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Is Your Body Stressed Out By Chemicals?

Woman sitting on beachA couple of weeks ago, the Hawaiian state government announced it would start banning certain brands of sunscreen because of the damage caused to coral reefs by two ingredients.

This prompted one of our patients to Tweet, if this is what sunscreen does to a coral reef out in the ocean, what is it doing to you?

It’s fair question. In a time when we are seeing skyrocketing rates for allergies, chemical sensitivities and neuro-developmental disorders such as autism, we have to wonder if man-made substances in our environment are contributing to the problem.

Last summer, Health Canada raised the alarm about Banana Boat sunscreen products for kids, after it received 26 complaints in a single month about reactions to the product, including burned and blistered skin.

Shortly before that story broke, the U.S.-based non-profit Environmental Working Group released a report in which it concluded that 73 per cent of the 880 sunscreens it tested don’t work as well as advertised or contain “worrisome” ingredients (this year’s edition of this report will likely be out later this month). Meanwhile, a guide released about the same time by Consumer Reports found that only 15 of the 58 sunscreen products it tested met its standards and delivered on the SPF rating as advertised.

It is important to protect yourself and your family from the damaging and dangerous effects of the sun’s UV radiation. But you have to be careful to ensure the product you choose performs as advertised, without exposing you or your loved ones to other risks because of questionable ingredients.

It’s the same sage advice we should apply to all the consumer products that stuff our bathroom, kitchen, and workshop cupboards.

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Potential toxins are all around us

We’ve written before about the risks associated with food colourings derived from coal or petroleum products because of links to cancer and hyperactivity in children.

Then there is a common food preservative, propyl paraben, that has been linked to disruption of the body’s endocrine system. Two emulsifiers commonly found in foods to keep ingredients from separating, carboxymethylcellulose and polysorbate-80, have been linked to metabolic problems in test mice, like glucose intolerance.

And let’s not forget atrazine, the most commonly used pesticide in the U.S., which has been linked to cancer and abnormalities such as hermaphroditism.

We could go on, but you get the point. From plastics, to solvents and shampoos, potentially toxic ingredients abound.

Chemical stress hinders healing

Exposure to and contamination by such toxins can disrupt the healthy function of your body and inhibit its natural ability to heal and recover. Whatever the risk or impact – be it hormone disruption, reproductive issues, or cancer risk – your body is under attack. It’s not much different than how you muddle along when in the grip of a virus, an infection, or a bout of seasonal allergies. Your body is suffering from a form of stress. Any form of stress has a negative impact, whether it’s toxic contamination, family drama, or poor sleep.

The good news is that there is plenty of available information out there to guide your purchase decisions. Many retailers in Kanata and Ottawa specialize in safer and healthier alternatives, like Natural Food Pantry, terra20 and Rainbow Foods.

And about that sunscreen

As we head into the May long weekend, here’s some tips when shopping for sunscreen.
Sunscreens come in two general types – those that use minerals to block UV and those that use chemical compounds to filter it.

Chemical filtering sunscreens are the most common, but many of the compounds used are known or suspected endocrine disruptors. These include oxybenzone, octisalate, octocrylene, homosalate, and octinoxate. (Oxybenzone and octinoxate, by the way, are the two compounds on Hawaii’s black list for killing coral.)

Why worry about endocrine disruptors? These chemicals imitate or disrupt hormones in the body. This can lead to cell damage, birth defects, developmental disorders, and cancer.
One chemical filter that is so far on the OK list due to no evidence of endocrine disruption is avobenzone.

An alternative is to go with a sunscreen that instead uses ground minerals to block UV – zinc oxide or titanium oxide. These are less likely to absorb into the skin and there is no evidence of endocrine disruption. In terms of general skin irritation, they are also more likely to be hypoallergenic than chemical filters.

You can read more on the subject from EWG.org.

As always, it never hurts to read a label and do a little research before you buy.

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