How Can We Avoid the Effects of Toxic Chemicals?

How Can We Avoid the Effects of Toxic Chemicals? | The Organic Beauty BlogThis past Tuesday, I attended a conference put on by the Mount Sinai Children’s Environmental Health Center in conjunction with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), entitled “Birth Defects, Learning Disabilities, Obesity and Breast Cancer:  How Can We Avoid the Effects of Toxic Chemicals?”  Although many of the chemicals discussed were those that we at the Organic Beauty have been writing about for some time (see 4 Steps to Naturalize Your Life), hearing first hand about the research and catastrophic effects these chemicals have on our bodies, and particularly children, was very jarring.

A panel of brilliant doctors, many of them young fellows in the Children’s Environmental Health department at Mount Sinai, spoke about the effects of endocrine disruptors (like parabens, DDT, phthalates, PBDEs, BPA and DBP found in common plastics, electronics, furniture and beauty products) on reproductive and neurological development, as well as cancer, diabetes, and obesity.  These toxins are ubiquitous, but it is with persistent, on-going contact that the long-term effects begin to manifest.  What struck me most was how preventable  these environmental causes of disease are.  By taking action in our communities and taking manageable steps within our own homes, we can significantly lessen our exposure to toxins that can not us sick, but make our unborn children sick as well.

So… what can you do?  Become an educated consumer!

  • Use glass or stainless steel instead of plastics, especially when storing or cooking foods.  If you must use them, avoid #3 and #7 plastics, which are chock full of pretty much every toxic chemical we should be avoiding. This handy saying helps you remember: “Four, five, one and two, all the rest are bad for you!”
  • Avoid using vinyl shower curtains.  Like many other products mentioned here, these contain phthalates, the fumes from which are then inhaled every time you enter your bathroom.  Phthalates disrupt development of male reproductive organs, lower sperm count, and damage the endocrine and immune systems.
  • Use natural beauty products.  I mean honestly, at this point there is no excuse not to!  There are countless affordable, natural products out there with ingredients that are recognizable.  If you don’t know what it is, don’t put it on your skin.  At the very least, make sure anything you put on your body and hair is paraben-free, phthalate-free, and SLS-free.
  • Clean your home with a wet mop and/or a vinegar solution, and when you must use cleaning solutions, make sure they are natural and non-toxic as well.  Everything you use to clean your house with is inhaled by you, your family, and your pets.  If it’s full of disease-causing toxins, that’s what you’re going to get…disease and toxicity.  Cleaning with homemade solutions is infinitely cheaper than store-bought as well!
  • Buy fragrance-free products, or those scented with essential oils only.  Nearly every common product with a fragrance, from lotions and shampoo to detergent and countertop spray, contain toxic VOCs (volatile organic compounds) that increase risk of all manner of cancer as well as neurodevelopmental disorders like ADD, ADHD, autism, behavioral problems and lower IQ.
  • Only use DBP, formaldehyde and toluene-free nail polish.  There are loads of brands that are now free of these chemicals, so again, there really is no excuse to expose your body to these deadly, carcinogenic chemicals, especially if you are, or are around, a pregnant woman!  (Priti and O.P.I. are just a few of the safer brands)
  • Choose PBDE-free electronics and furniture (especially mattresses).  PBDEs are flame retardants that are found in most older, stuffed furniture items and rugs, and many electronics like phones, TVs and computers.  When buying any of these items, verify that they are free of PBDEs, which decrease thyroid hormone levels, damage reproductive systems, and cause neurological symptoms as well.  The EWG has a handy PBDE Guide everyone should check out! 
  • Avoid canned foods and beverages, unless they are BPA-free.  Almost all canned foods and beverages contain BPA, which can have devastating effects on the neurological and reproductive systems, and has also been linked to heart disease, intestinal damage, diabetes, and obesity.  So far, Eden Organics is the only brand that has made the switch to all BPA-free cans.  But Trader Joe’s and Wild Planet offers some, but far from all, products in BPA-free cans.
  • Wash your hands after handling thermal receipts.  Those smooth, warm, thermal receipts used by so many retailers are made up of nearly 3% pure BPA, which then gets onto your skin and even straight into your mouth.  Always wash your hands after touching the receipts, or forgo them altogether!
Dr. Philip Landrigan, who moderated the panel, added the following universal recommendations for avoiding exposure to these dangerous toxins:
  • REDUCE YOUR CLIMATE FOOTPRINT (which lessens universal risk of exposure)
  • USE INTEGRATED PEST MANAGEMENT (instead of toxic pesticides, sprays and fumes)
  • EAT ORGANIC WHENEVER POSSIBLE (which lowers exposure to pesticides by a whopping 90%)
  • JOIN A FOOD CO-OP  (or start one if there isn’t one in your area)
  • BE A CITIZEN!  (nothing will change if we don’t make our voices heard.  All of these environmental causes of disease are preventable, and with enough public pressure, we can get these toxins banned!)

Step Four: Restructure Your Eating Habits

5 Steps to Healthier Eating in the New Year | The Organic Beauty Blog

By now we have (hopefully) all made drastic changes to the products we put on and around our bodies. We have become more mindful of ingredients, and realized that harmful toxins and carcinogens enter our body through ways other than our mouths.  But how we eat is still the most impactful and important method of promoting total body health… Unfortunately, it is also the hardest.  Buying new beauty products or cleaning products is as easy as checking out at the grocery store, it doesn’t involve a complete makeover of habits we have been honing and reinforcing for, well, as long as we have been conscious, really.  This is the  most important of the 4 Steps is therefore most difficult to incorporate into your life.

But I’m going to make it easy for you!!!

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Step Three: Revolutionize Your Beauty Routine

Step 3: Revolutionize Your Beauty Routine  |  The Organic Beauty Blog

Tossing all your old, chemical-laden makeup, skin- and haircare supplies can be incredibly scarring.  Some women use the same mascara for decades… the very prospect of switching brands can be like betraying an old friend.  But with all the recent popularity of all things green and organic, there has never been a better time to switch to organic and/or natural products.  There are great products for problem skin, aging skin, great makeup, even sunscreen!  All without harmful chemicals and carcinogenic additives.  Want to browse the options?  Future Natural is a great site for organic skin- and haircare, featuring great brands such as Juice Beauty, Mod.Skin Labs, John Masters, and Farmaesthetics.  Those of us who are incurable Sephora addicts can get a fix with Sephora’s Natural and Organic section, where you can stock up on all the best organic brands, like Boscia, Bare Escentuals, Josie Maran, Pangea, Korres, and Tarte.

Natural vs. Organic

In selecting your new beauty products, keep the following in mind:  “Natural” and “Organic” are not the same thing.  Though using products labeled natural is still preferable to the pharmacy-bought, chemical brands, you may still be using products that have dangerous pesticides and repellents in them.  Organic ingredients are grown or processed in accordance with strict regulations, without the use of these carcinogenic chemicals. In an ideal world, we would all only put organic products in and on our bodies.  However, affordability and availability are issues for some people, but that shouldn’t prevent every one of us from making better choices.  Start by eliminating the most dangerous elements (see Step One) and go from there!  Or, if you’re ready to dive in 100%, check out The Coming Clean Campaign for a list of USDA certified organic brands.

Great Organic and All-Natural Products to Try:


Intelligent Nutrients Haircare is a really great line of products, certified organic by the UK Organic Soil Association.  I particularly like the Harmony line, featuring great anti-aging, revitalizing, volumizing shampoos and conditioners chock full of antioxidants. Another good line, though not all organic (despite the name!), is John Masters Organics.  My favorite of their products are the Sea Salt and Lavender Hair Mist and Dry Hair Nourishment and Defrizzer, and both happen to be USDA certified organic!
Desert Essence Organics also features mostly certified organic ingredients in a bunch of really great haircare products for all types of hair.  I particularly like the Organic Coconut Oil Shampoo and Conditioner.. perfect for dry hair.



Simply Divine Botanicals has an amazing line of natural skincare products, with some certified organic ingredients.  My absolute favorite face wash is called Black Velvet, and it is perfect for all skin types, from acne prone to dry and sensitive.  Of the 100% organic brands, Miessence is one of my absolute favorites.  I particularly like their Purifying skincare line, which is great for problem skin, and uses ingredients such as organic echinacea and thyme.  They also have an organic glycolic peel!

One of my all-time favorite moisturizers is the Sweet Black Tea and Rice Facial Moisterizer from Juara, a natural, Indonesian skincare company.  They use great ingredients like Kombucha, avocado, and rice bran oil that make for radiant, amazing skin.


Bare Escentuals makes a great line of pure mineral makeup, that is actually pretty healthy for your skin.  I like the mineral foundation (with SPF 15!) and the mineral veil.  For slightly heavier coverage, I love Juice Beauty Tinted Moisturizer with SPF.  It provides a lovely glow and blended color with tons of nutrients that prevent aging and promote skin health.

There are actually quite a few new organic mascaras coming on the market, and it’s about time!  The delicate skin around your eyes is a really easy way for harmful chemicals to get into your bloodstream, so its really important to use quality ingredients on those peepers.  One of my favorite mascaras is Organic Wear 100% Natural Origin Mascara from Physician’s Formula.  Its a really thick formula with a finely bristled brush that gives a super voluminous look, and the ingredients are mostly organic, and almost ALL natural.   Miessence also makes a great mascara, and is 87% organic.

For eyeshadow, blush, and everything else fabulous, I have a few go-to lines.  Bare Escentuals, Korres, and Josie Maran are all good places to start.  Tarte also makes some amazing natural (though not organic) products; my faves are the Natural Cheek Stain (so good for more dramatic fall looks) and the Lipsurgence Natural Lip Stain, both formulated with plant-based ingredients that are rich with antioxidants, and both are paraben, SLS, pthalate, and mineral oil free!  For 100% certified organic ingredients, my favorite lines are Vapour Organics (try their awesome, antioxidant rich Siren Lipstick), with color derived from natural fruit pigments), and Nvey Organics, whose line of vitamin-infused eyeshadows in 24 different colors are formulated with sensitive skin around the eyes in mind.


The products we use on our nails are perhaps the most toxic aspects of our beauty regiments.  Almost all commercial nail polish brands have heaping amounts of terrifying chemicals in them (formaldehyde, toluene, DBP) which cause a whole mess of health problems, including (but not limited to!) respiratory problems, reproductive complications, liver and kidney toxicity, headaches, fatigue, and yes, even cancer.  There’s a reason why manicurists wear surgical masks!  The good news is that we now have options… Priti NYC is my absolute favorite.  They have pretty much every color under the sun, have NONE of the carcinogenic toxins listed above, and even have some organic ingredients! They even make a completely non-toxic, soy based nail polish remover, which actually works (believe it or not!).

See??  No need to panic about throwing away your trusted Maybelline’s and Neutrogena’s, there are much better, healthier, and even more effective products out there that won’t harm your body!  If you have some favorite organic or natural products, feel free to comment and share them!


Step One to Naturalize Your Life: Read Your Ingredients!

Step 1: Read Your Ingredients | The Organic Beauty Blog

With the effects of the somewhat recent trend toward all things natural and organic (not to mention local, seasonal, Greenmarket, etc., etc.), most of us have gotten used to reading the ingredients on the things we put in our bodies.  Most of us know to avoid high fructose corn syrup, bleached and refined sugars and flours, trans fats, and artificial colors and flavors.  But do you know that there are equally (if not more) harmful ingredients in your beauty and cleaning products?  Just as we read the labels of what we put in our pantries, we also have to read the ingredients of what we put in our medicine cabinets.

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