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Helpful Guide to Everyday Toxic Products

Denial Really Isn’t a River in Egypt

You know the saying “youth is wasted on the young?” I can attest to the truth in this statement.

Back when I was young (oh help me I never thought I’d start a sentence with this phrase) anyway, I knew absolutely everything about all things. I had all kinds of wisdom, knowledge and deep insight. As a matter of fact I would have solved the world’s problems if only I was consulted, but that’s water under the bridge.

"All Gizah Pyramids" by Ricardo Liberato A view of the pyramids at Giza from the plateau to the south of the complex. From left to right, the three largest are: the Pyramid of Menkaure, the Pyramid of Khafre and the Great Pyramid of Khufu. The three smaller pyramids in the foreground are subsidiary structures associated with Menkaure's pyramid.
“All Gizah Pyramids” by Ricardo Liberato. A view of the pyramids at Giza from the plateau to the south of the complex.

In reality I was obstinate, argumentative, and somewhat opinionated. If only I would have appreciated my good health, clear mindedness, being in good physical shape and really listened to the wisdom of my grandmother…

Picture of a river in the middle of two mountain ranges under a partially sunny sky. Image by Danny Froese
Image by Danny Froese

It took a while (a long while) but I finally got the meaning of “a hard head makes soft behind.” Saying stupid things like “I have to make my own mistakes” and “this is my life and times are different now” were ludicrous.

Buying into the philosophy of ‘more is more’ was insane. For example when I had a bad headache, instead of following the directions on the bottle of medication (even if it was over the counter) I’d take 1 and a half to double the dosage thinking the headache would not only go away sooner but it’d stay away.

Total lack of regard for my health – yeah I even started smoking when I was twenty, was ridiculous. What was I thinking? Everyone knew all the cool kids started smoking in junior or senior high school. Me, nah, I had to wait to prove my coolness in my twenties even though by that time no one cared. If I knew then what I know now.

180 Degree Turnaround

Now that I’m into the second half century of my life I can see how I’ve evolved from a person who lacked understanding to one who proactively seeks knowledge. I care about the things that go into or on my body.

What was once a cavalier attitude towards medications has turned into almost paranoia to the point of not being able to read the side effects lest I acquire each one. Can you say hypochondriac?

When talking fresh produce, meat, poultry, dairy, processed and restaurant food I stress over how it’s produced, ingredients used, and the labels. Any time I have difficulty pronouncing words on the ingredient list it not only causes frustration but then I wonder what are the long-term effects of ingesting food containing contents I can’t enunciate.

Then there are the topical, aromatherapy and/or household products we use daily, that have their own set of hidden dangers.

Parabens, Sulfates, DEA and Phthalates – Huh?

When talking about product safety there are other considerations that go along with the use of dangerous chemicals. Even cruelty-free products sometimes aren’t necessarily environmentally friendly.

We hear a lot buzz about parabens, sulfates, and others, but toxins used in many products extend well beyond the handful discussed in the news. What I found really disturbing is that with the exception of color additives, the FDA (see section: who is responsible for substantiating the safety of cosmetics) here in the US does not regulate the ingredients in cosmetics (many of which are very harmful).

Assorted makeup products
Pinterest via

Recently I began using some new paraben and sulfate free hair care products and I wanted to know if they contained other toxins. Typically for cosmetic type products I use Paula’s Choice’ Beautypedia so that I can make an informed decision, but since my hair care items were not listed in Beautypedia I had to dig further.

Enter GoodGuide, a product review site based on scientific ratings that provides safe, healthy, green, & ethical reviews. I find it to be a good resource with over 250,000 products in a range of four categories: personal care, food, household and babies & kids.

The rating system is a numerical scale from zero to 10, the higher the number, the better the rating. What I like most about GoodGuide‘s reviews are the combined product and company level data to characterize a product’s health, environmental and social impacts. Products rated 8 or above are considered the best and the those with a rating of 4 or below are the worst. Even better is a simplified summary score so consumers can, at a glance, know where a specific product stands.

Options are always great especially when the concerns are health and well-being related. While we might be hard pressed to find any totally synthetic free products, being able to check them for safety purposes allows us to take a little control over what we will and will not permit in our homes and lives.

Following this post are definitions taken from FAQs on Nine Naturals website and additional sources on product safety.

“They claim red meat is bad for you.  But I never saw a sick-looking tiger.”  ~Chi Chi Rodriguez

  • Sulfates:  This is an inexpensive, harsh detergent that is frequently used in shampoos and body washes. Some of the most popular products contain sulfates because they help create foam. But this harsh chemical is also linked to skin irritation, hair loss and impaired hair growth. In addition to the health risks, sulfates actually dry out your hair by stripping your hair of its moisture.
  • Phthalates: This is a chemical plasticizing element that is often used as a preservative. Phthalates can be found in over 72% of beauty products. However, research links this chemical group to health and reproductive concerns. For example, according to the environmental lobby group phthalates affect hormone levels, semen quality and genital development in male fetus
  • Parabens: Estimates show that over 90% of cosmetic products contain parabens. However, parabens are linked to several health concerns including breast cancer and reproductive discorders. When looking for products that contain parabens, look hard. Parabens have many names including: methyl, propyl, butyl, ethyl and sometime even just general fragrance.
  • Diethanolamine (DEA): More than 100,000 tons of DEA are sold in the United States each year and is one of the most commonly used detergents in personal care products.  This chemical has been linked to cancer and may inhibit the brain development of unborn babies.


3 thoughts on “Helpful Guide to Everyday Toxic Products

  1. Steph, Another excellent article! I too started smoking at 20 – I quit at 24 when I had a long talk with a chain-smoking Philadelphia detective & woke up the next 3 days with no voice. BTW, FDA also doesn’t regulate airborne chemicals such as the chemicals used in air fresheners to keep the scent on the wind, as it were. It’s hard to avoid dangerous toxins altogether, but we often buy into thinking we have needs that we really don’t have and make remedies for those Madison-Avenue-generated needs part of our lives without the information about the true cost. Just a little example I heard today. A study shows that cats clean themselves after contact with their people in order to get our smell off of them. Our cat cleans before jumping into our laps, but we don’t use scented laundry detergent, fabric softeners, scented hand creams, perfume, hairspray … I found my self wondering about all of this before stumbling upon your post.


    1. Thank you Donna. Yes, we’ve become so spoiled and I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve succumbed to some of this thinking due to my germophobia. But I am taking active steps to change as much as I can. It’s a shame that the planet has to suffer for our ridiculousness. I can’t use scented laundry products because they send me into full blown allergy attacks.

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