I have had a few friends and family members mention this and then just was a little miffed at one of those High Fructose Corn Syrup commercials (“It’s derived from corn and is safe in moderation.”).  What I have been told is that everything is fine in moderation. Well, yes.  But “in moderation” is the key part of that sentence.

When you are talking about food toxins like high fructose corn syrup, hydrogenated oils, pesticides, and hormones… or in personal care products toxins like SLS, SLES, phthalates, or parabens… it is nearly impossible to keep to the “in moderation” guideline.

I was listening to a podcast a few years ago (I know who it was: Leanne the Dinner Diva, and I know which podcast: The Flylady Show, but I do not know exactly when or exactly which episode it was, or even exactly the right quote, so I apologize) and Leanne mentioned that “trace amounts” of some ingredients do not need to be figured into the nutritional information on the package.  But they do need to be listed in the ingredients.   She suggested reading the ingredients and replacing the bad ingredients with the words “dog poop”.  Now, she was specifically talking about trans fats (usually listed as hydrogenated oils), but you could use this on any ingredient or toxin.

You know that if a product had labeled in its ingredients “dog poop”, there would be no way you would eat it, or slather it on your body.  Even if “they” said that it was “safe in moderation” or “safe in trace amounts.”

But you can take this a step further.

Take the ever popular Heinz Ketchup (marketed as “grown not made”).  Ingredients include: Tomato concentrate made from red ripe tomatoes, distilled vinegar, high fructose corn syrup, corn syrup, salt, spice, onion powder, garlic powder, natural flavoring. And since we are not looking at an organic variety, throw in pesticides also.  So…. let’s rework that list with our substitute ingredient:

Tomato concentrate made from red ripe tomatoes, distilled vinegar, dog poop, dog poop, salt, spice, onion powder, garlic powder, natural flavoring, dog poop.

So, what might have looked like a bad ingredient in moderation is now suddenly 3/10 of the serving. And this is just the ketchup.  If you look at the rest of the meal, you will find something similar.

What about the baby wash you put on your little one?

According to the Cosmetics Database, Johnson & Johnson Head-to-Toe Baby Wash ingredients:

Water, Cocamidopropyl Betaine, PEG-80 Sorbitan Laurate, Sodium Laureth Sulfate, PEG-150 Distearate, Tetrasodium EDTA, Sodium Chloride, Polyquaternium-10, Fragrance, Quaternium-15, Citric Acid

And follow that up with Johnson’s Baby Lotion:

Water, Propylene Glycol, Myristyl Myristate, Glyceryl Stearate, Oleic Acid, Stearic Acid, Polysorbate 61, C12-15 Alkyl Benzoate, Dimethicone, Isopropyl Palmitate, Sorbitan Stearate, Cetyl Alcohol, Synthetic Beeswax, Stearyl Alcohol, Benzyl Alcohol, Carbomer, Fragrance, Methylparaben, Propylparaben, Butylparaben, BHT, Sodium Hydroxide, Red 33

So, more dog poop there. Now, I am not attempting to badger anyone. I just want to make you aware that the phrase “in moderation” when it comes to certain substances is practically impossible, unless you are VERY vigilant with each and every item you consume and put on your skin.  If you keep them out of your body 90% of the time, the other 10% you absorb from the environment or from meals you consume at restaurants or friends/families’ houses become your “in moderation”.  If you do not pay attention, you “in moderation” suddenly becomes 50% or more, plus environmental factors, of what your body is trying to process.

Here’s hoping they take those HFCS commercials off the air.

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Just when I thought it was safe… and that I was avoiding BPA wherever possible. Oh, No! Look at this article from the Environmental Working Group

Synthetic estrogen BPA coats cash register receipts

The plastic component bisphenol A (BPA) has been in the headlines nonstop as scientists, health experts and consumers press for a federal ban on food packaging made with this synthetic estrogen, shown to leach readily into infant formula, beverages and canned food. But most Americans are probably unaware that they are regularly exposed to the same endocrine-disrupting chemical in cash register receipts.

I’m confused now. I use glass-only in my food storage, baby bottles, and have a stainless steel water bottle. I no longer purchase food in cans, because of the BPA-lining. And now it’s in receipts?  It’s not like I can’t go shopping. Is there no way to avoid this toxin???

Read the complete article here.

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Please read the following update added November 18, which includes links to a website that is using science to address these concerns/myths.

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Original Post:

Each and every day it is estimated that we put up to 10 different personal care products on our bodies. This includes shampoo/conditioner, lotions, soap, toothpaste, deodorant, lip balm, sunscreen, shaving products, cosmetics, insect repellants, and for kids – diaper cream.

Many of these products include toxins that are known to be unhealthy for human consumption.

Were you aware that there are no standard testing guidelines established by the FDA for personal care products? According to Skin Deep’s Cosmetic Database, “Even knowing whether or not the products have been substantiated for safety is impossible — safety studies are not required to be made public, and FDA has no means to know what studies have or have not been conducted.”

The Environmental Working Group (EWG) have compiled a list of toxins that exist in brands already on store shelves.

What ingredients to watch out for when shopping:

  • Placenta
    • May be labeled as: Placental Extract, Lyphilized Beef Placenta, Placenta Enzymes, Placental protein, Animal Placental Extract, Bovine Placental extract, Bovine Placental Protein
    • Why avoid it? – These are full of hormones that, while they condition skin and hair, have also been shown to create breast growth in toddlers.
    • Found in: facial masks/moisturizers, hair conditioners
  • Mercury
    • May be labeled as: Thimerosal, Mercury, Phenyl Mercuric Acetate, Phenyl Mercuric Benzoate, Methoxyethylmercy Chloride
    • Why avoid it? – Mercury damages brain function, even at low levels
    • Found in: Mascara, eye drops
  • Lead
    • May be labeled as: ACETIC ACID, LEAD SALT; LEAD DIACETATE; PLUMBOUS ACETATE; LEAD SALT ACETIC ACID; ACETATE DE PLOMB (FRENCH) ; BLEIACETAT (GERMAN) ; DIBASIC LEAD ACETATE; LEAD DIACETATE; LEAD DIBASIC ACETATE; LEAD (2+) ACETATE; LEAD (II) ACETATE
    • Why avoid it? – This is a neurotoxin, human reproductive toxin, human development toxin, possible carcinogen and has been banned in Canada and the European Union for use in cosmetics and personal care products.
    • Found in: hair coloring agents, conditioners,
  • Fragrance
    • May be labeled as: parfum
    • Why avoid it? – Can contain neurotoxins and are common allergens.
  • Animal Parts
    • May be labeled as: polyethylene glycol, polyoxyethylene hydrogenated tallow amide, polyethylene glycol tallow amine
    • Why avoid it? – “If fat scraped from the back of the hide of mink or derived from emu isn’t something you’d like to smear on your skin, you may want to avoid mink and emu oil, conditioning agents in sunscreen, shaving cream, hair spray and more.” – EWG
    • Found in: sunscreen, shaving cream, hair spray, and more
  • Hydroquinone Skin Lightener
    • May be labeled as: Hydroquinone, Quinol, 1,4-Dihydroxybenzene, 1,4-Benzenediol
    • Why avoid it?: “This skin bleaching chemical can cause a skin disease called ochronosis, with “disfiguring and irreversible” blue-black lesions that in the worst cases become permanent”.  – EWG. Known to cause cancer, reproductive toxicitiy, non-reproductive organ toxicity, is a neurotoxin and high allergen.
    • Found in: facial moisturizers, lipsticks, anti-aging products, foundations, lip gloss/balm, facial cleansers, eye shadows, body wash/exfoliant, sunscreens, shampoo/conditioner, eye liner, mascara, concealer, blush, and more.
  • Nanoparticles
    • May be labeled as: Companies are not required to list these in ingredients. But these are KNOWN ingredients: nano zinc oxide, microspheres, aluminum powder, nano titanium dioxide
    • Why avoid it?  – These “can slide up the optic nerve to the brain or burrow inside red blood cells.”
    • Found in: sunscreens, skin creams, and more.
  • Phthalates
    • May be labeled as: Dibutyl phthalate, 1,2-benzenedicarboxylic acid, diethyl phthalate, diethyl ester, dep, dibutyl phthalate, dibutyl ester
    • Why avoid it? – These chemicals cause feminization of male sex organs.
    • Found in: Nail polishes/treatments,
  • Petroleum byproducts
    • May be labeled as: Stoddard solvent, light liquid paraffin, petroleum distillate, 2-nitro-p-phenylenediamine, naphtha, petroleum naphtha, and more!
    • Why avoid it? – Petroleum byproducts contain carcinogens like 1,4-dioxane and petrochemical waste called coal tar.
    • Found in: Moisturizers, lip glass, cleansers, diaper cream, wound treatments, makeup removers, scalp-treatment shampoos.

Ugh – scariness.  My head is already spinning.  Check out the EWG’s Top 20 Brand of Concern and Top 20 Companies of Concern. Sadly, many of the top names in mainstream stores are listed…

You can use the Skin Deep Cosmetic Safety Database to search for your favorite brands, or to find new ones. Each product researched includes a hazard rating and a data gap rating.  The hazard rating is shown on a 0-10 scale. The higher the number, the higher the concern.  The data gap rating is a measure of how much is unknown for certain ingredients. This can vary from ingredient to ingredient.  The 2 scores are calculated separately and are subject to change.

Any Other Concerns?

Well, that takes care of SOME of the concerns I’ve read about over the years. But what about other chemicals like Flouride and Sodium Laureth Sulfate, etc.?

Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLES) & Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS)

According to the Natural Health Information Centre, located in the UK, SLES and SLS are used in any personal care product that consumers expect to “foam up” or create suds.  They are known as surfactants.  So, this includes: shampoos, detergents, toothpastes, soaps, cleansers, etc.

SLES contains a known carcinogen called 1,4-Dioxane, which is also known as ether.

SLS is less toxic than SLES, but is also known to cause “skin irritations, hormone imbalance, eye deformities in children, eye irritations, protein denaturing and carcinogenicity” (nutrition.suite101.com).

UPDATE 18NOV: Read this article from Treehugger regarding SLS and the American Cancer Society.

Parabens

Parabens are a chemical preservative used in personal care products to extend their shelf life. They can be labeled as methyl-, propyl-, butyl- and ethyl-parabens.   These chemicals “can disrupt the hormone (endocrine) system, and were found in the breast cancer tumors of 19 of 20 women studied. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) tested urine from 100 adults and found parabens in nearly all.”  The EWG also states that exposure to parabens can also be related to non-reproductive organ toxicity, infertility, birth and developmental defects.

What are these found in? Almost 25,000 cosmetics and personal care products.  I have even seen these in the ingredient labels of “natural” and “organic” brands.  Read your labels!

Flouride

The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry says that “Flouride is a compound that contains fluorine,… Using small amounts of fluoride on a routine basis can help prevent tooth decay. In areas where fluoride does not occur naturally, it may be added to community water supplies.”   Adding fluoride to the water supply has been done in the U.S. for the last 50 years.  And although, fluoride is labeled as a prescription drug by the FDA, there is no regulation, guidelines, or monitoring of the intake and use of this “drug” by consumers.

Fluoride has been shown to be more toxic than lead in some cases (and we already know how the word “lead” makes parents scream), and is a neurotoxin.  The case for and against fluoride has many arguments, so I am going to leave that one for your to decide. You can read the articles I’ve included below at length.   What does my family do? We do not use fluoridated toothpaste.

Final Thought

This post has been percolating in my brain for quite some time. It is something I am concerned about on a daily basis and yet feel completely overwhelmed when it comes to purchasing decisions. The best advice is to do your own research. Use the Cosmetics Database. Know your ingredients watch list. Know your products. You have to even check “natural” and “organic” products. Read the labels!

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SOURCES

“What Not To Buy”. Environmental Working Group. http://www.cosmeticsdatabase.com/special/whatnottobuy/. Viewed 21 July 2010.

“Why This Matters”. Environmental Working Group. http://www.cosmeticsdatabase.com/research/whythismatters.php. Viewed 21 July 2010.

“Chemical Families: Parabens”. Environmental Working Group. http://www.ewg.org/chemindex/term/563. Viewed 21 July 2010.

“The Fluoride Debate.” Anita Shattuck. http://www.fluoridedebate.com/ Viewed 21 July 2010.

“Fluoride” American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry. http://www.aapd.org/publications/brochures/floride.asp Viewed 21 July 2010.

“Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLES) What it is, where to find it and how to avoid it.” Natural Health Information Centre. http://www.natural-health-information-centre.com/sodium-laureth-sulfate.html Viewed 21 July 2010.

“Sodium Laureth Sulfate: A Possible Carcinogenic Foaming Agent” by Elisheve Weyers. Suite101.com http://nutrition.suite101.com/article.cfm/sodium-laureth-sulfate. Viewed 21 July 2010

RESOURCES

Safety Guide to Children’s Personal Care Products.  By EWG’s Cosmetic Safety Database. Download PDF here. Good guide that tells you what to look for, what to avoid, and what brands are better choices.

Shopper’s Guide To Safe Cosmetics by the EWG’s Cosmetic Safety Database. Download PDF here. This is handy pocket-sized guide that tells you what to avoid, what to look for and other shopping tips.

FURTHER READING

“Personal Care: Information Based on Scientific Facts”. http://personalcaretruth.com/ A website using science to debunk common myths about the claims made by EWG. Worth taking the time to read!

“Toxic Chemicals in Cosmetics: New Legislation to Prevent Exposure” by EWG Public Affairs. http://www.ewg.org/Congress_Targets_Chemicals_In_Cosmetics

“How Safe Are Cosmetics? New Bill Wants to Find Out.” By Andrew Schneider. AOL News. http://www.aolnews.com/nation/article/how-safe-are-your-cosmetics-safe-cosmetics-act-of-2010-wants-to-find-out/19562564

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If you liked this post, check out my previous post: The Dangers of Sunscreen

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There is currently a free toothpaste sample available by playing a game on Tom’s of Maine Facebook page.   Please be advised that this new toothpaste, Wicked Fresh, is a flouride toothpaste. If you are avoiding flouride toothpastes, pass on this one.

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As a person with fair skin, I have applied more sunscreen than I can quantify over the years.  It had been drilled into my head:

“Apply sunscreen and you will not get burned. Apply sunscreen and you will not get skin cancer. Be safe; apply more sunscreen. The higher the SPF, the better.”

Well, as I became more concerned about what I put on my skin, and now especially on my children’s skin, I have discovered that what is found in conventional sunscreen may be more harmful than the sun’s rays themselves.  And that the abundant use of sunscreen is harming us and causing an epidemic of Vitamin D deficiency.  Did you know this? I know I didn’t.  Our skin is the single largest organ in our body.  We are increasingly becoming aware of ingesting poisons and toxins in our food and drinking supply, but many think nothing of slathering on these toxins in cosmetics and sunscreen (another post on cosmetics and personal care items is too come at a future date!).

The Environmental Working Group (EWG) has published “9 Surprising Truths” about sunscreens (I’m only highlighting 6):

  1. The Food & Drug Administration (FDA) and the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) BOTH say that there is no data that proves sunscreen prevents skin cancer.  The IARC actually recommends physical barriers, such as clothing, hats, and staying in the shade, over relying solely on sunscreen!
  2. Sunscreens may actually increase the risk of skin cancer for some people! The article says that some researchers theorize that this is because sunscreen users stay in the sun longer and absorb more radiation, because they feel they are better protected.
  3. Higher SPF does not mean its better. Fueled by the belief that more SPF is better, companies have clamored for “I’ve got more SPF coverage than you” claims.  These claims are lulling people into a false sense of security, encouraging them to stay in the sun longer than recommended. There is actually a new FDA regulation that will prohibit manufacturers from having SPF 50+ on labeling.
  4. Too little sun = low Vitamin D levels. Yeah, we can use supplements for Vitamin D, but the best source of it is sunshine.  This vitamin strengthens bones, the immune system, reduces the risk of cancer, and regulates thousands of genes throughout our bodies.  The EWG cites the American Medical Association as recommending 10 minutes of DIRECT sun, WITHOUT SUNSCREEN, “several times a week.”
  5. Direct Application of Vitamin A may actually cause skin cancer. This vitamin is a common ingredient in conventional sunscreen and “when applied to the skin in the presence of sunlight, may speed the development of skin tumors and lesions”.  This is often labeled as retinyl palmitate or retinol.
  6. Sunscreen ingredients generating free radicals. What does that mean?  Well, according to this article, both UV radiation and common sunscreen ingrediates “generate free radicals that damage DNA and skin cells, accelerate skin aging and cause skin cancer.”

What?  I went to a study done by Skin Biology for more information.    They state that “free radical generating sunscreen chemicals” have “estrogen-like” effects.  Hmmm.  Many articles, studies, etc. have already published that increased estrogen is causing problems in menopausal women.  So… we’re adding to it with our sunscreen?  Let’s read on.  “When the body’s hormone receptors recognize the estrogenic chemical as estrogen, the result is feminization of the tissue.”

They then went on to list the Expected Effects of Estrogenic Chemicals in Humans.

Woman: Endometriosis, migraines, severe PMS, erratic menstrual periods, increased breast and uterine cancer, fibrocystic breast disease, uterine cysts.  Men: lowered sperm counts, sexual identity confusion, breast enlargement, smaller penile size, testicular cancer, undescended testicles.

The Ideal Sunscreen.

So what do we choose?  The EWG recommends that the best option is: mineral sunscreens (made from zinc and titanium).  These are stable when exposed to UV rays and do not penetrate the skin.

AND to cover your skin with clothing and stay in the shade. Limit your exposure to the sun (outside of the recommendation for Vitamin D development).  And reapply *safe* sunscreens every few hours and after exposure to water or sweating.

Read the full article here.

Check out the EWG 2010 Sunscreen Guide.  Their top recommendations include the brands: Alba Botanic, Badger, BurnOut, California Baby, Episencial, and others.  These all appear low on the Cosmetics Database. Many of these brands are available in retail stores, as well as online retailers.

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SOURCES:

Sunscreens Exposed: 9 Surprising Truths”, Environmental Working Group, published 2010.

FDA Wrapping Up Sunscreen Label Changes” by Salynn Boyles, Web MD, Published May 21, 2009

The Chemical Sunscreen Health Disaster”, by Dr. Loren Pickart. SkinBiology

FURTHER READING:

Summer Survival Kit”, Dr. Joseph Mercola, Mercola.com

New Study Finds Only 8 Percent of Sunscreens are Safe and Effective”, by Healthy Child Healthy World, Web MD, Published May 26, 2010

How Safe and Effective Are Sunscreens?”, by Kathleen Doheny, Web Md Health News, Published July 2, 2009

RESOURCES:

EWG 2010 Sunscreen Guide

Cosmetics Database

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This post was created using information from WebMd and AllYou.
If you’ve been through the produce section at your local store, or wandered the aisles at Whole Foods, you know that buying organic products can be ex-pen-sive!  These items can cost 50-100% more than their conventional counterparts. And most people, myself included, can’t afford to buy All Organic, All the Time.  So, how do you choose when and where to spend your organic budget?

Buy these Organic when possible:

These items tend to retain the most pesticide residue, so buy organic whenever possible for these (especially if you are pregnant, or feeding these to children):

  • Peaches
  • Apples
  • Bell Peppers
  • Celery
  • Strawberries
  • Cherries
  • Pears
  • Nectarines
  • Grapes
  • Spinach
  • Lettuce
  • Potatoes
  • Carrots
  • Milk & Dairy products (if you can’t afford organic, at least go with items marked rBGH-free. Which means the cow wasn’t given any growth hormones to produce more milk)
  • Beef (if you can’t afford organic, at least go with items marked rBGH-free or say “no antibiotics” or “hormone-free”. Which means the cow wasn’t given any growth hormones)
  • Peanut Butter
  • Baby Food
  • Blueberries
  • Kale

Where you can “slide”, but be sure to wash these items thoroughly before eating:

  • Anything that you discard the peel: bananas, mangos, pineapple, avocado, onions, corn
  • Broccoli
  • Cabbage
  • Peas
  • Asparagus
  • Kiwifruit
  • Eggplant
  • Cantaloupe
  • Watermelon
  • Grapefruit
  • Sweet Potato
  • Honeydew Melon

Check out this handy guide for your wallet!

Wallet guides for buying Seafood

If your budget is tight, Skip buying these “organic”:

  • Packaged and canned items, except for baby food items

Money-Saving Tips for Buying Organic:

  • Grow it Yourself
  • Shop the local Farmers’ Market
  • Sign up for a CSA
  • Buy Frozen organic produce
  • Buy the Generic organic brand, if possible (see shopping guides)

Definition of Terms

  • 100% Organic: This means the food has no synthetic ingredients and can use the organic seal.
  • Organic: This means the food has a minimum of 95% organic ingredients. It can also use the organic seal.
  • Made with Organic Ingredients: This means the food must contain at least 70% organic ingredients. These foods cannot use the seal.
  • USDA Organic: “Don’t confuse “free-range,” “hormone free,” or “natural” with organic. Look for the organic seal. That means the food is grown, harvested, and processed according to USDA standards that include restrictions on amounts and residues of pesticides, hormones, and antibiotics. Natural pesticides are allowed. Organic foods cannot be treated with any sewage sludge, bioengineering, or ionizing radiation.” ~WebMD

As always, stock up on your organic and natural product coupons!

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So, I’m a big fan of Dr. Oz and he had an episode recently on the poisons found in food supply.  I have been waiting for a link or something to appear on his website to let you all in on these secrets and have yet to see anything. So, I’m going to write something based on my notes from his show.

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There are 3 main poisons we should be concerned with when purchasing food at the grocery store: mercury, bisphenol-A, and pesticides.

Mercury

This toxin is found in fish. As chemicals and toxic gases are released into our atmosphere, the rain that results comes down into our oceans and fish absorb them.  Older fish have more chemicals and toxins than younger fish.  And most people have some degree of Mercury poisoning.  Symptoms include: sensory impairment, disrupted sensations, and a lack of coordination. The degree of severity can vary.

How to avoid: when tested, salmon had the lowest amounts of mercury.  Also, when purchasing canned/pouch tuna, buy chunk light tuna over albacore tuna.  Avoid ahi tuna, swordfish and tilefish in your seafood selections.

Bisphenol-A

Better known recently as “BPA”, this is a chemical that certain plastics will leech into food and liquids.  Plastic items that are marked with the symbol at right are made with BPA plastics. However, and this I was not aware of, the resin lining that is in almost all canned goods is always made of BPA plastic.

Now why is BPA bad?  It has been shown to cause: obesity, infertility, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and other ailments. Ick.

So, what DO you choose? Well, first avoid any plastic with this symbol.  The 7 is the most important part.  Second, buy fresh or frozen goods whenever possible. And third, if you have to buy packaged, choose packaging methods other than canned: glass, boxes, etc.  According to this article, it costs companies 14% more to try and use BPA-free cans.

I also found a Product Guide to companies that try to use BPA-free cans.  And also a list of Ways to  Reduce Your Exposure to BPA.

And never, NEVER, reheat food in the microwave using plastic containers or dishes.  If a plastic container is labeled “microwave safe”, this only means that it will not be destroyed by microwaving it.  It does not mean that the chemicals in the plastic won’t leech into your food.

Pesticides

Pesticides have been shown to be direct neurotoxins and the cause of ADHD, autism, and learning disabilities in some children.  The best way to avoid pesticides is to purchase organic produce only.

Article from WebMD: Pesticides May Raise Kids’ Risk of ADHD.

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