It’s true that some chemicals we are exposed to daily are endocrine disruptors and may affect our health. That being said, it’s the dose that makes the poison. There are many uninformed influencers/organizations out there – or even those with hidden agendas – that fear monger us into thinking we need to obsess over our products/food and avoid things that in actuality are just fine to consume/use. It’s really important that we are following the right people when trying to learn about this topic so that we aren’t absorbing information we think is credible when in reality it isn’t. For example, I used to think the Environmental Working Group was a trustworthy site informing me of the “real” science, until I learned that the EWG has major criticisms: inaccurate research methods, exaggerating health risks, and that they are mostly funded by companies that their shopping recommendations help. Yikes!
Additionally, like when dealing with any aspect of our health, it’s important to have a balance and not get too obsessive or worried about being completely “toxin-free” (not possible!). It can be a slippery slope to shift from trying to be a responsible consumer with our products to being overly concerned about our products, the stress of which can then affect our mental and physical health.
I never really thought about the ingredients in my skincare/cleaning etc products until I got Mast Cell Activation Syndrome (MCAS). Then I began to break out in hives after shampooing my hair, my throat would close while cleaning the bathroom, and I’d get a migraine from brushing my teeth. So I’ve been on an unfortunate adventure to really reduce my exposure to products that negatively impact my MCAS (and not because I’ve been told by any working group or influencer that they are “toxic” or “unsafe”). Since this is overall a website about endometriosis, I just want to be clear that if I didn’t have MCAS, I personally wouldn’t be so hardcore and serious about using as few products as possible. I would use my time and energy elsewhere, but the reason why I do this is because of my MCAS (and not because of my endometriosis). By taking such care with my products, it’s helped my MCAS reactions greatly diminish.
Some people look into their products because they have reactions to them, like I do. Others do because they want to use vegan products or those that haven’t been tested on animals. Others because they are concerned about the safety of their products. For this last one, as I said above, we really need to be careful of who is informing us of what’s “unsafe”.
This is just general info on what has helped me when dealing with MCAS and reactions to products, but what you do is individual so don’t feel any pressure or stress to go down some unnecessary rabbit hole of looking at all your products!
It’s important to know that there are some terms like “natural” and “clean” and others are unregulated and without meaning. These are misleading claims companies put on their products for the marketing purposes to help sell it to you.
Reducing my number of products
Personal care and beauty products
Since I have a MCAS reaction to so many products, I’ve found it easiest to just stop using the majority of products, like face masks, deodorant, shaving cream, makeup, nail polish, hair dye. If I do need it – like shampoo, toothpaste, an eyebrow pencil – I’ve been swapping it out for different brands that cause me less reactivity. Chagrin Valley is my favorite for skincare products. Or I’ll use a product with one simple ingredient, like I now use coconut oil for lotion and conditioner, and on a cotton ball to remove my makeup. I still react to this but less than from actual lotion. Needing less products allows me to spend more money on the few products I do buy, which is helpful because the products I use now tend to be more expensive than the previous ones I used!
Was it hard to go from using all these beauty products my whole life to no longer using them? Yup, it was. I was especially bitter at removing nail polish and hair dye. But as time passed, I’ve embraced it, and also found it freeing to not have a super long beauty routine anymore or have to upkeep my nails or roots. Plus it’s nice not to have my bathroom shelves overflowing with products.
Some of the more (what’s commonly considered by the general public as) “natural” products I’ve found work just as well, like certain shampoo bars. But there are others that just don’t work for me. I’ve tried multiple deodorants made from ingredients like shea butter, cornstarch, beeswax, baking soda, clay, tapioca starch, and/or crystal, etc. I’m still stinky on them, so I’ve just chosen to go forgo using deodorant on most days because why use something that isn’t working? When I’m at home, I don’t use it, but if I have somewhere important to go, I’ll use a “regular” deodorant right before I leave the house and wash off as soon as I get home.
I haven’t had luck with “natural” laundry soap. The ones I tried made from baking soda or with very few ingredients didn’t seem to clean my clothes. So I do use a “regular” fragrance free laundry detergent, but without using anything else like fabric softeners, dryer sheets, etc. My mast cells are stable enough now that I don’t think my laundry detergent is contributing to my reactions anymore either.
I buy everything fragrance free, because I’ve found that fragrances really trigger me. I’ve stopped using all candles, air fresheners, odor-reducing sprays, etc. I’ve also stopped diffusing essential oils as well.
I’ve been making homemade cleaning supplies from baking soda/white vinegar, and I use a bleach-free/clorox-free multipurpose spray only for the toilet and shower, which I spray with the windows open and wearing an N95 mask. I use dish gloves to clean as well as wash the dishes to avoid contact with soap. Soaps do trigger me, so I carry around hand sanitizer to avoid using bathroom soaps when in public.
For me, it’s come down to a balance of:
What products do I need and don’t actually need?
For example, I (personally) don’t need hair dye, mascara or nail polish even though I would love to use them.
Is the product easy to replace with another product that causes me less reactions?
For example, it’s easy to replace my shampoo or cleaning supplies, but not my deodorant or laundry detergent.
For me, I’m fine with putting up with the stench of my armpits in summer and not using deodorant 90% of the time, in order to reduce my exposure to products that flare me.
Are there ways I can reduce the product’s impact on me?
For example, I use a mask when I scoop my cat’s litter and clean the house. I wear gloves to clean the dishes.
Ultimately, it’s up to all of us to decide what is most important to us, knowing that it’s impossible to eliminate all exposure to “toxins” in our life or to all exposure of products that may flare us (in cases of MCAS, chemical sensitivity, etc).
Unfortunately, when I began having anaphylaxis from MCAS, I had to change all my products pretty immediately. However, most people focus on replacing current products they have with different products once they run out. This reduces waste and saves money. Additionally, researching about products can be exhausting and easier to do one-by-one rather than all at once. We have limited energy, time, and money, so know that depending on your body/situation, changing your products may reduce certain symptoms, but it also may not. If that’s the case, then that energy may be better spent focusing on how to eat a more nutrient dense diet, doing pelvic floor therapy, seeking out an excision surgeon, etc.
Here are some common places people start:
- Reducing exposure to BPA. This can be in plastics we use, on store receipts, etc.
- Changing plastic food containers to glass containers, and not reheating food in plastic in the microwave.
- Changing plastic water bottles to stainless steel water bottles.
- Swapping out or forgoing certain skin care, cosmetic, hygiene, or cleaning products once they run out.
- Buying a water filter
A lot of people wonder if they should filter their water, and that’s up to you. I have a water purifier because the tap water in my city is disgusting, and it made my stomach hurt and irritated my interstitial cystitis. My purified water now tastes like nothing and has no smell, vs tasting like chlorine before – and it’s so refreshing. This helps me drink more water because it doesn’t gross me out, and my IC flares have reduced.
I also like that it removes potential contaminants, pharmaceutical run off, and other pollutants that I don’t want to be ingesting.
How can I know what’s in my water?
You can use quick test strips at home, such as the Varify Complete Water Test Kit.
You can test your water with a local lab by sending them a sample.
Your county should also have local information on your tap water.
What’s a good water filter?
There are different types of filters, like carbon filtration, reverse osmosis and ion exchange, and within those hundreds of different filters at different price points. There is also a difference between water filters and water purifiers. While many water filters may publish their filtration lab results on their website, it’s important to look for filters that are NSF/ANSI certified.
For example, the Aquatru Countertop RO system posts their lab results and is tested and certified by IAMPO according to NSF/ANSI standard 42, 53, 58, 401, and P473
Another example is the Aquasana 4000, which is tested and certified by NSF international against NSF/ANSI standards 42, 53, and 401.
I currently use the Berkey water purification system, and I’ve used it during 4 boil water notices in our city, as well as their Travel Berkey in countries where it’s not recommended to drink the water as a tourist. So far, it’s worked for what I’ve wanted in a water purifier, but since purchasing I’ve unfortunately learned that Berkey doesn’t have a third party certification such as WQA Gold Seal Certified or NSF Standard 53 Certified to back up its claims about the purity of its water. The Berkey had a high upfront cost and lasts several years, so I’m keeping it! But once it’s time to replace it, I may look at other options that are NSF certified so I can know for certain that my water filter is truly purifying my water and removing everything it claims to.
For more info
- Lab Muffin – Michelle has a chemistry PhD, and is a science educator and cosmetic chemist helping you figure out which beauty products are and aren’t worth buying.
- Would You Rather Buy Organic Or Poison Your Family? EWG Wants You To Pick One – Forbes article
- Unbiased Science Podcast – Your trusted source for no nonsense— just science.
- The Eco Well – a science communication platform dedicated to making accurate info more accessible to everyone.
- Is it safe to use non-stick pans? – IG post from Unbiased Science
- About the Dirty Dozen from the EWG – IG post from Unbiased Science
- Contact Information for Certification Programs and Certified Laboratories for Drinking Water – Find a local lab for water testing
- What Does Water Filter Certification Mean? Info on the NFS certification
- Berkey Filter: Here’s the Truth
- Endo Girls Blog – They are a great endometriosis resource on Instagram and additionally, Kate also specializes in water treatment chemistry for huge facilities. She has a story highlight about water filters that I got most of my water information from!
- Chagrin Valley Soap and Salve – “A small family owned and family operated company dedicated to crafting high quality, healthy and effective skin and hair care products that will nourish your skin and be kind to our planet…Our ingredients are USDA certified organic, sustainably produced, cruelty-free and ethically traded.”