A funny thing happens when you start to focus your attention on specific things. You develop different habits. You change your way of being in the world.
I recently came across an old journal entry from about 11 years ago, and realized how much I’ve changed in that time. Not just in life experience or fashion (although there is that, thank all the gods ever- I was pretty damn naive), but also in what I notice and prioritize.
In the past decade, I’ve slowly shifted away from my deep-fried Southern roots to a more…holistic approach to life. Some would call it “going hippy.” Some schools of thought call it “mindful living.” I’ve become attuned to: additives in my food, where my clothes are made, the labor practices of the stores where I shop, chemicals in products I use- basically, I have tried to train my eyes (and my pocketbook) to see the web that inextricably binds everything together in society, and how to choose more healthy options for myself. Once you start to notice what your time and money go to support, it’s hard to switch that off.
But let me back up a bit further. There’s a story from my younger years that sets this up nicely. When I was about 14, we learned in history class about how the women (and men) at the French royal court of Versailles wore a white paste on their faces to lighten their skin. Uber white skin was the height of fashion apparently. So the courtiers would apply this white paste to their exposed faces and hands daily, just to appear fashionably pale. Just one problem with the paste that was not discovered until hundreds of years later- it contained deadly amounts of poisonous lead. The lead ate away the skin on the face and caused mental insanity. It slowly killed everyone who used it- horribly. That story stuck with me; I thought this was the stupidest thing I’d ever heard of. Who on earth would so prize their looks that they’d destroy their life? I remember vowing that I would never be so stupid as to use a product that would kill me. This was, coincidentally, the same year I swore off shoulder pads as the stupidest fashion trend ever. It turns out they weren’t, but to this day, I will not wear them. I’ve recently discovered that I wasn’t so faithful on that other vow.
It turns out that most of my shampoos, body washes, toothpastes, lotions, and face creams contain a proven skin irritant that is composed of (among other things) a known carcinogen.
The culprits? Sodium Laurel Sulfate & Sodium Laureth Sulfate.
Remember those names. They have been linked to cancer and are used around the world in chemical trials to CAUSE skin irritation.
I know, I know- there are so many things in life that can kill you that you would need to live in a bubble to avoid then all. True enough. But there are certain things that are worth trying to avoid, especially when they have been proven to not be good for humans. If you look at the back of a shampoo bottle, the sheer number of chemicals should alarm you. If they don’t, think of it as a food. Would you eat or drink that stuff, knowing as little as you do about how it is made?
You use shampoo, lotions and toothpaste on a regular basis (one would hope). This means the chemicals in these products build up in your body over time. We’ve seen skyrocketing rates of all types of cancers in recent decades. From what I’ve read, there is more than a slight causal link between the cancer rate and the chemicals we live with in our homes. That was enough to make me dig deeper.
Back to Sodium Laurel Sulfate and Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLS and SLES). A few years ago, I began to notice certain products that advertised themselves as ‘paraben-free’ and ‘sulfate-free.’ Which made me wonder- why was that important? What don’t I know about these parabens and sulfates? So I started doing research. It was easy to find stuff on parabens at first- they disrupt hormones and have been directly linked to breast cancer and heart problems. Mostly , they are used as a preservative. Well, that sounds nasty. I began to specifically look for products without parabens, and threw out what I had at home that contained them. Plenty of products that are paraben free are available now, thanks to increased awareness. I felt better about my health after that. But I didn’t really take a closer look at the sulfate family until recently. The readings on that shit will keep you up at night.
I read articles like this and this, and promptly cleaned out my bathroom of any product containing a sulfate. Sound extreme? I’m okay with that. I blame the pregnancy hormones for pushing me to clear out anything that causes me to doubt it’s health-full-ness. My body is a temple, after all. And stuff that messes with my chemical levels makes me nervous. Nor do I trust that most mass-production companies do tons of research on the long-term effects of their products…beyond assuring themselves and the FDA that their stuff won’t kill people quickly. Nope, I think most big companies are in it for the money and will sell me anything they think they can convince me that I need. So I prefer to pay a bit more for something natural than slowly poison myself with something cheaper.
So, over roughly the last decade, I’ve switched to almond milk, started recycling, cut back on eating meat, purchased a hybrid car, migrated to Buddhism, begun shopping at organic food stores, and now use only skincare products that I know are as natural as can be. I don’t fit all the hippy stereotypes (for the record, I’d be fine if I did; hippies get a bad rap from people who are afraid of change or of looking too closely at things), but I’m getting there. I like being healthy. I like knowing that I’m making conscious choices and not having choices made for me. I like mindful living.
As I’ve slowly been hippified, I’ve become healthier. Win for me. Win for my baby. Win for my life. I’m at peace with my hippification. While we can’t protect ourselves from everything, that’s not a reason to give up trying to protect ourselves from certain things. Just because you can buy it in a store doesn’t mean it won’t kill you…it just make take a while. Remember, they used to sell cocaine as an over-the-counter headache remedy in drugstores. Think about that the next time you smear something onto your body to be absorbed.