A lot of cleaning and personal care products on the market today contain harsh chemicals that are overtly toxic to us. Disinfectants like bleach, preservatives such as parabens, antibacterials such as triclosan, and synthetic fragrances and colorants, just to name a few – are ubiquitous. These ingredients can act as endocrine disruptors, inflammatory mediators, and even carcinogens. In addition, they are released into the environment and linger in the air, contributing to pollution and airborne inhalation by other people and living things.
Especially dangerous are the aerosolized sprays, such as room deodorizers or hairsprays, which use propellants and chemical solvents to distribute the ingredients evenly in each of the particles released into the mist. Most solvents are organic compounds that are used to dissolve solid substances in order to help them enter the liquid phase and be used in sprays. These solvents have been documented to disrupt a variety of organs, and cause birth defects and chronic neurological sequelae. (1)
It is common sense that pregnant women and children should avoid toxic chemicals that can be inhaled such as paint thinners and paints. So why are the rest of us exempt? Sooner or later the cumulative toxic loads we are bombarded with is bound to catch up to even the healthiest and most resilient of us. You may wonder why these products are still on the market, if they are indeed so bad? One reason is lack of education and understanding on the consumer part, and another is ignorance on the manufacturing end. There is a demand for these products currently, so the market provides.
We have been conditioned to think that cleaner is better, and the more harsh the means is to get clean, the better. We are brain-washed by advertisements and have gotten a bit obsessive-compulsive about cleanliness as a nation. The media often hypes up panic about the latest pandemic, but leaves us at a loss as to how actually train our immunity to be able to combat potential infectious diseases (just think about the novel Coronavirus epidemic!). The good news is, the market can and does change to meet its needs. The power of the consumer is that we can opt for healthier options and drive new trends with our dollars.
In all honesty, we need to re-train our bodies to be able to handle a bit of dirt. By completely removing bacteria from our environment, we are doing a disservice to our immune function. Allergies and auto-immune conditions are now so widespread because our immune signals have been disrupted due to rampant use of disinfectants and xenoestrogens (foreign estrogen-like substances in plastics and other chemicals). It now fails to recognize proper pathogens (organisms that can cause disease) and distinguish them from non-harmful organisms, or even our own cells! In fact, our collective immunity has become over-reactive to non-pathogenic triggers, resulting in widespread allergies, asthma and autoimmune conditions. (2)
Furthermore, wiping out both harmful and beneficial bacteria may lead to resistance to the same treatment down the line. Overuse of antibiotics in the medical field has bred virulent strains of pathogenic bacteria with antibiotic-resistant traits. (3) Many scientists have begun conducting antibiotic stewardships to examine the overuse of antibiotics in institutions and implement antibiotic-sparing protocols. Probiotics may help repopulate our gut flora with some of the beneficial bacteria of the microbiome, and are now routinely recommended after antibiotic therapy. Some people may benefit from longer-term probiotics to help with digestive and immune function. Probiotic-rich foods, such as kimchi, sauerkraut, and fermented dairy products, can also be helpful in supporting our microbiome. But the probiotics will likely never replace the diversity and variety of the flora we were meant to have in the first place.
In short, it won’t kill us to get a little dirty sometimes and stop trying to create a “bubble boy” situation. It may be good to have pets in the household, and to allow kids to get out into nature, and, to put it plainly, play with dirt. These exposures will train our immune systems to function properly and build resilience. However, using and inhaling chemicals that are man-made, and toxic doesn’t benefit anyone. Being around toxic fumes can cause long-lasting harm or permanent damage to our bodies and environment, and even affect future generations.
Not to worry, I won’t end this article without giving some simple solutions to implement in our cleansing routines. There are a number of natural products on the market that are safe and effective for personal and household cleansing. That said, I still urge you to do your own due diligence and research each product you plan to implement for yourself and your family. Even the “natural marketplace” can boast a huge list of ingredients their products don’t carry, but it’s often less clear about potential hazardous hidden ingredients present in their formulas. You can easily read the ingredients of each item you plan to buy ahead of time, or right in the store. Rule of thumb is if you can’t pronounce it, that’s a red flag and can potentially be a toxic chemical. There’s a great resource by the EWG (Environmental Working Group) you can use to check the safety and environmental rating of products by brand name. It’s a very useful tool to scan the barcodes of the impulse buy items at the point of sale, as well as browse the top picks in each category of products.
Here is a quick guide for the personal and household goods you may want to reevaluate and consider replacing. And there are also super easy and cheap DIY alternatives that can be fun home projects for families to do together. Look for bulk size items to shop sustainably and reduce plastic packaging waste. Often the same castile soap can be diluted and poured into appropriate dispensers to meet your hand, body and dishwashing needs. While this process can be overwhelming, it certainly doesn’t have to be done all at once. You can simply opt to purchase a “greener” product the next time something runs out at home.
Room deodorizer — Bamboo charcoal deodorizer or burn some sage*, palo santo*, or just light a match! (*Note: important to source these plants sustainably as they are endangered)
Dishwashing detergent — Ecover or washing soda, borax, and salt recipes
Dishwashing liquid — Seventh Generation or Castile soap recipe
Laundry detergent — Biokleen or soap nuts recipe (zero waste!)
Countertop/all-purpose cleaner — Earth-Friendly Products or white vinegar recipe
Toilet bowl cleaner — Eco-Me or Borax recipe
Hand soap — EO hand soap or Dr. Bronner’s castile soap diluted, follow instructions on bottle
Deodorant — Jason, Tom’s, Schmidt’s, Weleda, Thai crystal (and many more!) or coconut oil and baking soda recipe, or magnesium spray
Perfume — Ecco Bella or essential oil recipe
Face cleanser — Mother Dirt or oil cleanse with jojoba oil
Shampoo — green People or honey
Conditioner — 100% Pure (Burdock & neem healthy scalp conditioner) or marshmallow root recipe
Body wash — Dr. Woods Raw Black Soap or castile soap recipe
Hair spray — ShiKai or two-ingredient recipe
Hair styling gel — Andalou or three recipes here
In addition, here are two superstar newly found favorites of mine, Plaine Products and Zero Waste Cartel. Their platforms advocate for absolutely zero-waste, and have products that can be refilled through their online store or eliminate plastic packaging altogether. Check them out to show your support for sustainable companies. And comment with other companies you like as well, let’s share the knowledge!
1) Dick, F D. “Solvent neurotoxicity.” Occupational and environmental medicine vol. 63,3 (2006): 221-6, 179. doi:10.1136/oem.2005.022400 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2078137/
2) Cleaning Supplies and Your Health.” EWG’s Guide to Healthy Living. Accessed 5 Feb 2020. https://www.ewg.org/guides/cleaners/content/cleaners_and_health
3) Fair, Richard J, and Yitzhak Tor. “Antibiotics and bacterial resistance in the 21st century.” Perspectives in medicinal chemistry vol. 6 25-64. 28 Aug. 2014, doi:10.4137/PMC.S14459https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4159373/
Originally published in Jejune Magazine.