When I was growing up in China in the 1980s and early 1990s, I was exposed to a lot of things, mostly dirt and bacteria — but also lead. Yes, I liked eating paint chips as a kid, and lead paint is a major source of lead exposure for children. Looking back, I guess I was lucky that it didn’t affect me too adversely.
Even though I was fond of makeup and lipstick as a little girl, I had heard my relatives talk about how there were poisons in them. Maybe because that stuck with me, or maybe it’s because makeup always made me feel gross and uncomfortable, but I never liked wearing makeup. I didn’t use many cosmetic products, and I still don’t to this day. No foundation, no powder, no eyeliner, no mascara, no hair sprays, no hair dyes, and no perfume. I don’t even wear deodorants, because I don’t sweat much and don’t get stinky. The ex liked for me to wear nail polish, but after some time, I stopped doing that, too.
After doing some research, I have come to realize that this was a good thing. The beauty and cosmetic industry is rather ugly. There is plenty of evidence showing that low-dose exposures to toxic chemicals cause serious long term health effects. Unlike food and drugs, cosmetics can make it to the counter without pre-approval, and existing regulations don’t do that much. Many chemicals are unstudied and unregulated, and there are lots of ingredients that are legal in the US but banned elsewhere. And, as it turns out, there is lead in lipstick!
It’s not just cosmetics, but many household products like air fresheners, cleaning solutions, and mattresses, particularly memory foam. The first toxic ingredient listed for memory foam, Tributyltin, has been shown to lead to obesity for multiple generations. Any time “fragrance” is listed in the ingredient list, it should set off alarm bells. Fragrance can mean any number of chemicals, which can be endocrine disrupting, allergenic, neurotoxic, carcinogenic, obesogenic, and cause a host of health issues.
It now makes total sense to me why when I was pregnant, everything smelled horrible to me and gave me such nauseating headaches. As a pregnant woman, I was smelling chemicals in ways that I never could before. Furniture stores were the worst, but everything from car exhaust fumes (which have been linked to premature births, behavior problems and childhood cancers) to other people’s perfumes would have me covering my nose and trying to breathe shallowly through the hopelessly useless filter of tissue paper. When we had bought a memory foam mattress, I hated the smell of it, and I would refuse to sleep on it. It made me feel sick, even though it was long past the time of morning sickness. Now I see that those things really were poisonous, and my body was desperately trying to tell me that I needed to get away from them.
So it is not enough that we have gone BPA-free (BPA is associated with cancer, insulin resistance, and birth defects) and can-free (the linings of cans, such as canned soda and canned foods, is made up of BPA) in our household. I now intend to switch our soaps, lotions, shampoos and other personal care products to ones that are free of fragrances and other nasty chemicals. The only way this seems to be possible is to go natural.
Natural has become almost a passé word, associated with hippies and worthy of derision. But the more I research into this subject, the more that I realize going natural is safer and better. There’s also no reason to even buy the expensive products from companies that claim to be all-natural and organic. Just buy the raw ingredients and either mix or apply directly. For the longest time I was afraid of oil on my face because I was prone to acne, but now I’m putting extra virgin olive oil and sweet almond oil on my skin, and my skin is loving it. I also got shea butter, coconut oil, and frankincense essential oil. These oils contain essential fatty acids, antioxidants and vitamins that the body loves, both inside and out.
On the subject of acne, something that has plagued me for a long time, and would come back when I was going through hormone changes such as in pregnancy, I have discovered more than I have known in years. Apparently, all of the acne “solutions” use salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide. These chemicals dry the crap out of skin, which leads to the skin freaking out and producing more oil. On and on the cycle goes, inducing people to buy more of these chemical-filled products to dry out the skin even more. The solution is not less oil, but more oil — shea butter and other less comedogenic oils mixed with zinc oxide would be far more effective.
I am still learning a ton in this transition to more raw and natural personal care products. I find that many of the pre-packaged “natural” products, which often still contain numerous artificial chemicals, are marked up to insane prices, so it’s much better and cheaper to just get the raw ingredients. If nothing else, changing from products that are filled with chemicals and substances to ingredients that are safe enough to eat like olive oil and baking soda makes me feel better about the things that I’m letting near our baby boy.