My (personal) Beef with Chemicals

leah foreman

hello. my name is leah foreman. as an occupational therapy practitioner, my purpose and goal are to make access to health and wellness easier for all, because i believe all human beings are born with a right to experience wholeness and joy. i am passionate, involved, and balanced in my practice. my dedication is to general wellness for myself and those around me, including my family and my clients. you can find me sharing and advocating on my instagram (@lifesoccupations) and the life’s occupations blog. you can see me in my real life living out these values, promoting and teaching on pediatric development, safer consumer products, and the importance of mindfulness practice. you can also find me advocating for healthcare providers’ wellness — in collaboration with Joy Energy Time, a company that supports wellness and burnout prevention for all healthcare workers. i have been able to work with many clients to learn what is important to them when it comes to their lives and their health. i am experienced in pediatric early intervention, providing support for little ones for developmental milestones and feeding. connect with me to learn more about how i can support you and/or your little ones in experiencing this life how you are meant to experience it.

A quick tip for reading this blog: when there is a linkclick it!

Read the research/article then or bookmark it for later. My research is linked throughout this blog and I made sure to include resources you could read and use. I also encourage you to do your own research on sites like PubMed with keywords like (“phthalate“, “paraben“, “triclosan” “personal care products”). THEN, research your current products — use the EWG (Environmental Working Group) and Think Dirty apps to scan your products and see what’s in them. This will help guide you if you decide to take action after reading all of this!


Let’s start with how I got here — writing a blog about the not so joyous topic that is chemical safety.

As many of you know, I have been on a dedicated mission over the past 5 years to rid my household and my beauty products of harmful chemicals and toxins. I initially started down this road because I was breaking out with contact dermatitis and dermatographia — two condition that cause welts to form on your skin — your skin itches, you itch it, and then welts start to form wherever you scratched or made “contact.” This prompted me to switch out my laundry detergent to Seventh Generation and from there it all began.

To be honest, at first, I thought it was just me and the fact that I have sensitive skin. I figured that chemicals are cool for everyone to use unless you had sensitive skin. But after going down the rabbit hole that is chemical safety research — I found the absolute opposite to be true.

Slowly but surely I began switching to safer products. I was doing pretty well and I was content with where I was at. I figured you can’t protect yourself from everything and I became complacent, to be honest.

THEN, Last year, after falling ill and spending hundreds of dollars of testing to figure out what was happening in my body, I discovered I have autoimmune issues. I struggled for months to get everything under control, I could not believe with how conscious I was with my health, that this was happening. During this time, any products that remained in my home with harmful chemicals were out — some of them literally went down the drain. I again dove into the research — I wanted facts on what was true, data-based, and proven about what was in my products and what they were doing to my body.


Here’s a summary of what my research found:

How Environmental Toxins Can Impact Our Health

Not all chemicals are bad… In fact, the human body is made up of many chemicals – it’s the toxic or harmful chemicals that we need to be educated on.

These are substances that can cause neurological, immune, and biological toxicity, altering how our body functions in a biological manner potentially causing numerous conditions from autoimmune disorders, endocrine disruption, hormone imbalances to cancer and issues with fertility.

Personal Care Products Enter our Bloodstream

through our skin + the air

Our skin is our largest organ and is accepts whatever we put on it! This includes everything you put on your skin, eyes, nails, etc.

Chemicals can also enter through the air and can be as toxic as second-hand smoke. (Don’t get me started on Bath & Body Works and Yankee Candle, it gets ugly — but read more about it here — there are research articles linked throughout). Candles are a great example of airborne chemicals, so are face (makeup) and baby powders — when you apply it you naturally inhale it.

This is NOT About Skin Irritation

Most products will not cause an immediate allergic reaction unless you are allergic to a specific chemical.

It’s about the chronic long-term exposure of using multiple products each with dozens of chemicals that add up and cause biological harm on our systems.

Some statistics about our current health:

Our Government and the FDA look out for these things, right?

WELL! you would think… but here are some not so fun facts;

There is Regulation

(but don’t get too excited…)

Current Regulation in the United States

  • It is currently completely legal for companies to use thousands of harmful chemicals in our personal care, cosmetics products and home cleaning products. Even if the ingredient is linked to cancer or autoimmunity or reproductive harm – there are no repercussions from the government for selling these chemicals to consumers.
  • The last time a major federal law was passed governing safety regulation was 1938 for this modern day $60 Billion industry.
  • Over 80,000 chemicals have been introduced into the marketplace since then, the vast majority of them have had no or very limited safety testing
    • Less than 1/3 have publicly available safety data
    • Less than 2% are verified safe for use on children
    • The current regulation is only 1 ½ pages long and only bans or restricts the use of 30 chemicals (1 ½ pages of regulation for over 80,000 chemicals… what?)
    • FDA is unable to verify safety before a product hits the market
    • FDA is unable to issue product recall for known harmful products – you read correctly — if LEAD IS FOUND in a batch of children’s lotions or in women’s lipsticks, the company is not required to recall the product and the FDA cannot call for the products to be recalled either — SO who is in charge here?

What to Look For in Products

  • Supplier screening and consistent quality audits – the supplier needs to be screening their own final products because if they are not, no one else is. 
  • Heavy metal testing
  • EWG Skin Deep Database Verification (Download the App or visit their website)
  • B Corp certified companies
  • Safe Packaging – BPA (bisphenol-A) free and safer plastics, FSC certified paper, and glass

With 80,000 unregulated chemicals, where do I start?

Here are chemicals that are easy to check for on labels and are some of the most harmful:

Phthalates

(Most often found hiding in “Fragrance”)

Endocrine and reproductive hormone disruptors. Commonly found in personal care products like lotions, moisturizers, body wash, hair care, and nail polish. They are one of the more toxic ingredients in PVC plastics which you find in shower curtains.

Parabens

Parabens are used to prevent the formation of bacteria and mold. Brands source seemingly innocuous ingredients such as grapefruit seed extract or aloe vera that have been preserved using parabens. The ingredient label does not have to disclose this, and it can still legally state the product as preservative and paraben free

Fragrance

Fragrance goes by many names — Parfum, Perfume, Scent — listing “Fragrance” as an ingredient is an industry secret. This works because the industry can currently legally list thousands of undisclosed and untested chemicals under the term “fragrance”. It’s best to source products that contain natural fruit or plant extracts as the scent and have them clearly disclosed on the label.

Heavy Metals

Heavy metals are most prominent in makeup, face paint, and children’s toys. They are often found in cosmetics like mineral makeup which is likely to pick up heavy metals during the sourcing process.

WHOA – so much.

If you just need to process all of that for now, I get it. It took me weeks to process and it made it hard to use anything in my home or on my body for a long time — I was truly paranoid checking labels and just felt so overwhelmed. It took a while before I could act.

If you would like to make some safer switches, head over the Clean + Conscious Products blog to start the process. It was a slow process for me at first because of the cost. But I’ve got some great ideas on where to start and some amazing product recommendations to make it easy for you.

Resources

Infertility

Human infertility: are endocrine disruptors to blame?

Endocrine and Hormone Disruptors

BPA + Endocrine/Hormone Disruption

EU’s Ban on Phthalates

Little Ones

Exposure to Environmental Endocrine Disruptors and Child Development

Childhood Cancer – More Evidence Points to Chemical Exposure

Cancer

Breast cancer + Personal Care Products

Chemical Safety in the Mainstream Press

CBS: Phthalates: Are They Safe?

TIME Magazine: The Hidden Dangers of Makeup and Shampoo

TIME Magazine: How the Government Can Help Prevent Your Makeup From Harming You

COSMO: 10 American Beauty Ingredients That Are Banned in Other Countries

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