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Cleaning up Toxin Exposure: Cosmetics, Cleaning Products and Toiletries

Toxins are all around us in our modern, industrial world, and our lifestyle choices are often a big culprit for increasing the amount of toxins that we are exposed to. It is more common for us to worry about the food we’re putting in our bodies than what we’re putting on our skin or exposing ourselves to when we clean our homes. Personal hygiene products, cosmetics and cleaning products contain a number of chemicals that have worrying effects on our health and wellbeing.

Taking steps to reduce our exposure to toxins by swapping them for more natural alternatives can go a long way towards avoiding the health risks associated with toxins.

Bathroom Products/Toiletries:

A lot of personal hygiene and toiletries contain some pretty nasty ingredients, which is worrying when we consider how many products we use on a daily basis. I read a statistic recently that the average women puts over 515 synthetic compounds onto her skin every day without even knowing it. Obviously some of these are safe, but many of them are not.

Here are just a few of the toxins you’re being exposed to in the bathroom:

  • Formaldehyde, which is often produced as a byproduct of ingredients found in deodorants, liquid soaps and shampoos.
  • Phthalates, which are an endocrine (hormone) disruptor and are known to mimic oestrogen and other hormones. This can have a negative flow-on effect on many processes in the body. You’ll find phthalates in many shower gels, shampoos, hairsprays, perfumes and nail polishes.
  • Sodium Lauryl Sulphate, which is found in most of the products that foam and lather, and is a common culprit for skin irritation. Its effects could be much worse though and there are fears that it could be carcinogenic.
  • Toluene, which is featured in hair gels, hairsprays and perfumes. It’s a neurotoxin that mimics the effects of oestrogen. It’s also been linked to liver damage and asthma.
  • Propylene glycol, which is another common ingredient in toiletries. It’s also used in industrial antifreeze!
  • Triclosan, which is another endocrine disruptor. Thanks to its antibacterial qualities, it’s included in products such as deodorants, hand soaps, toothpaste and mouthwash. It can potentially break down into dioxin, a carcinogen.

How to avoid these toxins: There are lots of natural and organic toiletry brands hitting the shelves and they’re a great, safe alternative. Check the labels carefully though as “natural” doesn’t necessarily mean toxin-free. There is a lot of ‘green-washing’ going on these days, where companies are jumping on the bandwagon of ‘low-tox’ by simply substituting one ‘nasty’ for another.

Makeup/Cosmetics

I hate to be the one to break it to you, but lots of your favorite cosmetics contain a whole host of toxins. We have already talked about some of the big ones like phthalates and Triclosan, but there are a few more to be concerned about too.

  • BHA and BHT are used as preservatives so that your cosmetics have a longer shelf life. These compounds are also endocrine disruptors and are linked to skin allergies.
  • Parabens are used as preservatives, and they can penetrate the skin very easily. So much so that traces of them have been found in breast cancer tissue! It’s thought that they can affect the reproductive system, the nervous system and the immune system, so their effects can be widespread.
  • Octinoxate is an endocrine disruptor that is often added to foundations.
  • Carbon black is found in a lot of eyeliners and has been put forward as a potential carcinogenic.
  • Siloxanes are often added to cosmetics to soften and moisturize but they’re another endocrine disruptor.

How to avoid toxins: Ideally, you want to be using products with as little of these types of ingredients as possible. Have a good look at the ingredients before you buy and avoid anything that you’re not sure about.

What you really want to look for is “clean beauty” brands and products. For example, clean beauty lipsticks are made using a range of natural oils, while powders can be made from cornstarch. There are some great brands around now, like Inika and Ere Perez.

Cleaners

Cleaning products are another common culprit for toxins, especially chemicals. This is a big worry when you consider that a lot of the time, you’re cleaning in areas with little ventilation such as bathrooms. This makes it a lot more likely that you’ll inhale chemicals from the products.

A few things to think about when it comes to cleaning products:

  • Fragrances are often added to laundry detergents and fabric softeners, which can irritate the respiratory system and are linked to asthma.
  • Diethanolamine (DEA) and triethanolamine (TEA) can become carcinogens.
  • 2-butoxyethanol is commonly found in window and glass cleaners and multi purpose cleaning sprays. It often causes a sore throat after it’s sprayed but it’s also linked to allergies and asthma.

Studies have shown that regular exposure to cleaning products can potentially reduce lung function.

How to avoid toxins: Make your own cleaning products with natural ingredients such as vinegar, baking soda and essential oils. It does require a bit more in the way of elbow grease but you get great piece of mind that you’re not risking your health.

Check ingredients using the Chemical Maze app: When unsure, there is a great app available that you can input ingredients into, and it will tell you if they are safe or not. I personally use Chemical Maze and find it easy to use, and helpful in pinpointing ingredients I want to avoid. If you’re interested, click here for the iPhone version or here for the Andrioid version.

Another option is the Environmental Working Group’s Skindeep cosmetics database. This is an American site that ranks cosmetics based on their safety profile. 

Additionally, many health food stores carry low-tox products, as do some online stores like Nourished Life. Some great brands to consider include ABODE, Dr Bronners, EnviroCare and EnviroClean, Koala Basics, Kin Kin Naturals and EcoStore.

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