And, of course to the gents out there, what would you ask your lady friends to change?
I gave a little talk with two of my favorite women in green beauty (precisely because they couldn’t look less green!): Anya Sarre, who told her hilarious a-ha story and gave great tips for looking and feeling good while knocked up, and Bethany Wojteck from Arcona (a great line, especially for anyone with problem skin!). Anya is about 7 months pregnant, and Bethany has a 9 month old (though you’d never know by looking at her) and while both women have been super conscious and careful for some time it was interesting to hear the additional sacrifices they made during pregnancy.
Now, it’s not like I’m planning a pregnancy right this second, but I’m well aware that the time before one gets pregnant is very important, and while the baby is cooking it’s downright critical to be careful of chemical exposure—especially given the new science emerging around endocrine disruptors.
BPA has now been shown to permanently change gene expression, a subject I made Siobhan explain to me in extremely explicit laymen’s terms over gchat yesterday (she’s so good at this stuff!). Basically this means, and correct me if I’m wrong S, that if a fetus is exposed to BPA in utero there is the potential for it to change the signal a given gene is supposed to send. A gene that was meant to do X, may now do Y (pun intended on this one), and it won’t change back again. While this research is still very new and we can’t say for sure how these fetuses will be affected as adults, we know that BPA—which is mildly estrogenic—has been linked to things like obesity, early puberty in women, infertility in men and so on.
Ugh. Which takes me to what I would change in the months prior to trying, and in the event that I got pregnant. I would definitely avoid all canned things (which is really tough for me) because the liners almost always contain BPA, including my favorite sardines (sad face) and the ”natural” soda Zevia that I love, who at least address the issue on their site. I’d also probably avoid any salon treatments—nails and hair—even though I know it’s really important to feel pretty and pulled together during those pregnancy months! Some women just go once or twice for a little pick-me-up, and I totally get it.
Oh, and I’d probably get really annoying about fragrance and ask people I work with not to wear any. And I’d throw out the last few cleaning products I have that are totally toxic (hello Ajax). I would also try to drive our old Jeep more, because I think (though I’m not sure) that older cars have less chemical crap in them.
What am I missing? Surely something! What did you change during your pregnancy, or would you give up if you were planning to get knocked up?
I spend a lot of time on my couch. I’m not above a 5-hour television marathon, or sitting on it all Sunday as I poke around on my computer and my husband watches golf. I’m on it right now.
The couch in question is from Ikea, it traveled from my husband’s previous apartment, and it’s made of plastic—well, faux leather. The model has since been cancelled because people’s couches, ours included, starting looking like they were melting in spots, which is some kind of defect of this mysterious material.
It’s a surprisingly attractive looking couch, not one that makes you think “wow, those people have a plastic couch.” But I think about that often enough, and it bugs be not because I care that it’s cheap (or cheap-looking) but that I suspect the thing carries with it more chemicals than I can count, and probably more than one endocrine disruptor (and bendy plastics tend to).
But apparently everyone’s couch is filled with potentially harmful chemicals, not just my plastic beauty. In a recent New York Times article Nick Kristof (a bigger hero to us by the day) he talks about the flame retardents in sofas, and a new investigative series called “Playing With Fire” in the Chicago Tribune.
The Tribune series is exhaustive, and maybe on Sunday I’ll plop onto my couch and read it through. In the meantime, Kristof highlights some of the infuriating facts about how flame retardants got into our sofas. Instead of paraphrasing, I’ve exerted sections of his article below.
Chances are that if you’re sitting on a couch right now, it contains flame retardants. This will probably do no good if your house catches fire — although it may release toxic smoke.
There is growing concern that the chemicals are hazardous, with evidence mounting of links to cancer, fetal impairment and reproductive problems.
It turns out that our furniture first became full of flame retardants because of the tobacco industry… tobacco companies mounted a surreptitious campaign for flame retardant furniture, rather than safe cigarettes, as the best way to reduce house fires.
An advocacy group called Citizens for Fire Safety later pushed for laws requiring fire retardants in furniture…But Citizens for Fire Safety has only three members, which also happen to be the three major companies that manufacture flame retardants.
The problem with flame retardants is that they migrate into dust that is ingested, particularly by children playing on the floor… some retardants were very similar to banned PCBs, which have been linked to everything from lower I.Q. to diabetes, and that it was reasonable to expect certain flame retardants to have similar consequences.
Arlene Blum, a chemist at the University of California, Berkeley, told me, “For pregnant women, they can alter brain development in the fetus.” Her research decades ago led to the removal of a flame retardant, chlorinated Tris, from children’s pajamas. But chlorinated Tris is still used in couches and nursing pillows (without any warning labels).
So there it is, we can thank the cigarette industry, and the three companies that stood to make billions, for the presence of flame retardants in our couches. It’s pretty disheartening stuff.
This may feel like a leap from the beauty business, but it’s actually not. It’s exactly the same kind of unregulated and unlabeled presence of chemicals in consumer products—chemicals that may be doing harm to our bodies, our kids, and our unborn babies. Do you think about the stuff in your couch, your clothing, your home? [Insert exhausted groan here.]
Nick Kristof of the New York Times has been one of the most influential voices in the media when it comes to the dangers of endocrine disruptors. Last week he wrote again about the the science fiction that we are living with these chemicals.
The article is a great reminder of why we make such a big fuss around the presence of endocrine disruptors, and why we always advise people to avoid fragrance in their products. (Fragrances notoriously contain phthalates, part of this nasty club.)
Are you very aware of these chemicals in your day-to-day? Do you avoid them at all costs? I still eat many things out of a can (notably sardines) and am at a loss as to how to stop. Is is too much to ask that these chemicals just be banned, once and for all?
This month also happens to be Pregnancy Awareness Month, founded by author and lifestyle expert Anna Getty and producer Alisa Donner. Have you heard of this? It was created in 2008 with the intention of building a support community for mothers and expecting families, and to help educate them around health and wellness.
We should all know about endocrine disruptors, but fetuses are particularly vulnerable. I’ve pasted a few highlights from Kristof’s piece below in case you missed it, or if you’ve capped out on your New York Times articles for the month:
Endocrine disruptors are everywhere. They’re in thermal receipts that come out of gas pumps and A.T.M.’s. They’re in canned foods, cosmetics, plastics and food packaging. Test your blood or urine, and you’ll surely find them there, as well as in human breast milk and in cord blood of newborn babies.
Scientists have long known the tiniest variations in hormone levels influence fetal development. For example, a female twin is very slightly masculinized if the other twin is a male, because she is exposed to some of his hormones.
Now experts worry that endocrine disruptors have similar effects, acting as hormones and swamping the delicate balance for fetuses in particular. The latest initiative by scholars is a landmark 78-page analysis to be published next month in Endocrine Reviews, the leading publication in the field.
“For several well-studied endocrine disruptors, I think it is fair to say that we have enough data to conclude that these chemicals are not safe for human populations,” said Laura Vandenberg, a Tufts University developmental biologist who was the lead writer for the panel.
Need we say more?
Happy Friday! Big news: Scientific groups representing more than 40,000 researchers and clinicians have come together in the pages of the super-influential journal Science to insist that federal regulators do more—and do more, more quickly—to assess the human safety of the 12,000 new substances registered every day at the American Chemical Society.
“The need for swifter and sounder testing and review procedures cannot be overstated,” the letter says.
The letter’s corresponding author Patricia Hunt, a professor in the Washington State University School of Molecular Biosciences, said:
“As things stand now,” she added, “things get rapidly into the marketplace and the testing of them is tending to lag behind.”
Hunt told ScienceDaily that the letter was inspired by growing concerns about BPA, which more than 300 studies have found to cause adverse health effects in animals. Hormone disruptors more broadly, were also of concern. She says:
“Hormones control everything—our basic metabolism, our reproduction. We call them endocrine disruptors. They’re like endocrine bombs to a certain extent because they can disrupt all these normal functions.”
Boom. She also said one of the problems is that the methods used to assess safety—primarily toxicology—are insufficient. “The FDA and EPA need to look beyond the toxicology of substances to the other ways chemicals can affect us. … One of the problems they have is they look at some of the science and don’t know how to interpret it because it’s not done using the traditional toxicology testing paradigm,” she said. “We need geneticists, we need developmental and reproductive biologists and we need the clinical people on board to actually help interpret and evaluate some of the science.”
I think this qualifies as a sign that things are changing, no?
Fantastic news coming out of Denmark. The country’s environment ministry announced today that it was banning two parabens in products for kids under 3, making it the first in Europe to ban those pesky hormone disruptors. Hey, it only applies to kids’ products, but it’s a HUGE start. I’m curious to see what will happen. Will companies start reformulating for Denmark only? Will they just replace parabens with another cheap synthetic preservative like phenoxyethanol, which is also on our black list in the book? Will the EU follow suit? Will the United States? (That last one was a joke. Kind of.)
You can read all about it in Danish or stay tuned for more news from us. And if you speak Danish, would you be a doll and email us at nomoredirtylooks at gmail dot com? Grazie!