The more I learn about nutrition, the more firmly I believe that what I put into my body will reflect my health, for better or for worse. When I eat too much sugar, my skin looks bad. When I eat more vegetables and whole foods, I feel lighter on my feet and energized. It’s not rocket science, but now that I have studied it, tested it, and seen results, I know it’s true. I realize that other things like genes, stress level and exercise have a place in the health equation as well, but nutrition is something that we have the power to control, and it’s my focus.
However, “what I put into my body” does not only mean things that go through my mouth. Right now in Anatomy & Physiology we are studying the integumentary system. That’s skin, for those who haven’t had a science class in a while (which was me, until this class started a few weeks ago!).
Our skin is the largest organ of our body, which makes sense if you think about it. It has a huge surface area! And those pores, they are everywhere… taking things in, letting things out. When I started nutrition school I began to purge all of the processed foods, oils and condiments in our cabinets and refrigerator. At the same time, I began to evaluate my skin and body care products as well. Some things were easy to replace. I found a facial cleanser and lotion that I love from Mountain Rose Herbs, and I use coconut oil in the winter when my hands and feet get really dry. I love my organic body wash. I’ve replaced most of our household cleaners with all-natural products, so I’m inhaling fewer toxins whenever I clean. I even found natural hand soap that we like.
However, there are some adjustments I am finding very difficult to make. For example, I got an organic, natural shampoo last summer and my little sister Madeline (who was living with us at the time) used it to wash her hair before work. She stomped into my room 20 minutes later with a hairbrush in hand, hair dried but appearing very greasy, and said, “I DON’T recommend using that organic shampoo!” I tried it the next day and sure enough, it left my hair nice and greasy.
We’ve tried eco-friendly, natural dishwasher soap. The result? Brown residue on our dishes. We have a very powerful dishwasher and we rinse our dishes well. They should come out clean.
I’m not too keen on natural deodorant, but I use it whenever possible. During a workout, though, it’s absolutely necessary I use Secret Clinical Strength Marathon Fresh scent deodorant. It’s a courtesy to the people at my gym.
And natural toothpaste? Still undecided on that one. The taste doesn’t bother me but are my teeth really getting clean? And will they stay pearly white? I worry they aren’t, and they won’t. I’ll have to defer to my dentist on this one.
In class, we talked about a website where you can look up just how toxic your body and skincare products really are. It uses a rating system to evaluate a product’s ingredients on things like toxicity and environmental friendliness, as well as any links a certain product has to cancer, allergies, endocrine disruption, mutations and irritations. It also evaluates product ingredients to let you know if any of them are on the FDA’s “warning” or “hazardous” lists.
And yes, it’s upsetting. Very upsetting! For example, my favorite body lotion of all time is Jergens Cherry Almond scent lotion. I think I’ve been using it since high school – that’s 12+ years. My friends say the smell of cherry almond reminds them of me. I’ve made claims that it’s the only lotion that keeps my hands from drying out. And do you know what it’s rated? 7 out of 10. That’s bad. As stated on the website, “ingredients in this product are linked to… cancer, developmental/reproductive toxicity, violations, restrictions and warnings, allergens/immunotoxicity” and a list of about 10 “other concerns”.
My perfume? Also rated a 7. My deodorant? A 5. My shampoo? A 7. And the list goes on.
I encourage you to look at the site and enter a few of your things. Again, I don’t mean to disappoint anyone but I do believe we all need to be aware, at the very least. Cosmetics are another big area for toxins and you can look them up on this website too.
So what do we do about it? I think we need to first and foremost, be aware of what we are putting into and onto our bodies. Some people may be more sensitive to these things than others, and if you do have any symptoms like dry, itchy skin, you may switch to gentler products. The goal is to work to reduce the toxins we are exposed to, whether they come from food or body care products. My approach is to focus most of my energy on the food, while spending some time trying new products and switching if I find something that I like, that I can afford, and that fits into our life rather effortlessly. Making homemade cleaning products or laundry detergent seems like too much work right now, so I’m not doing it. But, I have tried laundry detergents that have fewer chemicals because I do have sensitive skin.
Some people say that we should not put anything onto our body that we wouldn’t also be wiling to eat. This makes sense to me, and I like it, but I see it more as a vision than a concrete goal. Small changes are great and they are fun to experiment with: raw honey on open wounds instead of Neosporin, coconut oil on dry skin instead of a heavy cream, chamomile and peppermint oils rubbed on the temples to soothe a headache. I think some of these remedies can be especially beneficial for young children because their bodies are still so small and using natural approaches can prevent irritations or allergic reactions.
Anyway, click here to check out the website and see if you learn anything!