Last week I watched a horrifying two-hour documentary on CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) television called “Toxic Beauty”. I stumbled on it while channel surfing and was stunned by the information imparted. A large portion of the program was dedicated to the coverup by Johnson & Johnson about the dangers of using their baby powder. A class-action suit initiated by thousands of women who developed ovarian cancer after using Johnson & Johnson’s baby powder on their lady parts was a lengthy, uphill battle. It took years to be heard and was met with millions of corporate dollars to fight their claims.
The science behind the case for the women was indisputable but the corporation threw its full legal resources against the suit, similar to the fight from the tobacco industry years earlier. Biopsies and lab results of tests on women’s reproductive organs showed high levels of actual baby powder had migrated to their ovaries. Earlier scientific proof that talc, silica, and even asbestos in baby powder were carcinogenic was dismissed by the companies making the products and they insisted baby powder was safe.
It took a Canadian woman who pursued her case without demanding any financial compensation to tip the balance. Her only demand was that the company accept responsibility and put warning labels on the container. More successful suits followed and the story has gained considerable publicity and traction since then.
Organic or natural does not necessarily mean safe.
Even something as basic as lavender can be dangerous. Essential oils are not exempt from being capable of interfering with our endocrine system. Toxic Beauty also identified many other commonly used cosmetic and personal care products that contain dangerous amounts of toxic chemicals. The toothpaste we use every day, the moisturizing creams we spread on our faces and bodies, the shampoos, cosmetics, lip balms, and soaps we wash with several times a day are all potential threats to our overall health. Prior to COVID-19, we’d been warned about the overuse of hand sanitizers, yet during the current pandemic, we’re using more than ever. How is this compromising our natural immune systems and how are the chemicals in these products affecting our bodies and overall health?
I learned about ‘dirty electricity’ and the negative effects of electromagnetic fields made me wonder how living for six years next to the main hydro corridor from Pickering might have affected my own health. It’s recommended we carry cell phones in a separate purse or computer bag rather than in your pocket to minimize the effects of harmful microwave radiation.
Watching this program scared the bejeezus out of me and prompted me to order a book referenced on the show and written by Canadians Rick Smith and Bruce Lourie that further investigates the problem. Slow Death By Rubber Duck, How The Toxicity of Everyday Life Affects Our Health is an easy-to-read outline of the systematic addition of toxic chemicals to everyday products ranging from car seats to toys, cosmetics and personal care products and home furnishings. The authors conducted numerous scientific tests on themselves measuring blood and urine content before and after being exposed to certain commonly used products. The results are enough to make you never want to use soap, shampoo, or deodorant again.
Our health should not be determined by profit
Have you ever wondered why cancer is so rampant now? It’s not just that more and earlier diagnoses are being made. We all know far too many people who’ve contracted non-genetic cancers despite being non-smokers and living a healthy lifestyle. Perhaps we should be questioning what the chemical companies are doing to our food chain. Companies like Monsanto have a lot to answer for. What’s in our personal care products that are compromising our immune systems and affecting overall health?
Most of the personal care products we use contain phthalates and parabens which have been proven to alter our endocrine systems. That means when these products are used on a daily basis for years, our reproductive systems are irreversibly altered. Something as simple as sprinkling baby power on babies’ bums could possibly affect their fertility and gene function later in life. Used prenatally by pregnant women, it could affect the baby’s health and even result in deformities. That’s just plain scary. But the chemical companies are doing it and getting away with it. Did you know that even cash register receipts contain dangerous toxic chemicals?
Five years ago I published a review of the book Is Gwyneth Paltrow Wrong About Everything? by Timothy Caulfield, who is a professor in the Faculty of Law and the School of Public Health as well as research director of the Health Law and Science Policy Group at the University of Alberta. In recent years he has led and collaborated on a number of research projects having to do with the social challenges associated with genomic technologies, stem cell research, and the application of ethics in health sciences. He is a member of the Royal Society of Canada and the Canadian Academy of Health Sciences. Caulfield is a highly credible critic of the bunk we’re served up by the cosmetics and personal care industry. I highly recommend reading this and any other book he publishes. The guy knows what he’s talking about. Very sobering.
So, what should we do?
My immediate reaction was to immediately toss every cleaning, cosmetic, and personal care product in my home and make a trip to Whole Foods. But, even throwing out all my carpets, purging my life of any product with a chemical component I can’t pronounce will not return us to ground zero. The insidiousness of these toxins is far-reaching and impossible to completely eliminate from our lives. We can, however, make gradual modifications to our purchases that will minimize the damage to our health and that of our families. There are specific commonly-used ingredients we can watch for in the products we buy—although not all labeling is accurate or inclusive.
I went to my bathroom cupboard and retrieved my bottles of Aveda hair products to replace the drugstore brands I’d been using. Toronto’s well-known celebrity hairstylist Ray Civello was an early advocate for this natural line. I’m also concerned about what to do about my collection of French fragrances. They’re a luxury I love but is it safe to spritz myself every morning?
As I replace some of my moisturizers and other personal care products I’m going to research new purchases for safety and learn about whether what I’m using includes BPA, phthalates, and parabens, or any other toxic ingredient. I plan to make a concerted effort to buy safer products, preferably made here in Canada. Organic products are now widely available and competitively priced in local grocery and drug stores.
It’s tempting to disregard the scientific evidence about the dangers of certain chemicals in our everyday products. After all, I find myself thinking “I’ve reached the age of seventy-two without any major issues other than chronically itchy skin,” but I plan to live at least another twenty years so I have to consider the bigger picture. This tired old planet is in serious trouble and it’s incumbent on me to do my part in alleviating the damage to our environment and ultimately humanity. Collectively we have to take action to make a difference.
I think watching the documentary Toxic Beauty and educating ourselves about the issue is a good starting point. I strongly recommend reading either or both of the books I’ve described and use that information to make your judgments about how to proceed. There are many references to Canadian experts, locations, and products which I found educational and reassuring.
I plan to phase out any products containing BPA, phthalates, and parabens and opt for organic products. Even with that level of caution, however, we still have to be vigilant. The evidence is clear. The dangers are not. Stay well, mes chères.
If your local library or bookstore does not have these books, click on the image below to order from Amazon. I have recently set up an affiliate relationship with Amazon’s Canadian division to make it easier to order in Canadian dollars and receive deliveries from a local distribution centre.
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