You Are What You Eat… And Also What You Breathe Into Your Lungs & Absorb Through Your Skin

One of the scariest aspects of having an autoimmune disease is the increased likelihood of developing more as time goes on.  Not only is developing additional autoimmune diseases likely, but, for example, Sjogren’s Syndrome patients are also 50 times more likely to develop certain cancers.  I’m not crazy about those odds, so I’m trying to call a halt to the progression of my immune system’s rebellious streak any way I can.

The Environmental Working Group conducts independent testing of thousands of chemicals, from personal care products to household cleaners to pesticides on and in our food. Click image to visit EWG’s Guide to Healthy Cleaning and select the “ewg guides” tab at the top of the page for other options.

While the foods we choose to eat can cause or reduce inflammation in the body, other factors can also promote inflammation (which in turn drives chronic pain and can lead to autoimmune disease and cancer).  The Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep (R) Database rates the toxicity of over 74,000 bath, beauty, and personal care products, including make-up, soaps, shampoos/conditioners, lotions, hair styling products, deodorants, toothpastes, contact lens solutions, sunscreens, and more.  If your specific product isn’t listed, you can enter individual ingredients and tally their toxicity ratings yourself.  Fair warning before you click the link: it’s like swallowing the red pill.  Once you learn your favorite “natural” body wash actually rates a 6 on a toxicity scale from 1 to 10, it’s hard to lather up with the same carefree enjoyment.

How can products which market themselves as “natural” be so far off the mark?  This quick and entertaining video explains the pitfalls of the cosmetics industry in a nutshell: The Story of Cosmetics with Annie Leonard.

At this point, the Midwestern Gentleman deserves a sincere shout-out for being such a trouper.  He hardly batted an eye as I sorted through our personal care products, tossing bottles and tubes and jars into the trash.  He accompanied me to our local co-op, his smartphone cued up to the Skin Deep Database.  We created our own mental matrix, weighing product costs against toxicity ratings until we had restocked our bathroom with the safest items we felt we could reasonably afford.

My newly acquired products, all with low toxicity ratings: Dr. Bronner’s Pure Castile Soap, Coastal Classic Creations hair pomade and make-up, Keys facial moisturizer and SPF 30 facial sunscreen.

After decades of devotion to Clinique, I also restocked my (admittedly minimal) make-up collection thanks to Coastal Classic Creations (available through their retail website only).  Their cosmetics all score a 1 or 0 on the Skin Deep toxicity scale.  So far, I’ve been quite happy with the look and feel of the products I purchased: eye shadow, mascara, hair pomade.  Since they contain no solvents or adhesives, the cosmetics don’t cause any itching, burning, or contact lens irritation.  The darker eyeshadows double as eyeliner: you simply mix a few grains of the powdered pigment with a few drops of water, and brush it on like any liquid liner.  I’ve been impressed by how good it looks and how well it stays put all day.  (And did I mention no solvents?)

This lotion wasn’t in the EWG Skin Deep database, but the Gent and I tallied its toxicity rating (low) by typing its individual ingredients into the database.

All this change may sound extreme, and perhaps it is.  I’m well aware that there are immeasurable quantities of industrial toxins and pesticides in our food supply, our environment, our furniture, our cars, and so on, to which I can’t control my exposure.  Maybe what I’m really seeking is the illusion (and it is an illusion, the happy blue pill) of control over my own fate.  Maybe these small changes won’t have an impact on my health at all.  But maybe, just maybe, they will.  The Gent and I may live a longer, healthier life together because of these choices.  Now that is a risk I’m willing to take.

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