Autoimmune diseases have registered an alarming rise worldwide in recent years. Accumulated evidence indicates that the immune system’s ability to distinguish self from nonself is negatively impacted by genetic factors and environmental triggers.
A number of experimental studies and clinical reports have shown that autoimmune reactivity and/or autoimmune diseases are induced in humans and chronic exposure to various chemicals.
Not all chemicals are bad for us. Our body is made up of chemicals, and so is everything else, including food and water. Toxic chemicals, however, are bad for us. “Toxic” means those chemicals that can harm cells or organs, cause neurological damage, and/or alter important biological systems.
Did you know that the body absorbs 60 percent of what we apply to our skin?
Toxic chemicals can enter our bodies in different ways. In the case of cosmetics, toxic chemicals can enter our bodies directly through our airways when we inhale particles from powders and sprays, and through our skin, lips and nails when we apply products. We know that even small doses of ingredients can have a big effect when absorbed through the skin, as is seen in the growing popularity of patches applied to the skin containing medication such as nicotine and birth control.
There may be a link between serious health issues and toxins in our environment, including the products that we use.
Decades of studies indicate that serious health issues (including, but not limited to asthma, learning disabilities, cancer and infertility) are on the rise, and due in some part to our ongoing exposure to toxic chemicals—whether it’s in the shower, on our commute, while we eat lunch at a local restaurant, or when we clean our kitchens at home.
Goop published an article on this issue, The Dirty on Getting Clean, in which they share research uncovered by Gregg Renfrew, the creator and founder of BeautyCounter, a beauty company dedicated to creating safer beauty products that meet a high performance standard without compromising health. They have established an Ingredient Selection Process that is the one of the strictest in the industry. Beautycounter fully supports research initiatives to learn more about ingredient safety, and has identified more than 1,500 chemicals and counting that they won’t use, either because the chemical is known to be harmful, or in their eyes, what might be even worse: The chemical and its long-term effects on health are completely unknown.
According to Renfrew, the incidence of cancer, ADHD, allergies, and autism is on the rise. “One in two men, and one in three women will be diagnosed with cancer,” Renfrew explains, “while one in three kids will be diagnosed with ADHD, asthma, autism, or allergies.” She goes on to add: “What’s happening in our genes, physical environment, food supply chain, and cosmetics is a complicated dance. But our skin is our largest organ—it’s silly to assume that toxic chemicals we already know are linked to health problems, or chemicals that are understudied, aren’t having profound effect on our health, especially when so many illnesses are on the rise.” In a recent study, common cosmetic preservatives called parabens were found in biopsies of breast cancer tumors at levels that are similar to their concentrations use in personal care products. “We can’t control everything,” Renfrew adds, “but the products that we bring into our homes and put on our bodies every single day is a good place to start.”
Did you know…?
- There are more than 80,000 chemicals on the market today. Many don’t have any safety data. This is particularly true of those used in the skincare and beauty industry.
- Only about 10% of the 10,000 chemicals commonly found in personal care products have safety data.
- The Food and Drug Administration (the agency that regulates cosmetics) allows companies to use chemicals known to be extremely harmful (lead, formaldehyde, and phthalates) in the products we put on our bodies and on our kids every single day, day after day.
- The United States has not passed a major federal law to regulate the safety of ingredients used in personal care products since 1938.
- The European Union has spent the past two decades banning or restricting more than 1,300 ingredients; the US has only banned 11 to date.
Even tiny amounts add up.
On average, women use 12 cosmetics a day and men use 6, each with dozens of ingredients. In addition, we experience environmental exposures to toxic chemicals through food, air, water, and consumer products. Even tiny amounts of some chemicals used in everyday products can have huge impacts. Endocrine disruptors, which are chemicals like BPA, parabens and phthalates that mimic or block hormones, can have major health impacts because they mirror the function of our real hormones.
So what do we do about it?
- Check our products: Follow these 5 steps to audit, score, and reevaluate the products I use.
- Replace products with high toxicity ratings: I’ve identified several companies that are dedicated to creating safer products, including Beautycounter, a company devoted to getting safe products into the hands of everyone. All Beautycounter products are rated between 0 and 2, so it’s a rockstar and go-to replacement for toxic products.
- Knowledge is power: The more we know about our products, our environment, and the impact on our health, the more power we have to take action, take care of ourselves and the people we love.
- Sharing is caring: Spread awareness and share what you’ve learned with family, friends, and everyone you meet. This is an issue that is not widely shared by medical professionals, but talked about behind closed doors. It’s time to bring it into the light!
Products aren’t the only way we can protect our body and health.
- Be mindful of what you feed your body: Consider trying anti-inflammatory foods, or all-natural foods found in nature. Avoid overly processed foods and unhealthy ingredients.
- Pay attention: Keep a journal and take notes on what your body is telling you, what it dislikes/ likes, and what it needs. Meditation is also extremely helpful for staying in tune with your body.
- Relax and Recovery: Make sure that you get adequate rest and sleep. During sleep and rest, the body takes time to repair itself. This process is vital to the immune system and helps in buffering us from illness.
- Exercise: Exercising regularly, even with yoga or light to moderate activities, can help you manage stress and reduce the stress hormome cortisol, which can cause damage to your health. It also gives us endorphins, which are natural feel good chemicals, which are released into our body and have a positive impact on our short- and long-term health. (I always think of Legally Blonde: “Happy people don’t kill their husbands…”)
Why has the medical community not broadcasted these findings yet?
Science and medicine advance can be very slow and arduous, because they need replication of results in order to have confidence in the understanding of the causes of disease.
These studies cost a lot of money, and they need more research dollars for this topic. With more research comes the possibility of more discovery and potentially better ways to protect ourselves from harmful substances that could trigger autoimmune disease.
Don’t freak out. Keep it in perspective.
The chemicals present in any one cosmetic are unlikely to cause serious harm but chemicals from the products we wear everyday can accumulate in our bodies and prove harmful over time. None of us use just one product. Think about how many products you use in a single day and how many products you use in a year, and over a lifetime.
As you may already know, my mission is to help others dealing with chronic illness and autoimmune diseases, and to inspire everyone to live their best life and be the best version of themselves. As I uncover new truths in my research – such as natural remedies and understanding the connection between our mind, body, and soul – I will share them on the ENLIVEN blog as a guide that you can follow. Here’s to you and your health!