Of all the toxins we are exposed to in our homes and communities, phthalates (pronounced "THAL-ates") may be the most insidious. Despite the increasing evidence on the dangers the general population continues to be oblivious to the toxins lurking in the plastics and fragrances in their homes. Like BPA and Parabens, there are currently no regulations in the US to protect us from manufacturers ignoring the dangers.
Consumers in the US have to start insisting on safer products for our families. It's been estimated about a billion pounds of phthalates are produced worldwide annually. Wow. It's hard to comprehend how they can be avoided. It's currently up to us to do the hard work to find alternative products. Hard, because phthalates are in so many things.
Phthalates are in our bodies, our homes and our water. They are used as plasticizers to soften plastics, especially PVC plastic (#3) and to make nail polish flexible and chip-resistant. They're in shower curtains and hair spray, soft vinyl toys for pour children and pets. They are also used in body products to make the product penetrate the skin more easily, and in fragrances, hand creams, deodorants, laundry detergents perfumes and colognes. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) measured human phthalate exposures in 2000 and found high levels of phthalates in every single one of the 289 people tested (Blount 2000).
What do they do? One effect is the disruption of the production of testosterone. They block male hormones responsible for making a male into a male. A common pthalate, dibutyl pthalate has been proven in animal studies to contribute to low sperm count, and birth defects of the testicles and penis. Another, diethyl phthalate (DEP), has been correlated by Harvard researchers with DNA damage in male sperm which can lead to infertility or birth defects. DEP is common in cosmetics, colognes and perfumes.
Studies have not been conclusive, but as a hormone disrupter phthalates (along with parabens and other toxic chemicals) are suspect in estrogen positive breast tumors. Part of the problem in conducting definitive studies is the lack of full disclosure of ingredients in the US. Products have to independently tested first to determine what's in them.
What You Can Do:
~ Stop using products with fragrances other than certified natural organic oils (although you should be aware some folks are sensitive to these as well). Get rid of the dryer sheets, perfumes, scented hand lotions and diffusers. Here's a good series of updated articles on the health hazards of fragrances in our cleaning and body products.
~ When you have to purchase plastic, look for plastic products such as toys and Shower Curtain Liners that are PVC and phthalate free. If they have that "plastic smell", don't buy them.
~ Purchase natural and organic body products and cosmetics. Check the ingredients at the Cosmetics Database. Note that starting in June 2011, Whole Foods will not keep any cosmetic or body product on their shelves that claims to be organic if it isn't actually certified as organic.
~ Read labels. Many won't tell you all the ingredients, but some will. Find safer products on one of the many sites now available, a few are listed here for you:
EWG's Skin Deep and the Cosmetics Database.com
Dangerous Household Chemicals
~ Support legislation to get our products regulated. There are currently two in the US, HR 5820, The Toxic Chemicals Safety Act of 2013 (TCSA) and the Kid Safe Chemical Act. Find the name and addresses of your representatives, and write to them.
~Keep up with the issues, some good sites are:
The Alliance for a HealthyTomorrow
Teens Turning Green
Not a Guinea Pig
Campaign for Safe Cosmetics
National Resources Defense Council
Washington Toxics Coalition
Health and Environmental Alliance
Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families
~ Let companies know why you aren't purchasing their products. Comment on their products on their websites. This is a great way to flex your consumer muscle.
~ Good books on the subject include:
Not Just a Pretty Face: The Ugly Side of the Beauty Industry
Our Stolen Future: Are We Threatening Our Fertility, Intelligence, and Survival?--A Scientific Detective Story
The Body Toxic: How the Hazardous Chemistry of Everyday Things Threatens Our Health and Well-Being
I'll keep you "posted".
Summer! Summer means heat, water and fun in the sun. It can also mean sunburn. In my quest to find the best sunblocks (many are not as safe as they appear) I came across references to the Cabbage Palm Fern. I did some research and it seemed there might actually be something to the claims of sun protection in a pill.
The Cabbage Palm Fern, Polypodium leucotomos, is a plant native to Central America. Several studies have been done that have shown it to have a slight protective effect against UV damage. The studies to date have not been double-blind studies (the participants knew they were receiving the treatment which could create a placebo effect), nor have they been extensive, but they seem to indicate the root of this fern may indeed help to protect our skin from sun damage.
There are two brands currently available, Heliocare and Life Extension's FernBlock . Neither should be relied on to provide full sun protection and should be used as a supplement to a good sunscreen. Personally, I wouldn't be without it.
Last year I spent a week in the Tucson sun;113 degree Tucson sun! I was naturally worried about my sun exposure so I took 2 of Life Extensions Fernblock every morning in addition to using the Nutri-Lift sunscreen mentioned below in my original post. I did tan, but I was truly amazed that despite the hot sun I never burned. Of course this is no guarantee the combination will work the same for everyone, but since I'm on the fair side I'm sold on the combination for my sun protection.
When I know I'm going to be in the sun I use sunscreen on everything but my face. My sunscreen of choice is Nutri-Lift's photo stable Maximum Sun Protection. What about the face you ask? I can't stand sunscreen on my face, and with skin that tends toward oily, my face doesn't like it either, so I use a foundation with sunscreen and top it off with a powdered sunscreen. Two great organic foundations that include sunscreen are Nutra-lift Flawless Foundation, which has an SPF of 18, and Jane Iredale's Moisture Tint, with an SPF of 15. I've tried them both and found them to be lightweight and blend well.
I've saved the best for last, my very favorite sunscreen product is Jane Iredale's Powder Me SPF (link below). It's a mineral powder that comes in three shades, including translucent. The company claims you can even sprinkle it on your scalp for coverage on your head. Wouldn't that be wonderful to protect the part where we tend to get burnt!
One last note about your summer skin protection arsenal, lycopene-rich fruits and veggies such as watermelon, guava, pink grapefruit, and tomatoes also seem to reduce skin damage from UVA and UVB rays. A 2010 study published in the British Journal of Dermatology looked at women whose diets included 16 milligrams of lycopene every day (the amount in about two cups of diced watermelon) for 12 weeks . The results were a reduction in the damaging effects of UVA and UVB rays, including sunburns and cellular damage.
Here's my article on Sun Protection for Children, in case you missed it.
5 Important Considerations for Sun Safety
1. Sunglasses -- Children who spend a lot of time in the sun, especially children who are blue-eyed, should wear sunglasses, or shade their eyes with a hat. Sun exposure in the early years can lead to cataracts and age related glaucoma in later years.
2. Sunscreen -- Get a good low toxin sunscreen that blocks both UVB and UVA rays. This is critical, as it’s the UVA rays, the ones that don’t actually burn, that cause the most dangerous skin damage according to the latest Environmental Working Group report. Avoid oxybenzone and retinylpalmitate. Re-apply every 20 minutes or as recommended by your pediatrician. Consider purchasing a UV monitoring wristband UV Monitoring Wristband, which will prompt you when to re-apply.
3. Vitamin D -- It's been discovered some adults and children are developing low Vitamin D stores in their bodies as a result of conscientious sunscreen use. Others report the problem is not that great because we don't tend to use sunscreen properly in the first place. Vitamin D supplements are helpful, but unless you have a medical reason to stay out of the sun altogether, 20-30 minutes of indirect sunlight a few times a week is recommended. This is reportedly enough to enable your body to absorb the rays necessary to synthesize Vitamin. This applies in the winter too. And no, you can’t get adequate Vitamin D from sunlight through a window.
4. After Sun -- If your child gets a little too much sun, suggested soothers are aloe, tea (make a brew to release the tannins and soak a washcloth in it, then apply), or apple cider vinegar. I’ve seen vinegar reduce redness in a mild pink burn; the smell does go away. Of course, if a burn is significant, consult your doctor right away.
5. Sun Blocking Clothing -- For those who are extremely fair or want to ensure they limit their
future exposure, there are clothes made with high sun resistance such as SunGrubbies.com and the Coolibar line that you may want to consider.
New information is becoming available regularly about sun safety. An updated sunscreen report will be published soon by the Environmental Working Group. Pay attention to the news and have even more fun in the sun knowing you’re taking the necessary precautions to protect yourself and the children in your life.
Advertisers that want us to relate positively to their product rely heavily on outdoor images such as lying in a hammock under a tree, standing on a shoreline or gazing at the scenery from a mountain. They use these images because we perceive them as happy, relaxing and nostalgic times. These are the same types of images used in hypnosis and other methods for relaxation and even pain management. These images are very effective because spending time in the out of doors makes us happy. It turns out it can also make us significantly healthier.
Some of us seek out natural spaces and wild living things to soothe our soul while some of us have no interest in what’s going on outside of our windows. In all cases however, we would do well to make sure we spend more time in the green out of doors. Study after study reinforces the notion that being in nature is a natural stress reliever. It clears the head leading to clearer more productive thinking, and walking outside may even prevent cancers.
Consequently, a lack of exposure to nature can be detrimental to our psyche. Research documented last fall in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health says living near a green space reduces the percentage of people experiencing negative mental health symptoms, as well as other medical and physical complaints . A study last fall in the Lancet indicated people living near green spaces, or a “green oasis” as some refer to green open spaces such as parks, are less likely to develop certain negative health conditions.
A more recent analysis of 10 different studies found improvements in mood and self esteem when one spent just five minutes exercising outdoors. The improvements were most significant for younger people and people struggling with mental illness and, not surprisingly, were compounded if there was also water in the area.
Based on these studies as well as anecdotal experiences, spending time regularly in a green space each week can reduce your tendency toward everything from depression to cancer. So here’s something enjoyable to add to your health arsenal -- spending time outdoors.
NaturalJersey.com was created in order to have a place on the web where we can all share the great green & natural health resources in NJ. I hope you find it a never ending resource when you're looking for health-minded local businesses.