated with allergies, dermatitis, respiratory distress and potential effects on the reproductive system. It can be found in many products such as perfume, cologne, conditioner, shampoo, body wash and moisturizers.
~Phthalates: A group of chemicals used in hundreds of products to increase the flexibility and softness of plastics. The main phthalates in cosmetics and personal care products are dibutyl phthalate in nail polish, diethyl phthalate in perfumes and lotions, and dimethyl phthalate in hair spray. They are known to be endocrine disruptors and have been linked to increased risk of breast cancer, early breast development in girls, and reproductive birth defects in males and females. Unfortunately, it is not disclosed on every product as it’s added to fragrances (remember the “secret formula” not listed), a major loophole in the law. They can be found in deodorants, perfumes/colognes, hair sprays and moisturizers.
~Triclosan: Triclosan is a widely used antimicrobial chemical that’s a known endocrine disruptor, especially for thyroid and reproductive hormones, and is a skin irritant. Studies raise concerns that triclosan contributes to making bacteria antibiotic-resistant. There isn’t enough evidence to support that washing with antibacterial soaps containing triclosan provides any benefit over washing with regular soap and water. Triclosan can be found in toothpastes, antibacterial soaps and deodorants.
~Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS) / Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLES): This surfactant can be found in more than 90% of personal care and cleaning products (think foaming products). SLS’s are known to be skin, lung, and eye irritants. The biggest concern regarding SLS is its potential to interact and combine with other chemicals to form nitrosamines, a carcinogen. These combinations can lead to a host of other issues such as kidney and respiratory damage. They can be found in shampoo, body wash/cleanser, mascara and acne treatment.
~Formaldehyde: Formaldehyde and formaldehyde-releasing preservatives (FRP’s) are used in many cosmetic products to help prevent bacteria growth. This chemical was deemed as a human carcinogen by The International Agency for Research on Carcinogens (IARC) and has been linked to occupational related cancers, namely nasal and nasopharyngeal. It is known to cause allergic skin reactions and may also be harmful to the immune system. It can be found in nail polish, body washes, conditioners, shampoos, cleansers, eye shadows and nail polish treatments.
~Toluene: A petrochemical derived from petroleum or coal tar sources, you may see it on labels listed as benzene, toluol, phenylmethane or methylbenzene. Toluene is a potent solvent able to dissolve paint. It can affect your respiratory system, cause nausea and irritate your skin. Expecting mothers should avoid exposure to toluene vapors as it may cause developmental damage in the fetus. Toluene has also been linked to immune system toxicity. It can be found in nail polish, nail treatments and hair color/bleaching products.
~Propylene glycol: Propylene glycol is a small organic alcohol commonly used as a skin-conditioning agent. It’s classified as a skin irritant and penetrator. It has been associated with causing dermatitis as well as hives in humans. These sensitization effects can be manifested at propylene glycol concentrations as low as 2%. It can be found in moisturizers, sunscreen, makeup products, conditioners, shampoo and hair sprays.
~Sunscreen Chemicals: These chemicals function as a sunscreen agent, to absorb ultraviolet light. They are endocrine disruptors and are believed to be easily absorbed into the body. They may also cause cellular damage and cancer. Common names are benzophenone, PABA, avobenzone, homosalate and ethoxycinnmate. They can be found in sunscreen products.2
And this is only 10 of the potential hazards out of the 168 chemicals that the average woman is exposed to EVERY DAY! I hope it helps you understand how critical it is for you to review what you are currently using and be motivated to find the best quality, least toxic personal care products you can find.
If this is all new to you, you are probably feeling pretty ticked off about what you’ve unknowingly been exposing yourself to. And it’s also likely that you’re overwhelmed right now and unsure about what to do next. Take a deep breath – I’ve got your back!
One of my all-time favorite resources is the Environmental Working Group and their Skin Deep Cosmetics Database. This is available to everyone free of charge and lists a huge number of personal care products in many different categories.
Your first step is to take inventory of every product you use and look them all up in the EWG database, or download their app and use the bar code scanner on your phone. If it’s in their database, the product will pop up quickly on your screen and show you the rating. Their personal care product rating system is like traffic lights: 0-2 is green and least toxic, 3-6 is yellow and has potential risks, 7-10 is red and the most risky. It will also list the ingredients in the product and rate whether each individual ingredient is non-toxic or risky. What EWG has undertaken with this database is an enormous task. I imagine there are weaknesses or gaps in their review process, but it is the best tool we consumers have for evaluating and finding less toxic options in personal care products.
Don’t panic if you have a lot of products that show up as a 3 and above! You don’t have to change everything at once. I suggest you start hunting for better solutions to your most toxic products so that you’ll have a new, non-toxic option ready to purchase as your current products start to run low. You can use the EWG database to find better options, or take a look at my comprehensive list of my current favorite non-toxic options here.
There can be a fair amount of trial and error with the process of switching products, as it can take several tries to find products that will work well for your skin and hair type. While patience is required, replacing any toxic options in your personal care products is well worth the effort! There are so many toxins in and around us that we can’t control, and all toxins can create and contribute to health struggles, so controlling the things you can is both money and time well invested! And since high quality food is expensive and non-negotiable, I try to be more frugal with my personal care product purchases. There’s a wide range of prices and I see no reason to buy a $50 skin product when there are plenty of $20 and under options out there. I also like products that only require a small amount in order to be effective. The initial price tag may be a bit higher, but if it lasts for months, then it’s still an economical option.
Don’t forget to include feminine hygiene products in your evaluation! Regular pads and tampons can contain plastic, pesticides, bleaches (to make them bright white), and GMO’s (genetically modified organisms). The bleaching process can create dioxins, a heavy duty industrial toxin. Manufacturers don’t have to disclose their processes and ingredients, so it’s likely that there are other potential hazards as well. In addition to contributing to toxic overloads, these substances can also disrupt other bodily functions, including hormone balance. And they can be skin irritants, which you may have already experienced. My personal favorite options are on my comprehensive product list.
Non-toxic options are becoming easier to find, and more choices become available every day. At the same time, the potential insults to our bodies and our amazing Mother Earth are more prevalent than ever. Your choices matter deeply, but it is possible to be well manicured with stylish hair, makeup and other fun options while still being true to a clean, healthy lifestyle that supports your precious health!
1, March 2018, https://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2015/05/13/toxic-chemicals-cosmetics.aspx
2, March 2018, https://www.huffingtonpost.com/vanessa-cunningham/dangerous-beauty-products_b_4168587.html
A lot of great information comes my way through the organizations and individuals I choose to be connected with. But it’s rare that I find anything with the positivity I try to live by. That’s why I knew I had to share this article with you. Many thanks to Tim Gardner and Ridge Shinn for bringing this piece to my attention! Maple Hill is one of the brands of organic whole milk plain yogurt that I regularly purchase, and one of the top rated brands by the Cornucopia Institute in their yogurt scorecard.
Why More Farmers Are Making the Switch to Grass-Fed Meat and Dairy
March 22, 2017
Cows graze at Dharma Lea Farm in Sharon Springs, N.Y. Advocates of grass-grazing cattle say it’s better for the environment and the animals. But there’s another upside: Grass-fed meat and dairy fetch a premium that can help small farms stay viable.
Courtesy of Maple Hill Creamery
Though he didn’t come from a farming family, from a young age Tim Joseph was fascinated by the idea of living off the land. Reading magazines like The Stockman Grass Farmer and Graze, he “got hooked on the idea of grass-fed agriculture — that all energy and wealth comes from the sun,” he explains, “and the shorter the distance between the sun and the end product,” the higher the profit to the farmer.
Joseph wanted to put this theory to the test, so in 2009, he and his wife Laura launched Maple Hill Creamery, an organic, all grass-fed yogurt company in upstate New York. He quickly learned what the market has demonstrated: Demand for grass-fed products currently outstrips supply.
Grass-fed beef is enjoying a 25 to 30 percent annual growth rate, while sales of grass-fed yogurt and kefir have in the last year increased by over 38 percent, compared with a drop of just under 1 percent in the total yogurt and kefir market, according to natural and organic market research company SPINS.
Joseph’s top priority became getting his hands on enough grass-fed milk to keep customers satisfied, since his own 64-cow herd wasn’t going to suffice.
Tim Joseph, 44, founding farmer and CEO of Maple Hill Creamery, turned his dream of living off the land into reality through his grass-fed yogurt company.
Courtesy of Maple Hill Creamery
His first partnership was with Paul and Phyllis Van Amburgh, owners of the Sharon Springs, N.Y., farm Dharma Lea. The Van Amburghs, too, were true believers in grass-fed. In addition to supplying milk from their own 85-head herd, they began to help other farmers in the area convert from conventional to certified organic and grass-fed in order to enter the Maple Hill supply chain. Since 2010, the couple has helped close to 125 small dairy farms convert to grass-fed, with more than 80 percent of those farms coming on board during the last two years.
All this conversion has helped Maple Hill grow 40 to 50 percent every year since it began, says Joseph, with no end in sight.
Joseph has learned that a farmer has to have a certain mindset to successfully convert. But convincing open-minded dairy people is actually not that hard, when you look at the economics.
Grass-fed milk can fetch up two-and-a-half times the price of conventional milk. Another factor is the squeeze that conventional dairy farmers have felt as the price of grain they feed their cows has gone up, tightening their profit margins. By replacing expensive grain feed with regenerative management practices — grazing animals on grasses coaxed from the pastureland’s latent seed bank, and fertilized by the cows’ own manure — grass-fed farmers are completely insulated from spikes in the price of feed.
Champions of this type of regenerative grazing also point to its animal welfare, climate and health benefits: Grass-fed animals live longer out of confinement. Grazing herds stimulate microbial activity in the soil, helping to capture water and sequester carbon. And grass-fed dairy and meat have been shown to be higher in certain nutrients and healthy fats.
In the grass-fed system, farmers are also not subject to the wildly fluctuating milk prices of the international commodity market. The unpredictability of global demand and the lag-time it takes to add more cows to a herd to meet demand can result in events like the recent cheese glut. Going grass-fed is a “safe refuge,” says Joseph, a way for “family-scale farms to stay viable.”
“Usually a farmer will get to the point where financially, what they’re doing is not working,” says Paul Van Amburgh. That’s when they call Maple Hill. If the farm is well managed, has enough land, and the desire to convert is sincere, a relationship can begin.
Through regular regional educational meetings, a large annual meeting, individual farm visits and thousands of phone calls, the Van Amburghs pass on the principles of pasture management. Maple Hill signs a contract pledging to buy the farmer’s milk at a guaranteed base price, plus quality premiums and incentives for higher protein, butterfat and other solids.
While Maple Hill’s conversion program is unusually hands-on and comprehensive (Joseph calls sharing his knowledge network through peer-to-peer learning “a core piece of our culture”), it is just one of a growing number of businesses committed to slowly changing the way America farms.
Last summer, Massachusetts grass-fed beef advocate Ridge Shinn launched Big Picture Beef, a network of small grass-fed beef farms in New England and New York that is projected to bring to market 2,500 head of cattle from more than 125 producers this year.
Early indications are that Shinn will have no shortage of farm members. Since he began to informally announce the network at farming conferences and on social media, he’s received a steady stream of inquiries from interested farmers.
Shinn says he will provide services ranging from formal seminars to on-farm workshops on holistic management, to “one-on-one hand-holding and an almost 24/7 phone hotline” for farmers who are converting. In exchange, he guarantees an above-market price for each animal and, for maximum traceability, a calf-to-customer electronic ear tag ID system like that used in the European Union.
Though advocates portray grass-fed products as a win-win situation for all, they do have downsides.
Price, for one: Joseph says his products are priced 10 to 20 percent above organic versions, but depending on the product chosen, compared to non-organic conventional yogurt, consumers could pay a premium of 30 to 50 percent or more for grass-fed.
As for the meat, Shinn says his grass-fed hamburger will be priced 20 to 25 percent over the conventional alternative. But a peek at the prices on online grocer Fresh Direct suggests a grass-fed premium of anywhere from 35 to 60 percent.
And not every farmer has the option of going grass-fed: For both beef and dairy production, it requires, at least in the beginning, more pastureland. Grass-fed beef production tends to be more labor intensive as well.
But Shinn counters that if you factor in the hidden cost of government corn subsidies, environment degradation, and decreased human health and animal welfare, grass-fed is the more cost-effective model. “The sun provides the lowest cost of production and the cheapest meat,” he says.
Another grass-fed booster spurring farmers to convert is EPIC, which makes meat-based protein bars. Founders Taylor Collins and his wife, Katie Forrest, used to be vegan endurance athletes; now they’re advocates of grass-fed meat. Very soon after launching EPIC’s most successful product – the Bison Bacon Cranberry Bar – Collins and Forrest found they’d exhausted their sources for bison raised exclusively on pasture.
“When we started digging into the supply chain,” says Collins, “we learned that only 2 to 3 percent of all bison is actually grass-fed and grass-finished. The rest is feed-lot confined and fed grain and corn.”
So two years ago, the company created a secondary, clearly labeled line of “natural” bars using animals that had eaten grain as well as grass. Collins wrote this post to explain the move to customers.
But after General Mills bought EPIC in 2016, Collins and Forrest suddenly had the resources they needed to expand their supply chain. So the company teamed up with Wisconsin-based rancher Northstar Bison. EPIC fronted the money for the purchase of $2.5 million worth of young bison that will be raised according to its grass-fed protocols, with a guaranteed purchase price.
The message to young people who might not otherwise be able to afford to break into the business, explains Collins, is, “‘You can purchase this $3 million piece of land here, because I am guaranteeing you today you will have 1,000 bison on it.’ We’re bringing new blood into the old, conventional ranching ecosystem, which is really cool to see.”
There’s more than enough bad news to go around these days, but there are lots of people who are trying to do the right thing. Let’s focus on the good that is happening in the world, and support those who align with our values and goals. Your purchasing dollars are extremely powerful and can go a long way to supporting the changes you want to see in the world! I encourage you to support farms like Maple Hill, by purchasing their products, and looking for other companies who are doing good things in the world. You can make a difference, and even small steps can lead to big change over time.