I used to smell really good. REALLY good. I was a big fan of smelly soaps and lotions, and expensive perfume back in the day. Miss Dior Cherie was my favorite. Then…a couple of years ago I began to do some reading about personal care products and chemicals. And I got upset. REALLY upset. And then I got so upset that I went into my closet and filled a garbage bag. The expensive perfume still sits on the shelf, mostly because I feel too guilty about just HOW expensive it was to throw it out. And once in a blue moon when my natural deodorant fails me at an inopportune time, I break down and use it. And I always feel REALLY guilty. And here’s why:
All those beautiful smelling soaps and shampoos contain chemicals known as “phthalates”. Phthalates are “plasticizers” as well, which allow plastics to be soft. They can be found in baby toys, shower curtains, fabric softener and laundry soap, bathroom spray, infant feeding utensils and sippy cups, hairspray, nail polish, makeup, and so on. They leech into our food through packaging, and into the air we breathe. And I’m not making this up – we all have some level of them in our bodies. These chemicals are known carcinogens and endocrine disruptors, and mimic estrogens in our bodies. For a long time, the term “endocrine disruptor” made me nervous but I didn’t really get it. Now I do. If you Google “phthalates + baby boys” – the results are just downright scary. Studies show that baby boys with higher phthalate exposure were more likely to have some form of genital abnormalities such as incomplete testicular descent and hypospadias (a urethral deformity). These same studies are showing that the phthalates are contributing to lowering of sperm counts and testicular tumors later in life. Whether you are male or female, this group of chemicals has the capacity to totally mess with your thyroid, adrenals and any other member of the endocrine system which is really a big, huge deal. And it is of particular importance to be mindful of this if you are pregnant…
For a while I kind of freaked out. I didn’t know what I’d do without all my pretty smells. And frankly, I was overwhelmed. Now, I have reached a place where I really don’t think we can avoid them totally because they are everywhere, and I do have to leave my house every day. But I can at least lighten our overall toxic load by controlling what is in OUR house.
The best thing you can do is learn to read labels. Visit the Environmental Working Group’s “Skin Deep” site – they have a handy little cut out that you can place in your wallet and take to the store with you. Because if you’re anything like me, it will take awhile to remember it all. You can also rate your personal care products on their website which can be…very enlightening to say the least. If it says “Fragrance” – nix it. And don’t fool yourself, whether it is a $10 perfume or a $100 perfume, it makes no difference at all. For awhile I tried to tell myself that…but it really wasn’t the truth.
Another thing I did was to get rid of our stinky PVC shower curtain that was certainly offgassing phthalates at a horrific rate. I looked around and decided that the $100 hemp shower curtains, as nice as they may be, did not meet my budgetary requirements. So I opted for the PEVA liner at Walmart for $5 and am ok with it.
When you’re looking for baby items like pacifiers, sippy cups, spoons, etc., look for ones labeled “BPA and Phthalate Free”. If you love pretty smells, use essential oils or find candles that advertise as “phthalate free” (I believe that the Seed brand soy candles are). Aura Cacia also makes some really nice nontoxic sprays, diffusers, etc., with essential oils. We actually quit using bathroom spray too…and believe it or not, no one has died. I also no longer cook with plastic or heat food in plastic.
Learn to make your own green cleaners or buy ones like Biokleen, Seventh Generation or Ecover, opt for more natural options for soaps (Dr. Bronner’s brand is wonderful), and resign yourself to smelling like…yourself. And I cannot emphasize this enough: LEARN TO READ LABELS. And don’t trust things that say “Unscented” because oddly enough, if you read the label, they usually say “Fragrance”. “Fragrance” to cover up “fragrance”? Go figure.
And don’t despair. There are some really good options out there (Aubrey Organics, Beauty Without Cruelty, Burt’s Bees) so you really WILL be able to shower again and bathe your kids and not offend your friends and family with your smell. I do find that I need to shop online more, and yes, some of it costs more. This is why I’m in a mode of DIY right now, which is the likely subject of future blog posts.
The semi-positive news is that some of the worst phthalates have been banned for use in children’s products in the U.S. I repeat: SOME OF THE WORST. That does not mean that the rest is ok. It just means that no discerning eye has decided “nope, kids shouldn’t be exposed to this.” And folks, sometimes the discerning eye never comes. That continues to be a source of frustration to this mom. Other countries tend to be…shall I say…a little stronger on these things than the U.S. If it concerns you enough, you can always contact your legislators. I have to admit I haven’t done that yet, but I do choose to vote with my dollar and not purchase those items. The other positive news is that studies have shown that if people reduce their exposure, their blood levels do drop accordingly, so you truly do have the capacity to affect and protect your health and your children’s health.
A really good read on phthalates and other chemical concerns in your home is the book “Slow Death by Rubber Duck” by Rick Smith and Bruce Lourie. I got it through our library but it can also be found on Amazon.com. My only advice is to not read it before bedtime. You won’t sleep well.
So…if you ever see me in the store quickly herding my kids through the uber-stinky laundry detergent aisle with our shirts over our noses…please don’t think we’re freaks…I just want to be a Grandma some day.