Reducing Toxins/Changing Your Products
Some toxins and chemicals we are exposed to daily are endocrine disruptors and can affect our hormones and endometriosis symptoms. That being said, often times it’s the dose that makes the poison. 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 toxins, or ingredients in general, in my skincare/cleaning etc products, but once I got Mast Cell Activation Syndrome (MCAS), 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. 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. 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. This is just general info on what has helped me, but what you do is individual so don’t feel any pressure or stress to go down some rabbit hole of looking at all your products!
Reducing my number of 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. 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!
Some of the more (what’s commonly considered by the general public as) “natural” products I’ve found work just as well, like the shampoo bars. But there are others just don’t work for me, such as the different deodorants I tried made from shea butter, cornstarch, and beeswax; or baking soda, clay, and tapioca starch; or the crystal deodorant. 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.
It’s important to know that there are some terms like “hypogenic” and “natural” that are often used for marketing, but these are unregulated and without meaning.
I buy everything fragrance free, because the term “fragrance” on the ingredients list is allowed in order to protect trade secrets like the secret formula. However, this means that fragrance can include any number of 3,100 stock chemicals that are not included on the label! The Environmental Working Group said that one study revealed an average of 14 hidden compounds per formulation, which included chemicals that were known endocrine disruptors. I have stopped using all candles, air fresheners, odor reducing sprays, etc.
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.
For me, it’s come down to a balance of:
- What products do I need and don’t actually need? For example, I 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.
- Deciding priorities: For example, having clean clothes feels important even though it exposes me to products that irritate my MCAS. I don’t feel the same way about my armpits stinking, so I’m fine with not using deodorant 90% of the time.
- Are there ways I can reduce the product’s impact on me, such as wearing gloves or a mask when using it? For example, I use a mask when I scoop my cat’s litter.
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. 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, changing your products may reduce certain symptoms, but it also may not, and 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
I think that articles written about endocrine disruptors and product ingredients can feel fear mongering at times, so while articles you read may be helpful to understand some of the ingredients a person may want to be more conscious of in their products, just remember that it’s important to have a balance and not get too obsessive or worried about being completely “toxin-free” (not possible!).
- 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 this information from!
- EWG’s guide to endocrine disruptors – 8 Hormone-altering chemicals and how to avoid them
- Cleaning Supplies and Your Health – From the EWG
- 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.”
Related Podcast Episodes
- Reducing Toxins. Part 1 (coming soon)
- Reducing Toxins. Part 2 (coming soon)