Choosing Consciously for Healthier Families and a Safer Home
By Sharleen Marie, Rancho Mastatal Teaching Staff, 2019
Many of us grow up thinking of home as our safest place. As consumers, we have been led to believe that by the time products make it to the market, they have been thoroughly tested and proven safe. We pick up packaging and read labels before buying, just to know what is in the products. But, what does a label really tell us? What are these manufactured products made with? Where and how was it cultivated, processed, packages and shipped? When I first began looking for answers, I encouraged myself to search, detach and reeducate myself about how better make conscious decisions and take actions aligned with my principals and values for my body, my community and my environment. I became passionate about searching what I now choose for nourishment in food, personal care, and lifestyle.
To begin this journey, I intentionally created the habit of choosing all products based on their ingredients rather than their label. I am grateful and fortunate that I had many people around me who inspired me to learn new ways in which I could live a sustainable life, aware of and driven to practice what was best for me, the people and the places I love and care about. After reading this article, I encourage you to continue your journey to discover alternatives solutions and create the changes that produce the results you wish to see in the world.
Don’t just Trust Labels Read the Ingredients
Labels can be misleading. What we think we know about a product may not be true. How safe are your cleaning supplies and skin care products, really? What does ‘Eco-friendly’, ‘Biodegradable’, ‘Natural’ and ‘Nontoxic’ really mean? For example, when we talk about biodegradability of a material or substance, we’re talking about its ability to be broken down into its smallest components parts. This decomposition can be caused by various natural forces like: hungry microorganisms with a digestive system that can break compounds apart into simpler substances, and by contact with light or water, processes called photolysis and hydrolysis consequently. Biodegradability lies at the heart of nature’s sustainable recycling system. Once created, everything from plants to animals is eventually broken down into its most basic parts, which then become the building blocks for new life that itself will some day similarly decay.
When it comes to household, skin care, beauty, and cosmetic chemicals, biodegradability is generally a good thing. In order for a product to be labeled as biodegradable, Federal Trade Commission (FTC) guidelines state that it must degrade when exposed to air, moisture, bacteria, or other organism, and it must return to the natural environment in a reasonably short time when properly disposed of. There is no standard or oversight for the label; manufacturers may label products “biodegradable” at their discretion.
Understanding What You Read
The business of manufacturing cleaning and cosmetic products relies on chemistry. Chemistry itself is not a bad thing. It’s the kinds of chemicals we make and use that matter. Like most anything else, there is a good side and a bad side to all the molecular manipulation chemists practice. There are safe chemicals, and there are unsafe chemicals. Our problem today is that we don’t know which are which. Chemical companies are not obligated to list the ingredients in their products, better known as Voluntary Disclosure Program. This program leaves of decision of wether or not to list ingredients at the sole discretion of the manufacturers. Manufacturers can also legally omit hazardous chemicals if they are part of a mixture the company claims to be a trade secret. (1)
How much do we know about the effects of daily contact with toxic household materials that retailers sell on faith, while we ourselves are serving as the test tubes while we live, breath, and raise our families among these components every day? Toxic chemicals found in detergents, perfumes, solvents, pesticides, pharmaceuticals, personal care products and household cleaners vary in their severity – from acute (immediate) hazards such as skin or respiratory issues, chemical burns or watery eyes to chronic (long term) hazards.
According to an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) study of human fatty tissue samples, every American man, woman, and child carries at least 700 pollutants in his or her body. (2) Today, there are an estimated 80,000 different chemical compounds being made and used. (3) In 2016, the EPA named the first 10 chemicals it will evaluate under the new Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act, the first update since 1976 of the nation’s primary toxic substances law. (4)
In the last several years, a growing body of scientific evidence has indicated that the air within homes and indoor environment can be more seriously polluted than the outdoor air in even the largest and most industrialized cities. Other research indicates that people spend approximately 90% of their time indoors. Thus, for many people, the risks to health may be greater due to exposure to air pollution indoors than outdoors. In addition, people who may be exposed to indoor air pollutants for the longest periods of time are often those most susceptible to the effects of indoor air pollution. Such groups include the young, the elderly and the chronically ill, especially those suffering from respiratory or cardiovascular disease.
The evidence that does exist strongly suggests that exposure to many of the common products we take for granted can cause chronic diseases, cancer, fertility issues, ADHD, compromised immune system, hormone disruption, nerve and organ damage, allergies, asthma, sinusitis, anxiety, depression, and other health problems. Do any of these health problems sound familiar?
The 2017 American Association of Poison Control Centers' National Poison Data System (NPDS) reported, consistent with the previous year, that the top 5 substance classes most frequently involved in all human exposures were analgesics (11.08%), household cleaning substances (7.43%), cosmetics/personal care products (6.76%), sedatives/hypnotics/antipsychotics (5.74%), and antidepressants (5.02%). Including the top 5 most common exposures in children age 5 years or less were cosmetics/personal care products (12.59%), household cleaning substances (10.96%), analgesics (9.18%), foreign bodies/toys/miscellaneous (6.39%), and topical preparations (4.84%). (5)
Healthy homes must extend into the larger world beyond our windows. By definition it means not only making sure that the activities that take place inside our houses are as nontoxic as possible, but also doing whatever we can to make sure that these activities don’t negatively impact the environment outside. As ever increasing amounts and types of different industrial chemicals are being manufactured and used, our environment is becoming increasingly contaminated by the pollution these chemicals create. This is because many of the synthetic chemicals made today do not easily break down into harmless bits and pieces as natural materials do. Instead, they resist decomposition, and once they are introduced into our air, water, and soil, they tend to remain there for long periods of time. This persistence means that as more of these chemicals enter our environment and bodies, they accumulate in ever larger amounts.
What Can I Do? Small Changes = Huge Benefits
Manufacturers and the organizations that works to protect their interests aren’t going to make the changes we need. If, as consumers you want the right to know exactly what is in the products you purchase and to change the toxicity of products used all around you and your family, you need to ask for and demand change.
Research the products you buy. Purchase only from companies that list all the ingredients on their products’ packaging. When you do have a concern about a commercial product, contact the company and express your concerns about their ingredients and/or marketing practices.
Ask the places you frequent —schools, daycares, workplaces, in community centers— to change the products they use to safer, less toxic supplies for the well being of our children, friends, parents, and community.
Speak about this issue and your concerns with your family, neighbors, coworkers and friends.
Make your own cleaning products for your home, using less toxic ingredients. There are many resources available including immersive trainings like Sustainable Practice: Homesteading to Skin Care, which I will co teach this May 2019. During the course students will learn how to create their own line of nontoxic natural products and free themselves from a dependency on wasteful commercialized goods. This course and others like it can provide an introduction to topics such as fermentation, distillation and herbalism in order to help build the foundation skills and confidence students often need in order to safely create their own personal care products and promote holistic wellbeing in their home and environment.
Article written by Sharleen Marie, co-founder of Atabey Botanicals, a social enterprise dedicated to supporting you develop practical applications of sustainability into your lifestyle that will improve your health and well being and protect the environment.
The workshop will be held at Rancho Mastatal, Costa Rica. Learn, Stay and Explore the education center, working permaculture farm, lodge and community rooted in environmental sustainability, meaningful, place-based livelihoods, and caring relationships.
To know more, access https://ranchomastatal.com/sustainablepractice or contact me through firstname.lastname@example.org
(1) Welsh, M. S., Lamesse, M., Karpinski, E. (2000) “Te verification of hazardous ingredients disclosure in selected material safety data sheets.” Appl Occup Environ Hyg. 15(5):409-420.
(2) US Environmental Protection Agency Office of Toxic Substances, “Analysis of Human Adipose Tissue, Volume 1: Technical Approach.” (1987) Accessed online on April 4th 2019, https://nepis.epa.gov/Exe/ZyNET.exe/10003C6I.txt?ZyActionD=ZyDocument&Client=EPA&Index=1986%20Thru%201990&Docs=&Query=human%20adipose%20tissue%20technical%20approach&Time=&EndTime=&SearchMethod=2&TocRestrict=n&Toc=&TocEntry=&QField=&QFieldYear=&QFieldMonth=&QFieldDay=&UseQField=&IntQFieldOp=0&ExtQFieldOp=0&XmlQuery=&File=D%3A%5CZYFILES%5CINDEX%20DATA%5C86THRU90%5CTXT%5C00000000%5C10003C6I.txt&User=anonymous&Password=anonymous&SortMethod=-f%3Apubyear&MaximumDocuments=15&FuzzyDegree=-1&ImageQuality=r85g16/r85g16/x150y150g16/i500&Display=hpfr&DefSeekPage=x&SearchBack=ZyActionE&Back=ZyActionS&BackDesc=Results%20page&MaximumPages=1&ZyEntry=1&SeekPage=x
(3) Steve Waygood, “Uncertainty Persists on Chemical Equation.” Environmental Finance, September 2004
(5) Gummin DD, Mowry JB, Spyker DA, Brooks DE, Osterthaler KM, et al. 2017 Annual Report of the American Association of Poison Control Centers' National Poison Data System (NPDS): 35th Annual Report. Clin Toxicol (Phila). 2018 Dec 21;:1-203. PubMed PMID: 30576252.