Why Bother

Indeed, why bother with The Girlcott? Really, isn’t this problem too big to fix? How can our gathering on April 18th begin to chip away at the integrity of the $50 billion beauty behemoth in America?

The answer is, truthfully, we don't know.

But that’s where the story gets exciting. What if?

What if, we all decided to bother?

What if companies notice that we mean it when we say we want cleaner products for our families?

What if our legislators take a harder look at protecting the citizens they represent from the potential harm of ubiquitous exposure to untested and unregulated chemicals?

What if we could help clean up the collateral damage to our nation’s wildlife and precious natural resources?

What if we could play a role in PREVENTING illness before it strikes, rather than witnessing its painful toll?

What if we could accomplish all that by cleaning out a few drawers in our bathrooms and simply acknowledging we may have a problem – a very big one at that?

Working on behalf of moregreenmoms, these same questions have played in my head over and over – how does one voice matter? What I have realized is that the voice is important, but what really works is to step up, step out and amplify.

So every day as my awareness grows, my goal is to share it as broadly as possible. My message is one of empathetic understanding enhanced by a sincere wish to contribute to solving some of the problems we face as consumers, as women, as mothers and as citizens.

The age-old adage, “knowledge is power,” could not hold more true as we shape a new economy and reward responsible providers with our business.

Believe me, as we began to architect The Girlcott, I struggled with the concept of waste, especially during a time in our nation’s history when families are constricting their budgets to accommodate for unforeseen financial challenges.

So it is important to clarify that we don’t advocate unnecessary sacrifice. We all need our beauty products! And little harm will result by finishing the bottles that now rest on your shower shelves.

But what we do hope is that as you learn more about how certain chemical ingredients may behave in your body, or your child’s, or the wildlife exposed to our toxic run-off into the natural world, you consider the long-term importance of making healthier choices.

Right now, you have to make that distinction for yourself because our government favors the manufacturer, not the consumer. But legislation such as the proposed Kid-Safe Chemicals Act will propel us into a new era of protection to safeguard the health of all Americans.

Admittedly, some of these adjustments may cause a slight economic hit. But I have absolutely found as I pare down the number of companies whose products I am willing to buy that my cabinets are void of clutter and waste. My family of five spends far less in aggregate now that our choices have narrowed and the temptation to fill my cart with synthetic trash is essentially gone.

It is clear that many people are willing to take action and begin the cleanup in their lives. But it is so hard to know where to even begin.

My advice is to start with your baby and work your way up the family. So if you are trying to get pregnant, this exercise pertains to you. If you are a new mother, stick to organic in the nursery and beware of chlorine wipes! If your kids are young, the simple rule, “less is best,” is one worth following. If you have teenagers, help coax them to attractive options while slowly removing the sweet smelling inventory from their shelves. If you are 40 and still want to look 25 (hello, I hear you!), start learning about some of the amazing organic solutions that have been designed to work their healthy magic.

Listen, I still can’t give up my brunette hair. I have a couple of rogue Chanel lipsticks stashed in my bathroom. I detest organic deodorant. Perfection is not in my sights.

But once I learned the term, body burden, which refers to the combination of chemicals that accumulate and persist in our systems, it became very easy to exercise significantly more restraint in my daily range of exposures.

To learn more about the body burden, we have referenced the research, insights and explanations of some of our nation’s top environmental health experts throughout The Girlcott site. I encourage you to explore these reports and to read the fantastic books we’ve recommended.

But I know time is one of today’s most elusive treasures, so if you don’t have much to devote, I’ll offer my armchair layperson’s insights to hopefully inspire you to visit us on April 18th.

Disclaimer – I was a French major in college. Chemistry was my most terrifying hour in 11th grade. I believe mascara is one of the great inventions of the 20th century. I probably spent 10% of my aggregate earnings in my 20’s at my neighborhood nail salon.

The effort to understand what I’m trying to translate here has been shocking, challenging and fascinating. It has changed the way I live my life. So believe me when I say that it is tough to drill it down into a couple of bullets, but for what it’s worth…

The bottom line is that it is extraordinarily difficult to identify a single carcinogenic or mutagenic chain of cell development and link it to a particular chemical exposure in our lives.

The human body is too complex and our intake of potential hazards is impossible to isolate.

In addition, researchers are generally in agreement that timing of the exposure is a critical factor, i.e, during fetal development or puberty for example. Also, it is likely that the combination of synthetics in our system, rather than one particular chemical, is what can cause the damage. Last, while manufacturers stick to the defense that the “dose makes the poison,” studies reveal that the threshold for harm may be far below what is currently identified as a safe exposure limit, especially since our use of many questionable ingredients is repeated throughout the day.

So that’s where I apply logic, intuition and a leap of faith. If you begin to investigate how many of these synthetic agents are behaving once they enter our systems, the result seems obvious (unless of course, you work for the American government).

As a key to understanding the current debate, it is important to become familiar with the term endocrine disruptors. Endocrine disruptors are chemicals that interfere with the normal operation of the natural hormones whose job it is to regulate our endocrine systems. We read about them frequently now and many of us are more aware that they can be found in cosmetics, household cleaners, rubber ducks and non-organic strawberries.

By doing a simple Google search on the role of the endocrine system, I found the following paragraph on the Kidshealth Web site, “Although we rarely think about them, the glands of the endocrine system and the hormones they release influence almost every cell, organ, and function of our bodies. The endocrine system is instrumental in regulating mood, growth and development, tissue function, and metabolism, as well as sexual function and reproductive processes.”

Oh, is that all…“almost every cell, organ and function of our bodies.”

Then, from Wikipedia I learned more specifically that our major endocrine glands control our blood pressure, sex organ function, breast milk production, metabolism, cell reproduction, insulin levels, kidney function and fertility. For your benefit, this is a much-abbreviated list.

Again, I’m not a medically trained professional. But reading this suggests to me that if we are allowing our endocrine systems to become compromised by chemicals, we are throwing down the welcome mat for intruders such as obesity, diabetes, depression, infertility, weakened immune systems, early puberty and of course, cancer.

Further, many of these man-made synthetics have the capacity to mimic the natural estrogen in our bodies.

As reference, increased levels of estrogen are linked to early puberty, as well as weight gain and ultimately breast cancer in females. And not very surprisingly, unnaturally high levels of estrogen in male bodies may impact development of their sex organs, alter testosterone levels, impede fertility and again, increase potential for cancer, especially in the prostate region.

Therefore it was not at all hard for me to fall back upon the Precautionary Principle to decide that chemicals that alter the natural hormone levels in our bodies are likely to wreak cellular havoc and exposure to them should be avoided or minimized when possible.

I began our family’s elimination process with the baby nursery and the kids’ bathroom because according to the National Academy of Sciences, pound for pound, children absorb more chemicals into their bodies and their immune systems often don’t detoxify and eliminate chemicals as efficiently as adults.

Perhaps this is partially due to the fact that an infant’s skin is measurably thinner than an adult’s. Thickness increases with age, maturing at approximately age 20 so the barrier is comparatively weak.

Also, because every organ, bone and muscle is growing in a child’s body, they undergo a larger number of cell cycles than adults. Carcinogens can imprint changes at this time of crucial development that could forever determine susceptibility to future illness or chronic conditions.

The best resource to identify how your chosen brands rate on a hazard scale of relative toxicity is to visit the Skin Deep Web site, which is managed by the Environmental Working Group. To quote directly from their page, “Skin Deep pairs ingredients in more than 41,000 products against 50 definitive toxicity and regulatory databases, making it the largest integrated data resource of its kind.”

There is a detailed account of exactly what I traded out in our household on moregreenmoms, but to give you a running start I went after the following offenders first.

Parabens, which are antimicrobial preservatives, with prefixes such as methyl-, ethyl-, propyl- and butyl- to name a few. Go on, read some labels, it won’t be hard to find them at all.

This family of shelf-life enhancers is believed to mimic estrogen, and can accumulate in fatty tissue such as in the breast. In laboratories, they have been found to damage the liver, kidney and brain. Because of their estrogenic behavior, parabens may also be linked to impaired fertility, or alteration in the development of a fetus or young child. I found parabens in almost every product we had, often in multiple forms.

Sodium laureth sulfate (SLS), and its toxic sidekick, 1,4-dioxane. You will not find the latter named on a label because it is an unintended by-product of chemical manufacturing and therefore it is not required to be listed as an ingredient.

1,4-dioxane, a petroleum-derived contaminant and penetration enhancer, is considered a probable human carcinogen by our EPA and is recognized as a clear-cut animal carcinogen by the National Toxicology Program. It is also on California’s Prop 65 list of chemicals known by the state to cause cancer or birth defects.

A health concern is that 1,4-dioxane alters skin structure, allowing other chemicals to penetrate deeper and potentially reach the bloodstream.

SLS and its unintended (yet unrestricted companion) are fairly ubiquitous and can be found in liquid and solid soaps, shampoos, conditioners, mascara, shaving products, moisturizer, toothpaste, sunscreen, make-up remover, perfume and cologne, as well as countless cleaning products. Good-bye Johnson & Johnson!

Phthalates. That’s P-H-T-H-A-L-A-T-E-S. These chemicals are used to soften vinyl plastic and hold scent and color in a variety of consumer products. They are often hidden behind the word, fragrance.

I bet you will find that on a label or two!

Phthalates are the petrochemicals that have been shown in animal studies to emasculate male offspring and to cause early puberty and reproductive malfunctions in females. Phthalates particularly disrupt our estrogenic endocrine patterns.

In males, the presence of phthalates can disrupt the production of androgen, or LH, which is a hormone whose primary role is to trigger cells to produce testosterone. Researchers in the United States and Europe report that the average sperm count has dropped by as much as 53% over the past 50 years. No one knows why for sure, but estrogenic phthalates and synthetic growth hormones are considered very likely culprits.

As for the female exposure risks related to phthalates, a study published in August 2007 by Dr. Sandra Steingraber, reported that the average American girl is now reaching puberty a full 18 months earlier than girls of just 40 years ago. I’m sure many of you have seen evidence of this statistic in your own families and schools.

This is not okay. We cannot allow the window of childhood to shrink another day.

Nail polish is notorious for its phthalate ingredients, but the remaining players in the toxic trio are toluene, a human developmental toxicant on California’s Prop 65 list, and formaldehyde, which has the potential to damage DNA and is banned in the EU.

What else spells trouble – triclosan in hand sanitizers, mercury in mascara, lead in lipstick, BHA in diaper crème, saccharin in toothpaste, benzophenone in sunscreen and aluminum in deodorant are all ingredients I have researched and eliminated from our product selection at home. But sadly, all that is just the tip of the proverbial iceberg.

I have found that several companies marketing safer products provide helpful guidance on their labels. They actually list many of what I now consider forbidden ingredients and proudly claim that you will NOT find them in their formula lists.

So take it one brand at a time, one drawer at a time and one day at a time. Little by little the cleanup will occur. Don’t be overwhelmed – be thankful that you can do a little spring cleaning and have the responsible option to dispose of some chemical clutter that does not belong in our bodies, our landfills or our waterways.

Believe me, I’ve been at it for more than a year and I will still have several items to contribute to our collection pile on April 18th.

I look very forward to seeing you there and I want to thank you in advance for deciding to bother!