Modern living — especially in wealthy, developed countries — is largely based on convenience and comfort rather than what’s good for us. But what we gain from luxuries like body-conforming mattresses and anti-wrinkle clothing could also be putting our health at risk.
Many of us don’t have to wait till we get cancer to find out we’ve made a mistake. The chemicals make us sick now and we have to do something about them. We may be the lucky ones. . .
. . .because most people sail along without being bothered by the chemical wonderland we live in. After decades of exposure, they often get cancer.
If you want to do something about the toxins instead of assuming everything’s all right, then read the following collection of do’s and don’ts for your bedroom and bathroom. By acting now these tips for navigating hidden dangers in your house, you’ll curb your risk of future health problems.
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1. Ditch toxin-heavy clothing
Much of the clothing sold in stores today drips with chemicals from the manufacturing process. Yet your skin is the largest organ of your body (most adults have 22 square feet of it, or eight pounds) – and it absorbs things readily and passes them into our blood. So it’s essential to protect it.
It’s possible to absorb a hefty chemical load from the clothes you wear. You can also inhale the gases these chemicals give off. Gone are the days when clothing consisted of natural fibers like cotton, wool, and silk. They’ve been replaced with synthetics like nylon, polyester, and spandex.
Today’s $7 trillion-per-year clothing industry uses a shocking 8,000 synthetic chemicals in the manufacturing process. Wrinkle-free, anti-cling, and water-repellent fabrics all carry high chemical loads.
The toxins include formaldehyde (linked to a 30% increase in cancer) and flame retardants like brominated Tris, a mutagen that causes cancer and sterility in animals. When chemicals like these get absorbed through the skin, they bypass your liver, which is your body’s natural toxin-filter. And because these chemical molecules are tiny, they can head straight to any other organ in your body, including your brain.
That’s why natural and organic clothing is a no-brainer. But you have to put some effort into finding it. Commit to buying and wearing clothing made from cotton, flax, hemp, silk, cashmere, alpaca, or angora. Start small and replace your undergarments first (because they’re closest to your skin). Aim to gradually replace all clothing that comes in contact with your skin, and you’ll drastically reduce your chemical load.
2. Kick the monsters out of your bed
We live in a world of insomniacs and sleep-deprived people – and one of the reasons may be the staggering chemical load in most manufactured mattresses. I know that my sinuses close up tight when exposed to most pillows and mattress, forcing me to breathe through my mouth. These common household items often give me a sore throat as well.
These reactions often stem from government-mandated flame retardants that can withstand an open-flame test of 2,000 degrees for 70 seconds. But that means we’re talking about acutely toxic chemicals, many of which are known to cause cancer.
I often wonder how many people actually died of mattress fires before the government forced us all to use flame retardant bedding. Was it really enough to make it worth mandating deadly chemicals for all 300 million Americans?
Worse still, you’ll rarely find a “contents” list when you buy a new mattress. And when you consider that most of us spend six to nine hours on our mattresses every night, it puts all of us at high risk for absorbing the flame-proofing chemicals that leach to the surface of mattresses.
Symptoms connected to toxic mattresses include asthma, skin issues, infertility, hair loss, neurological issues, and cancer.
Overcome this bedroom risk with a low-density, food-grade polyethylene cover, or consider buying a 3-inch organic topper for your bed that sits above the surface of the original mattress (toxic gases are heavier than air and can only rise about an inch or two above the mattress).
If you need to replace your current mattress, look for a natural or organic handmade brand. If there’s no way you can replace your current mattress or find a substitute, at least try to detox regularly with a hot Epsom salt bath or sweat therapy, such as you’d get from a sauna.
3. Don’t strangle your lymphatic system
I’m not much of a fashion expert, but it’s no secret that tight-fitting clothing is in common use. A century ago, things like corsets and foot bindings caused physical deformities that were plain to see. These days, few people give a second thought to the effect of tight elastic bands like those found in socks, undergarments, and bras in particular.
The chief risk of tighter-than-comfortable clothing is that it constricts lymph drainage, which is needed for a well-functioning immune system. Lymph drainage is a key weapon in flushing out toxins. Cut that off and you have a backup of lymph in your body, which includes toxins and other debris.
Avoid this easy-to-fix problem altogether by wearing clothing that fits. If your undergarments leave red marks and indentations on your skin, they’re too tight. Even if you don’t notice any discomfort, take the red marks as a cue from your body to re-size your clothing.
You should also always take restrictive clothing off at night (especially bras) so your immune system can have some breathing room. Men should wear boxers or at least take off tight-fitting brief at night because – aside from the lymph problem – briefs reduce sperm counts and testosterone levels.
4. Choose health over beauty
Beauty as our culture defines it has a powerful effect on the way we live our lives – a fact that’s underscored by the billion-dollar-a-year beauty industry. Hair dye is a massive offender, packed with a multitude of chemicals likely to cause cancer. Cancer shows up decades later, after long exposures, making it hard to prove a connection.
My view is that hair dyes are a cancer risk you can do without. Avoid them.
If you’re set on dying your hair, use something natural. Try an herbal dye if you want to go darker, or lemon juice and sunlight if you want a lighter hair color. Henna is a safe hair dye, but the color may not appeal to many people.
5. Smell good the natural way
We already know perfumes and fragrances are guilty of triggering allergies and irritations. That’s because the perfume industry is riddled with toxic ingredients. Increasingly, those toxins are being linked to cancer. Sometimes the connection is indirect – as in the case of fragrances that trigger hormone disruption that in turn causes cancer.
Perfume makers call it “brand protection” when they don’t put a list of ingredients on their labels. They don’t want competitors to know their formula. The FDA shrugs at this since we don’t ingest perfumes. But toxins are still absorbed through your skin. This goes for all perfumed products, including creams, soaps, and so forth.
This one has an easy solution: use fragrance-free soaps and lotions. If you want to wear some type of fragrance, try a homemade perfume recipe made from essential oils.
6. Chuck the dirty shampoos
Conventional shampoos are yet another example of chemical-heavy products we rub on our skin. With ingredients like MSG, dioxane, propylene glycol (also the main toxic ingredient in industrial antifreeze!), sodium lauryl sulfate (used in garage cleaners), and a long list of other offenders… it’s a stretch to say you’re cleaning your hair.
Fortunately, some of the mega-companies that make shampoo are caving to public demand. At the end of 2013, iconic baby shampoo makers Johnson & Johnson finally removed formaldehyde and 1,4-dioxane from their ingredient list.
We still have a long way to go. The only solution for now is to find a truly organic shampoo free from synthetic chemicals. Check the ingredients list for things you recognize and can pronounce, like aloe vera, shea butter, comfrey, and horsetail extract. Look for natural preservatives like citrus seed extracts and essential oils like sweet orange or peppermint.
7. Toss Your Toxin-Heavy Cosmetics
Most women are surprised to learn there’s a dizzying array of chemicals in their makeup products. In fact, 60% of lipsticks contain lead, a neurotoxin. Nail polishes are absolute chemical cocktails.
And here’s an astounding fact: The European Union has banned more than 1,000 ingredients from cosmetic use… yet the FDA has banned only eight. Worse, federal law allows companies to leave some chemicals off product labels to protect “trade secrets.” (Too bad they don’t have the same concern for your health.)
You’re exposed to these chemicals when you breathe in powders, swallow lipstick and lip balm or absorb them through the skin, or get bits of makeup in your eyes. The simple solution is to choose all-natural products and toss out any that contain man-made, synthetic chemicals – including synthetic fragrance.
But be warned – products labeled “organic” and “natural” can still contain petrochemicals. Your best bet is to check out Environmental Working Group’s “Skin Deep Cosmetic Safety Database,” which is an excellent resource for healthier natural products. Also look for the USDA organic seal. Or consider making your own makeup.
Lee Euler, Publisher