Not long ago, Bloomberg ran a video piece* that made me angry. It purported to address concern for the environment, but really it was an example of narrow-minded, classist and defeatist nonsense. Think I'm being harsh? Let's take a look:
Bloomberg’s video maintains that most Americans can’t afford to make eco-conscious choices. As proof of this, they cite:
a $95 water bottle with a UVC light in it to kill germs, “so you don't have to wash it as much”;
a collapsible metal straw costing nearly $25, as an alternative to banned plastic straws;
a $150 comforter (which they erroneously call a “duvet cover”) made from recycled plastic bottles with a eucalyptus shell.
Really? If these are the products Bloomberg considers the best options to save the planet, no wonder climate change is kicking our collective butts. Meanwhile, they’ve completed ignored the small daily choices we can make — ones that don’t require plunking down large amounts of money and are kind to both consumers and the environment.
(I promise, once you get through the disturbing section — necessary for context — there’s good stuff: Easy alternatives and some of my favorite Healthy-Hacks!)
AN UNHOLY TRINITY
For starters, reducing our exposure to phthalates, parabens and BPA can make a dramatic difference in both our health and our toxin footprint. I say “reduce” because these chemicals are ubiquitous:
Phthalates are chemicals used to soften plastics and vinyl. They’re in vinyl flooring, food packaging (think soft, pliable plastic containers), detergents, dryer sheets, household cleaners, air fresheners, cosmetics, shampoos, lotions, body wash and just about anything with “Fragrance” listed in the ingredients.
Parabens are preservatives used to extend the shelf life of cosmetics — meanwhile they find their way into your body’s organs. Read the ingredient list of makeup, moisturizers, deodorants, lipsticks, mascara, hair-care products and shaving creams, and you’ll see one or more parabens (methylparaben, ethylparaben, propylparaben, butylparaben and isobutylparaben).
BPA (Bisphenol A) is an industrial chemical found in plastic packaging and kitchenware, baby teethers and sippy cups, the inner coatings of cans and jar caps, furniture, paints, the thermal paper used on cash register receipts, even some dental sealants.
This unholy trinity of chemicals can be inhaled, ingested and absorbed through the skin. (How’s that for disturbing?!) They disrupt our bodies’ vital functions and have been linked to immune system suppression, asthma, infertility, birth defects, obesity, diabetes, and breast and prostate cancer. And they have an enormous impact on climate change.
From start to finish, plastics and plasticizers poison the environment. Almost all are made from fossil fuels (think oil and gas). Extracting them from the earth releases toxins; the refining process releases more toxins. Their additives off-gas in our homes, and the molecules find their way into our pores, our clothes, our furniture, our everyday objects. (That "new car smell" is really bad news, from a toxin standpoint.) To make matters worse, when plastics are exposed to the elements, they release methane and ethylene, two of the greenhouse gases responsible for climate change. Contrary to what you might expect, the emissions increase over time, leaching into our air, water and soil, adding up to a nightmare for our environment and the people and wildlife inhabiting it.
We can reduce our exposure to these dangerous chemicals, however. And it doesn’t have to be hard. Many companies are acknowledging that healthier is better for their reputation and are highlighting when they don’t use dangerous ingredients. Glance through Sephora’s or Ulta’s websites, for example, and you’ll note “Paraben Free” and “Phthalate-Free” on many beauty and skin-care products. For a deeper dive, the Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep website (https://www.ewg.org/skindeep/) is a great resource for understanding what’s in the products you use and how to make healthier choices. (If EWG’s name sounds familiar, it’s because they’re the folks who brought you the list of the Dirty Dozen and Clean 15 fruits and vegetables, which helps you understand when organic is crucial and when it’s less so.)
Remember, you don’t have to throw out everything in your drawers and cupboards. But you can start switching what you buy and use:
Look for BPA-free plastic containers. A common misconception is that BPA leaches into ingredients only when it’s heated. But even at regular temperatures, BPA can find its way from the container into its ingredients, especially if there are chips in the plastic or during long-term storage. Some of the BPA alternatives are proving to be equally problematic, so to be even safer, transfer products that came in plastic containers into glass ones.
Wean yourself off single-use plastics: A paper grocery bag can be recycled; a canvas one can be washed and reused; both are stronger than their plastic counterparts. Don’t use straws. Seriously. Pursing your lips around a straw gives you wrinkles. Use bar soap instead of liquid: it doesn’t spill and make a mess – at home or while traveling.
A FEW OF MY FAVORITE HEALTHY-HACKS
You don’t have to be dependent upon what companies decide to market. Let me offer my a few of my favorite healthy-hacks that are easy to make, equally easy to use, and are cheaper than more toxic alternatives. Note: These are things that I’ve done for years. It’s not just my genes that cause people to regularly think I’m at least 10 years younger than I am. In fact, a lot of my choices originated in my not wanting to develop the same health problems that run in my family and not wanting to add to the poisoning of the planet.
PLAIN GREEK YOGURT FOR HAPPIER SKIN – When my skin is breaking out or feels like it needs some extra pampering, I take a container of Fage Total 5% Plain Greek Yogurt out of the fridge, swipe a teaspoon through it, warm the yogurt from the teaspoon in my (clean!) fingertips and gently apply to my face. That’s it. Really. Though you can also mix in a tiny bit of honey, for an antiviral, antibacterial boost. Let it dry for about 5 minutes, then gently wash it off with lukewarm water. It’s like a quick mini-facial. The lactic acid and probiotics in the yogurt soothe and moisturize your skin, while also very gently exfoliating. No preservatives or chemicals involved! (The yogurt is also my go-to for breakfast or a snack, with a tablespoon of berries, honey, walnuts, cacao nibs or currants mixed in, for some additional antioxidant and omega 3 joy.)
DISTILLED WHITE VINEGAR – So many uses, including:
For easy, quick cleaning:
A splash in each load of laundry to help kill bacteria;
A cup poured into your washing machine, run on a hot water cycle with nothing else but water, to clean your washing machine;
A mixture of half water, half vinegar in a spray bottle for quick daily cleaning of sinks and countertops (but not on porous surfaces like marble);
Sprayed onto a paper towel until wet, then wrapped around a faucet that’s been stained with hard water marks. Leave for half an hour. Unwrap towel, buff faucet and voila: shiny!
Reader’s Digest has a great list of uses. (Yes, Reader’s Digest!) https://www.rd.com/home/cleaning-organizing/150-household-uses-for-vinegar/
And possibly my favorite: Take the sting out of a sunburn: Pour enough vinegar into a bowl to cover a washcloth. Place in fridge for about 15 minutes. Wring out and gently pat your sunburned areas. The vinegar scent dissipates quickly, so you'll only briefly smell like a salad — and you’ll feel enormously better!
BAKING SODA OR COFFEE GROUNDS TO SOAK UP BAD SMELLS; NATURAL SOURCES LIKE LAVENDER TO MAKE A ROOM SMELL GOOD – Hint: if you don’t have fresh lavender, Trader Joe’s Lavender Dryer Bags (for all of $3.99) work equally well. Place in a bowl and scrunch periodically for a lovely aroma.
When I first sat down to write this, I thought I’d be penning a lighthearted look at what’s in the products we use. But the effect that chemicals have upon us and the planet is no laughing matter. It’s surprisingly easy to make choices that can help you look and feel better, as well as reduce your likelihood of developing nasty health problems, all while being eco-conscious and not depleting your bank account. (Despite what Bloomberg’s video claimed.)
So you might want to check (and rethink when you’re re-stocking): What’s in your drawers?
Want to live healthier happily — without feeling deprived? I can help. Get in touch HERE.
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*The offending Bloomberg video: "Pricey side of eco-friendly", Bloomberg, March 10th, 2019 https://www.bloomberg.com/news/videos/2019-03-10/pricey-side-of-eco-friendly-video
“Phthalates”, US National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health, 2017 – https://toxtown.nlm.nih.gov/chemicals-and-contaminants/phthalates
"Phthalates Fact Sheet", Natural Resources Defense Council and Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families – https://saferchemicals.org/get-the-facts/chemicals-of-concern/congress-must-ensure-important-information-about-chemical-use-is-not-hidden-from-people-phthalates/
“Phthalates are everywhere, and the health risks are worrying. How bad are they really?” Amy Westervelt, The Guardian 2/10/15 – https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2015/feb/10/phthalates-plastics-chemicals-research-analysis
“Health Risk of Exposure to Bisphenol A (BPA)”, Aleksandra Konieczna, Aleksandra Rutkowska*, Dominik Rachoń, Department of Clinical and Experimental Endocrinology, Medical University of Gdańsk, Gdynia, Poland, 2015 – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25813067
"Why 'BPA Free' May Not Mean a Plastic Product Is Safe", Maya Wei-Haas, National Geographic, 9/13/18 – https://www.nationalgeographic.com/science/2018/09/news-BPA-free-plastic-safety-chemicals-health/
"What Are Parabens? The Truth About Skincare's Biggest Bad Guy", Zoe Dubs, Elle UK, 8/21/18 – https://www.elle.com/uk/beauty/skin/articles/a36356/what-are-parabens/
"Should People Be Concerned about Parabens in Beauty Products?" Scientific American – https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/should-people-be-concerned-about-parabens-in-beauty-products/
"Paraben Update: New Research on Beauty’s Most Problematic Preservatives" by Lisa Elaine Held, 9/6/12 – https://www.wellandgood.com/good-looks/paraben-update-theres-new-research-on-beautys-most-problematic-preservatives/
"What’s Plastic Got To Do With Clean Air?", Beth Terry, Moms Clean Air Force – https://www.momscleanairforce.org/whats-plastic-got-to-do-with-clean-air/
"Double Trouble: Plastics Found to Emit Potent Greenhouse Gases", UN Environment Programme, 8/24/18 – https://www.unenvironment.org/news-and-stories/story/double-trouble-plastics-found-emit-potent-greenhouse-gases
"New Study Shows Plastics Release Greenhouse Gases, Contributing to Climate Change", Shannon Waters, Surfrider Foundation 8/10/18 – https://www.surfrider.org/coastal-blog/entry/new-study-shows-plastic-as-source-of-greenhouse-gases-potentially-contribut
"Plastic Pollution and Climate Change" Elizabeth Glazner, Plastic Pollution Coalition 12/10/15 – https://www.plasticpollutioncoalition.org/pft/2015/11/17/plastic-pollution-and-climate-change