What’s In Your Body? You’d Be Surprised…

This is the first post on the subject of body burdens (check the Terms and Ideas page located on the top menu of the blog). Unknown to many people, the products we use today now contain hundreds of different synthetic chemicals that are harmful to the environment and human health. Chemicals are easily absorbed into the bloodstream through the skin and can have damaging effects on internal organs and have been linked to various cancers. People get a secondary dosage through consuming contaminated food and water; communities living closer to industrial and manufacturing plants are at an even high risk of exposure due to the increased concentration of chemicals in their water. Many of these body burdens can remain in a person’s bloodstream their entire life, and in pregnant women these chemicals are transferred to their developing fetuses.

Why are these chemicals still being used?

Many people ask the question that if these chemicals are so dangerous, why are they still being used, and more importantly, how come no one is doing anything about it? As I see it, there are four main reasons that this cycle continues without changes:

  1. They are cheaper or the only ingredient that will work.
  2. The EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) is flawed in regulating chemical contamination.
  3. The FDA does not have the authority to regulate chemicals used in cosmetics, and this is connected to a lack of proper, publicly advertised health risk testing.
  4. Lack of public awareness or activism to protest their use.

These chemicals are cheaper than their organic counterparts, or provide qualities that no organic ingredient could provide. Companies are putting their need for profits above public health. Propylene/Butylene Glycol is a cheap substitute for glycerin, or glycerol, which is an ingredient found in soap and it relatively low in toxicity. Propylene glycol has been linked to brain, liver and kidney abnormalities and is considered highly toxic by the EPA.

The EPA has been called out time and time again for not truly putting the public and environmental interests above large corporations. The EPA is an agency under the executive branch of the government, and it is up to them to interpret environmental statutes; basically they are in charge of the details of a law, which leaves a lot of flexibility. The EPA lacks the authority to enforce many regulations and requirements. One of the biggest issues that has been in the news the past few years has to do with the EPA’s regulations on water quality. The article “Clean Water Laws are Neglected, at a Cost in Suffering” by Charles Duhigg, which is part of a series by the New York Times called Toxic Waters, examines water pollution caused by toxic chemicals. The article opens with the following frightening scenario, occurring right here in the United States:

Jennifer Hall-Massey knows not to drink the tap water in her home near Charleston, W.Va. In fact, her entire family tries to avoid any contact with the water. Her youngest son has scabs on his arms, legs and chest where the bathwater — polluted with lead, nickel and other heavy metals — caused painful rashes. Many of his brother’s teeth were capped to replace enamel that was eaten away.

The chemicals found their way into the ground as a result of near-by coal plants. The EPA and the regulations laid out in the Clean Water Act imply that things like this should not occur. Unfortunately, they do. According to the New York Times research, between 2004 and 2009, manufacturing plants and other industrial sites violated the Clean Water Act regulations over half a million times. These violations manifested as dumping toxic chemicals at high concentrations and neglecting to report emission levels. The EPA has failed to punish violators as they continue to break laws that are meant to protect public health and well-being. Under the Obama Administration and the EPA’s new administrator Lisa P. Jackson, we are hoping for change. Given the current circumstances, the environment seems to be on the back burner unfortunately. You can read this full article, which was written in 2009, but still provides much-needed insight into regulatory problems of the EPA: Clean Water Laws are Neglect, at a Cost in Suffering.

The FDA is not doing anything —- the FDA is in charge of cosmetic regulations, but they do not actually regulate what goes into cosmetics before they are released to the public. Unlike their control over food and drugs, the FDA does not have the authority to regulate what is used in cosmetics. According to the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, approximately 89% of the ingredients/chemicals used in cosmetics are not tested officially for possible related health problems. Visit the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics for a more detailed explanation of the FDA’s control on cosmetic ingredients.

Deformed frogs, such as this one, are becoming more common as a result of toxic chemicals in water.

The last aspect of the continued use of these chemicals lies in the lack of public awareness. Most people do not think about what they put on their skin, hair, nails, etc…and assume that it is safe. At a certain point you can’t drive yourself crazy since these chemicals are so prevalent, but the public should be outraged that companies are getting away with dousing them in cancer-causing chemicals. The Environmental Working Group is a non-profit organization dedicated to supporting public awareness and pushing for public health and environmental laws in Washington. We NEED to push for public awareness and those who can afford it should start buying chemical-free alternatives. As consumers, we do have power through what we buy. If everyone stopped shopping at Wal-Mart, they couldn’t stay open. Unfortunately, there are too many people who refuse to pay more, or simply cannot afford to pay more, for products. It’s a vicious cycle, but I am a firm believer that slowly we can change things if we care to. If more people understood how serious these invisible toxins are when it comes to our health, I like to think that they would care more.

 

Toxic Chemicals:

The following are just some of the hundreds of toxic chemical ingredients found in consumer products: (these are the main ones to AVOID)

  • Phthalates
    • Found in: nail polish, hair-straighteners & sprays, body lotions & deodorant; makes fragrances last longer, and plastics soft and malleable
    • Linked to: birth defects and reproductive disorders
  • Parabens (methyl-, propyl-, butyl-, ethyl-, benezyl-)
    • Found in: conditioners, hair styling gels, nail creams, foundations, concealers, mascara, facial masks, skin creams, deodorants, sunscreen, hair coloring; germicide and preservative
    • Linked to: hormone disruption, breast cancer, heart problems
  • Fragrance (parafum/scent)
    • Found in: skincare, cleansers, laundry products, air fresheners, and anything else scented; blanket term for thousands of different chemicals
    • Linked to: cancer, asthma, allergies, immunotoxicity, headaches, vomiting, dizziness, skin discoloration

      This shows a variety of common beauty products and the secret toxic chemicals they contain.
  • Triclosan (antibacterial)
    • Found in: soaps, toothpaste, deodorant
    • Linked to: cancer, hormone disruption, developmental and reproductive problems
  • PFCs (Ferfluorochemicals)
    • Found in: Teflon (PFOA), other non-stick substances
    • Linked to: organ damage/failure, cancer, developmental problems, raised cholesterol
  • PBDEs (Polybrominated Diphenyl Ethers: flame retardant)
    • Found in: clothing, bedding, furniture, computers
    • Linked to: thyroid hormone disruption, learning and memory impairment, behavior alteration, hearing problems, delayed puberty, decreased sperm count, birth defects, cancer possibly
  • Formaldehyde (embalming fluid)
    • Found in: shampoo, conditioner, shower gel, liquid antiseptic hand wash, lotions, bubble bath, hair care products, deodorant, nail polish, mascara, mouthwash, make-up remover, talc, and produced in body from aspartame (which is found in diet sodas and chewing gum)
    • Linked to: memory loss, nervous system damage, brain damage, symptoms of fibromyalgia (this is a condition causing prolonged and chronic pain in joints, muscles, and connective tissue.
  • SLS and SLES (Sodium Lauryl Sulfate and Sodium Laureth Sulfate)
    • Found in: toothpaste, shampoo, conditioner, face soap, body wash, bath salts, hair spray; used as a foaming agent and emulsifier
    • Linked to: skin and eye irritation, skin rash, hair loss, eye damage, immune system damage, death
  • DEA, TEA, MEA (Diethanolamine, Triethanolamine, Amonoethanolamine)
    • Found in: shampoos, soaps, hair spray, sunscreen, foundation, eyeliners, face powder, shaving cream, hair color, hair spray; used as an emulsifier, pH adjuster, preservative, foaming agent
    • Linked to: hormone disruption, cancer (liver and kidney cancer increase)
  • Propoylene/Butylene Glycol
    • Found in: deodorant, lotion, body wash, hair conditioner, hair gel, creams, lipstick, baby wipes, windshield fluid; cheap substitute for glycerin
    • Linked to: brain, liver, and kidney abnormalities; EPA considers these chemicals toxic and to avoid inhalation or skin contact
  • PEG (Polyethelene Glycol) (Petroleum)
    • Found in: skincare products
    • Linked to: cancer, dry skin, increased aging and susceptibility to bacteria and diseases

The list goes on of chemicals to avoid, but these seem to be the most prominent ones and have received the most attention. Many of these chemicals are by-products of coal and oil, which comes back to the huge environmental issue of us being an oil and coal dependent country. If we end our dependence on fossil fuels, we eliminate the ability to create some of these chemicals. My mind immediately jumps to the question of “if these chemicals cannot be made, won’t we just find another way of making cheap and just as toxic chemicals?” The hope is that we won’t, and that through changes in legislation and energy production, we can change every aspect of society from agriculture to ingredients in our products.

I will be going into these issues further and will be exploring current policy and regulations on these chemicals.

Resources:

An excellent book on this topic is called Slow Death by Rubber Duck by Rick Smith and Bruce Lourie

The EPA actually has a good amount of information open to the public available at www.epa.gov

The EWG has a lot of information, along with Skin Deep: Cosmetic Safety Database, which is a project under the EWG

Lastly, The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics has a plethora of information

Hope that wasn’t too depressing everyone – just remember, everyone has the power to do something! Have an excellent day!

4 thoughts on “What’s In Your Body? You’d Be Surprised…

  1. Hi There – I applaud the idea of creating a safer home, and because there’s so much misinformation out there about the Teflon® brand, I’m not surprised that you are concerned. I’m a representative of DuPont though, and hope you’ll let me share some information with you and your readers, so that everyone can make truly informed decisions.

    In regards to PFOA and cancer – The weight of evidence gathered from a number of significant health studies continues to indicate to us that there is no health risk to the general public from exposure to PFOA. Additionally, no authoritative body has designated PFOA as a human carcinogen. The U.S. EPA stated that it is premature to conclude that PFOA causes cancer. For more information, please visit http://www.epa.gov/oppt/pfoa/pubs/pfoarisk.html. http://www.teflon.com/Teflon/teflonissafe and http://www.pfoa.dupont.com can provide you with additional information.

    1. Well, I admire your attempts to defend your company in this context of web-discourse. I understand all of claims DuPont has made, but it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to understand that chemicals like that could cause cancer and a multitude of other health problems. Do you honestly think that inorganic chemical compounds like that won’t affect human bodies?
      One of the problems, which has effected risk assessment of chemicals, is the myth of “the dose makes the poison”. PFOA, like other endocrine disrupting chemicals, follows a U-curve for health effects. While a certain dosage may not cause serious health problems, any dose less than or more than that amount will be detrimental. I don’t see how anyone can justify the rise of birth defects, cancer cases, and infertility with the desire to simply fry an egg without it sticking to the pan a little. Let’s pretend for a minute that Teflon wasn’t incredibly harmful, we still shouldn’t be using it until we know that — these chemicals need to be tested before they are introduced into the public, not after hundreds of people suffer serious illnesses from a chemical. It’s just common sense and logic; I’m pretty sure my neighbor’s six year old kid could understand that.

  2. I started using Green Beaver products a few years ago. At first I hated the shampoo because it was weird and didn’t lather well, and the conditioner was lumpy etc. I continued using these products despite my initial reactions, it has been over two years, and I recently forgot my shampoo and conditioner while on vacation in Mexico. I was until this trip completely unaware of how much I love my Green Beaver products. My hair was beyond greasy, my skin was breaking out, and I developed a rash behind my ears from the shampoo I had to purchase. I had no idea how harsh these products really are, until I hadn’t used them in such a long time. I suppose we mush build up a tolerance.

    Great Blog. I love it

    1. Thank you for your input! I agree that we need to get used to things – I switched to chemical free makeup and it doesn’t stay on as well, but I feel like its worth it given the benefit. And similar to your hair care experience, my eyes feel sooooo much better, which makes me even more concerned about the old stuff I was using for so long! There is sometimes a trade off, but is cancer really worth it??? I don’t think so… I have never heard of Green Beaver, I’ll have to check that out!

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