Avoiding Topical Toxins

Avoiding Topical Toxins

The last body post looked at our bodies like a garden, which reviewed our internal nutrient requirements (our guts, filled with microbial life, are like soil) and how eating clean whole foods helps to “weed” our bodies of unwanted or harmful internal substances.

I ended the article with this definition of skin absorption:

“Skin absorption is a route by which substances can enter the body through the skin. Along with inhalation, ingestion and injection, dermal absorption is a route of exposure for toxic substances and route of administration for medication.”

We know that some substances, when applied directly to the plants in our garden, are harmful, causing obvious physical damage as well as having other more subtle effects. And our skin is the same!

So, what, when, where, why, how, and how again?! Many of our everyday products feel so necessary and it seems like we couldn’t live without them. So where do we start and which are the most important to focus on?

As with just about any topic in the world, the answer to this varies significantly on who you ask (ask five beekeepers one question and get seven answers!). Below are just a couple of things I researched, a few points about how I transitioned to a natural routine, and what I use now. Everything you do will be your own personal journey; I just hope I can contribute in some small way.

I started with lip balm. We were already keeping bees, so I was happy to use the raw beeswax in a product that I use multiple times per day on my lips (which makes it nearly a food product)! The transition to an all-natural lip balm was super simple, and the only thing that really changed was that lip-licking became safe! It was nice to know that I was avoiding petroleum jelly (an oil byproduct that may contain carcinogens), mineral oil (derived from petroleum and may contain cancer-causing polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, or PAHs), phenols (which can be responsible for skin irritation, kidney and liver damage, and even nervous system damage when absorbed through the skin regularly), alcohol (which dries the lips), and artificial fragrances and colors (another source of lip irritation). These are just some of the many chemicals commonly found in commercial lip products, so I was obviously glad to remove them from my cleansing routine.

Hands playing with soap suds

Next, I looked at soap and body moisturizers. This was a pretty clear next step because I use both all over my body, everyday, so changes in this area represented a large improvement. I made and experimented with all kinds of honey soaps, beeswax tallow balms, and beeswax and plant-butter creams, but if you’re not up for making your own products, there are lots of chemical-free replacements available. Avoiding commercial products was so important to me because they often contain chemicals such as triclosan (an antimicrobial agent that can be detected in breast milk), sodium laurel sulfate and sodium laureth sulfate (which penetrate the skin and can cause irritation), synthetic fragrances (poorly regulated and common cause of contact dermatitis), and petroleum by-products like propylene glycol.

Almost two years ago now, I slowly transitioned to using a natural shampoo. This was a tricky task, so I wrote up a separate post about it. I tried the “no poo” method on a couple of occasions, switched to all-natural shampoo, went through a tough transition, and eventually ended up with soft, flake-free hair that I’m finally happy with. It was interesting to see the progress from start to finish and recognize how much damage I had to repair from using conventional hair products.

Another thing to consider with natural products is their shelf-life. All my beehive goodies are made in small batches and, because we never add synthetic preservatives, the shelf life is shorter and the products are more delicate than their commercial counterparts. I am happy to keep up with this because essentially it means that, like all biological things, they’re truly natural and have an expiration date. Our whole foods don’t last forever, so I don’t expect my body care items to either!

Natural toothpaste powder sprinkled on toothbrush bristles

I’ve slowly been working on replacing our products one-by-one. Some others include deodorant, toothpaste, counter-top cleaners, dish soap, and dishwasher detergent. Of course, I still buy things, but when I do I try to find the best alternatives.

I know that transitioning, using, and keeping up with natural solutions to everyday needs can be exhausting. My policy is to do the best I can, accept that, and be content with the tradeoff. Along with the chemicals surrounding us, stress over these things can also be detrimental to our health, and it’s what we’ll be talking about next time. I try my hardest within reason and attempt to focus on the big picture of what keeps us happy and healthy.

Thanks for reading!


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