My Toxic Journey Story
I’ve spent the last 10 years researching ways to keep my family safe and healthy, and the first toxic area of my life I tackled were the plethora of personal care products I had collected over the years. You could call me am a “recovering beauty addict” of sorts. My bathroom looked like an explosion of smelly lotions, cosmetics, hair care, and perfumes, and it wasn’t until my first pregnancy I started wondering how safe the ingredients were in all this stuff!? Regardless of the ingredient, safe or toxic, I knew it ALL was being absorbed into my bloodstream and eventually making its way to my unborn baby. That was the kick in the pants I needed to make a change!
So one afternoon, during that pregnancy, I sat in my bathroom and examined the ingredients in every product I owned. I was shocked! Every.single.product, with the exception of two lotion brands, contained parabens and other troubling ingredients I couldn’t pronounce. I snapped a picture to show all my friends the sheer quantity and how appalled I was and proceeded to throw every item in the trash. That was my start.
The sad truth is, our environment is full of toxins, which are affecting our health and our hormones. Toxic fragrances, toxic food, toxic water, toxic soaps, toxic air, toxic products, and the list goes on and on. I became a toxin detective. If you’re heading down the toxic-free lifestyle road, you’re in the right spot! I’ll save you time by giving you the information it has taken me a decade to research.
What Are Xenoestrogens?
Xenoestrogens are one group of toxins I’m particularly worried about. They are man-made chemicals in our environment, and likely in the products you use every day, but they’re different from other toxins because they’re estrogenic. What is estrogenic? It means they mimic the hormone estrogen and are capable of binding to estrogen receptors throughout the body, and this blocks the action of natural hormones. Xenoestrogens significantly disrupt the body’s fragile hormonal balance and compromise normal hormone function.
When the body’s normal hormonal function is disrupted, this can contribute to an increased risk of many things.
Xenoestrogens Impact on Health:
People are exposed to xenoestrogens in 3 ways -- ingestion, inhalation and absorption through the skin, and this exposure is gravely effecting our health. Here's how:
- Fertility issues
- A more difficult transition into menopause
- Changes in uterine integrity
- Early puberty in children and teens
- Changes in cholesterol metabolism and health of your blood vessels
- Changes in sugar metabolism
- Disruption of thyroid function
- Weight gain
- Changes in bone health
- Imbalanced immune responses
Ways We Absorb Xenoestrogens
There are three ways the human body is exposed to environmental xenoestrogens. Absorbing toxins through your skin is a common way to expose yourself to xenoestrogens. We are also exposed to xenoestrogens by inhaling xenoestrogens and ingesting xenoestrogens.
SKIN CARE & HAIR CARE PRODUCTS
Skin care & hair care products are a very likely way you’re being exposed to xenoestrogens, with the most common being parabens. This xenoestrogen is used as an antimicrobial preservative in makeup, lip balm, perfume, shampoo, conditioner, lotion, shaving cream, facial and shower cleansers and scrubs (and more!).
Parabens are absorbed through your skin, blood and digestive system, and are linked to detrimental health issues such as hormone-related cancers, reproductive problems, skin allergic reactions and dermatitis (4). Parabens also disrupt the fragile hormonal changes that happen during teenage puberty, and potentially influencing hormone related health issues over a lifetime. Because parabens are estrogenic, they’re capable of interfering with a pregnant woman’s fetus. Studies in mother-infant pairs finds that median concentrations of parabens are similar in both maternal blood and amniotic fluid.
To determine if a product contains parabens, examine the ingredients section and look for any of these names: methylparaben, ethylparaben, propylparaben, isobutylparaben, butylparaben and benzylparaben.
A 2004 UK study detected traces of five different types of parabens in the breast cancer tumors of 19 out of 20 women studied (5). This small study does not prove a causal relationship between parabens and breast cancer, but it is important because it detected the presence of intact parabens – unaltered by the body’s metabolism – which is an indication of the chemicals' ability to penetrate skin and remain in breast tissue. Check out the Environmental Working Groups SkinDeep Database for safety and toxicity data for thousands of products.
Phthalates are another xenoestrogen of major concern in hair care and skin care products. They're commonly found in lotions, shampoos, and nail polishes – and easily absorbed through the skin.
What’s The Alternative to Toxic Skin Care and Hair Care Products?
- In order to replace your products with healthier versions, look for new products that say “paraben free” and “phthalates free” on the label.
- Purchase paraben-free lotion, lip balms, shampoo, conditioner, shaving cream, and makeup. Here are 5 ingredients to avoid when choosing a shampoo.
- Minimize your exposure to nail polish and nail polish removers.
- If you're pregnant, reducing your exposure as much as possible is crucial. Aside from parabens and phthalates, here are 10 more ways to reduce your exposure to xenoestrogens during pregnancy.
Where Do You Begin?
I always recommend taking a trip into your bathroom, where people keep the majority of their skin care & hair care products.
First, assess the products you use often: daily or multiples times a day. Start by eliminating those first because they pose the most risk due to how often they’re used.
Next, weed out products you leave on the longest: cream, lotion, sunscreen, make-up.
It might take you a while and that's OK.
PRODUCTS AND CHILDREN
Don’t forget about your kids and the products they use. Between the lotions and potions, bubbles and polishes, glosses and glitters, kiddos love the smelly stuff – I did too! But these chemicals and perfumes are hormone disruptors and their growing, developing bodies and brains are really influenced by them. Just say no, and leave that perfect baby skin be.
Lip color products, as well as eye shadow, concealer, blush, and sunscreen have been known to include xenoestrogens and heavy metals such as mercury, aluminum, zinc, lead, chromium, and arsenic. In fact, 85% of cosmetics contain parabens.
Researchers are considering whether certain racial and demographic groups are more likely to experience harmful health effects from exposure to chemicals in products heavily marketed to them.
Among their findings: black women are more likely than white women to use talc and scented feminine hygiene products such as douches, which increases their exposure to phthalates. Dominican and Mexican American women, among others, regularly use skin-lightening creams that may contain high levels of mercury.
What’s The Alternative to Toxic Cosmetics?
Avoiding xenoestrogens and heavy metals can be difficult because they aren’t always listed on the label of every personal care product. Choose from products that use natural ingredients such as beeswax and vegetable wax. You can also check for safer personal care products on EWG’s Skin Deep Cosmetics Database.
You may or may not know – many sunscreens contain yucky ingredients I don't want absorbed into my or my children's body. When choosing a sunscreen to protect your skin, avoid these hormone disrupting chemicals (bad!): Oxybenzone, Octinoxate, Retinyl Palmitate and Homosalate.
We know chemicals like avobenzone and oxybenzone shouldn't be used if you're pregnant or nursing, or on children under the age of 2.
What’s The Alternative to Toxic Sunscreen?
Look for a sunscreen with any of these four ingredients: Titanium Dioxide, Zinc Oxide, Avobenzone, Mexoryl SX. They not only provide excellent UVA protection, but also offer very limited to no skin penetration, and no evidence of hormone disruption.
The Environmental Working Group is an excellent reference for identifying a safe sunscreen and to learn more about the sunscreen you currently use. Check out their guide here 2019 Sunscreen Guide.
Babies eat four times the amount of food per pound of body weight. They also breathe two times the amount of air per pound of body weight compared to the average adult. This makes infants more vulnerable to food and air contaminants; however, food and contaminated air aren’t the only things affecting a baby’s health.
Conventional disposable diapers release volatile organic compounds, or VOCs. VOCs include chemicals such as xylene, ethylbenzene, toluene and dipentene. When these chemicals contact a child’s skin, they can cause long-term health problems such as childhood asthma and cancer.
What’s The Alternative to Toxic Diapers?
Organic cotton cloth diapers have been making a comeback in recent years. It's what I used for both my children, and I'm so happy I made that commitment because, boy was it a commitment! But it saved me a ton of money, my boys never got diaper rash, and the cotton on their skin was healthier than the chemicals from plastic diapers.
If cloth diapers aren’t a manageable option, look for companies that offer safer disposable diapers, free from heavy metals, lead, latex, chlorine, lotions and fragrance.
Who doesn’t love a good laundry scent? Unfortunately, they’re some of the worst offenders for harboring chemicals linked to hormone disruption. Before I found toxic-free living, I had a specific detergent scent I absolutely adored. Then I learned better. I learned how dangerous that off gassing is to all of us…including our children smelling it all day long. Not only are you inhaling these chemicals, but the residual xenoestrogens can also permeate your skin.
What’s the Alternative to Toxic Detergents?
- Switch to a fragrance-free, plant-based laundry detergent or make your own homemade laundry soap.
- Avoid fabric softeners and dryer sheets. Use wool dryer balls scented with organic essential oil instead. Adding a quarter cup of white vinegar to your washer’s rinse cycle can also reduce static cling naturally.
- When I was making the switch to a safer laundry supplies, I searched the Environmental Working Group’s Guide to Healthy Cleaning to figure out which products were the safest ones to use.
How To Detoxify Xenoestrogens
Hormone balance is dependent on liver detoxification, and your liver must detoxify efficiently in order to excrete hormones and xenoestrogens. To support healthy detoxification, it’s important to eat foods that influence the two liver detoxification pathways and processes, along with the elimination phase. Here's information about the 3 phases of liver detoxification.
To kick-start your xenoestrogen detox, I find it convenient to take a detox blend that contains all the detox-supporting nutrients in one capsule, such as Dim-X. It contains milk thistle, glutathione, broccoli sprout extract (for the sulphoraphane), and a few other powerful ingredients to support endocrine balance and promote detoxification of environmental estrogens in both men and women.
I know this is a lot of information and this is also when the overwhelming feelings start creeping in. Choose one thing to focus on at a time! Start with the easiest ones to change first and go from there.
When I started this mission, the first thing I did was remove all my toxic skin care products but start with what’s easiest for you. I trashed them and replaced them with products that contained natural ingredients.
To get started, I made a checklist with specific to-do’s in order to make gradual changes around your house. Sign up to receive my handy xenoestrogen checklist.
Obvious and hidden sources of xenoestrogens are affecting our health and the environment. Our choices matter and making a conscious effort to reduce them goes a long way.
Kelly Harrington, MS, RDN
Registered Dietitian Nutritionist for Healthy Goods
Gray, J (2010). State of the Evidence: The Connection between Breast Cancer and the Environment. San Francisco, CA: The Breast Cancer Fund.
Darbre PD, Aljarrah A, Miller WR, Coldham NG, Sauer MJ, Pope GS (2004). Concentrations of parabens in human breast tumors. Journal of Applied Toxicology 24:5-13.
Environmental Working Group. The trouble With Sunscreen Chemicals.