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Common Baby Skin Products with Harmful Chemicals Part 3

It's disturbing enough to look at the ingredients in personal-care products and cosmetics for adults--with zero government regulation, these products are frequently filled with chemicals that are, no exaggeration, proven carcinogens. Take, for example, formaldehyde, categorized as a human carcinogen by both the U.S. government and the World Health Organization. This ingredient is the base of keratin treatments used for straightening hair. It's also frequently used as a preservative in lotions and other products.

But it's even more disturbing to discover the harmful ingredients present in popular products for babies. Parents of infants--likely too overwhelmed to research every ingredient on every product they buy--purchase these items in good faith, hoping to help their babies. Unfortunately, despite marketing to make these items seem healthful, some common baby products contain chemicals proven to be harmful.

So for this blog series, I researched some of the top-selling baby products in the U.S., and hope to share their harmful ingredients for all the parents of little ones who are a little too busy to spend time researching product ingredients. Here's to naturally healthy little ones. 

#3: Aveeno Baby Continuous Protection Sunscreen Lotion

This product gets an overall score of 7 out of 10 on the Environmental Working Group's (EWG) Skin Deep database--a moderately high risk. Oftentimes long-lasting sunscreen products contain questionable ingredients designed to make them absorb more deeply into the skin. Of course we want to protect babies' delicate skin from sun damage, but we are better off buying a sunscreen with only titanium dioxide and reapplying as needed.

Ingredients of concern:

Oxybenzone: Rated an 8 out of 10 on the EWG hazard scale, this ingredient is designed to enhance skin absorption, but it carries a high level of concern because it can cause biochemical or cellular level changes. It's also an endocrine disruptor that may be bioaccumulative (builds up in the body over time). It has been shown in human studies to cause photoallergic reactions, an allergic response that causes redness and inflammation when skin is exposed to the sun.

Propylparaben: This commonly used paraben is ranked a 7 by the EWG for the strong evidence of its endocrine-disrupting actions. The endocrine system controls our hormones, and endocrine-disrupting chemicals are common in personal-care products.

BHT: BHT is a toluene-based ingredient used as a preservative. It's ranked a 6 by the EWG because of its likelihood to irritate the skin, eyes or lungs, and potential toxicity to organ systems. It's described as a "known human immune toxicant or allergen" with strong evidence by the European Food Safety Authority, and is "classified as expected to be toxic or harmful" on the Environment Canada Domestic Substance List.

This product also contains nine chemicals that rank a 3 or 4 (moderate risk) by the EWG. The 4 rankings include: homosalate, which poses contamination concerns ("sunlight breaks down the chemical into harmful byproducts," the EWG says) and organ toxicity concerns; ethylparaben and methylparaben, two parabens considered endocrine disruptors and potentially immunotoxic; octisalate, another product used to enhance skin absorption; and phenoxyethanol, a preservative that can cause irritation of the skin, eyes or lungs. 


A Quick Effective Pain Relief Method

Like so many natural wellness therapies, the MELT method (which stands for Myofascial Energetic Length Technique) began with a medical condition traditional methods couldn't treat. MELT creator Sue Hitzmann was a fitness professional who suddenly began suffering from intense pain. Doctors and physical therapists couldn't find a cause, so Hitzmann began researching manual and neuromuscular therapies. Hands-on bodywork gave her relief, and she changed her entire career focus from fitness to manual therapy. Over time, Hitzmann learned about emerging research about the connective tissues in our bodies, and how they can become, essentially, dehydrated. Hitzmann believes her method helps reinvigorate these tissues, and it can help alleviate many chronic ailments: chronic pain, headaches, low back pain, neck pain, insomnia, digestive problems and injury.

Since its introduction, the MELT method has spread across the country. Today, Hitzmann teaches classes in her New York studio, and has trained more than 1,300 MELT practitioners across the country. MELT is also used in hospitals and physical therapy offices.

Today, you can use the MELT method at home. I got a sample of this product, and it really does loosen up tight and painful areas! I'm a fitness enthusiast, but I also work an office job and spend quite a bit of time my car. This combination leads to frequent tightness and pain, which I typically combat with yoga. However, the MELT method targets the connective tissue more directly--more like massage than  yoga. With Sue's video guidance, you can learn the method and maintain it in just 10 minutes a day, three to four days a week. Hitzmann believes this short frequent maintenance to our connective tissues can ward off an array of aches and pains, eliminating the need for reliance on NSAIDs, aspirin and other OTC pain relievers. Based on my experiment, I think so, too. 

Common Baby Skin Products with Harmful Chemicals Part 2

It's disturbing enough to look at the ingredients in personal-care products and cosmetics for adults--with zero government regulation, these products are frequently filled with chemicals that are, no exaggeration, proven carcinogens. Take, for example, formaldehyde, categorized as a human carcinogen by both the U.S. government and the World Health Organization. This ingredient is the base of keratin treatments used for straightening hair. It's also frequently used as a preservative in lotions and other products.

But it's even more disturbing to discover the harmful ingredients present in popular products for babies. Parents of infants--likely too overwhelmed to research every ingredient on every product they buy--purchase these items in good faith, hoping to help their babies. Unfortunately, despite marketing to make these items seem healthful, some common baby products contain chemicals proven to be harmful.

So for this blog series, I researched some of the top-selling baby products in the U.S., and hope to share their harmful ingredients for all the parents of little ones who are a little too busy to spend time researching product ingredients. Here's to naturally healthy little ones. 

#2: Desitin Diaper Rash Relief

This product gets an overall score of 5 out of 10 on the Environmental Working Group's (EWG) Skin Deep database--a moderate risk. It's likely not going to cause serious damage, but it has several ingredients of concern. My attitude is why slather a baby with questionable ingredients when a healthier option exists. In this case, I'd recommend a calendula salve made with organic ingredients. 

Ingredients of concern:

Fragrance: Here again we see fragrance, that ubiquitous ingredient made up of a mix of chemicals, which often contains phthalates. The EWG rates this ingredient (the worst offender in this product formulation) an 8 out of 10 on its hazard scale, noting its association with allergies, respiratory distress and potential effects on the reproductive system.

Propylparaben: This commonly used paraben is ranked a 7 by the EWG for the strong evidence of its endocrine-disrupting actions. The endocrine system controls our hormones, and endocrine-disrupting chemicals are common in personal-care products.

Petrolatum: Petrolatom is a petroleum-based ingredient that is "classified as expected to be toxic or harmful" on the Environment Canada Domestic Substance List. It also carries contamination concerns--in product formulations, some ingredients have a higher risk of combining with others and thus forming toxic compounds. In this case, the contamination risk relates to PAHS, a persistent and bioaccumulative endocrine disruptor.

The product contains several additional items ranked a 4 by the EWG, among them: Ethylparaben and methylparaben, two parabens considered endocrine disruptors and potentially immunotoxic; phenoxyethanol, a preservative that can cause irritation of the skin, eyes or lungs; and PEG-30 Dipolyhydroxystearate (ranked a 3), which carries a high concern rating for contamination and a low concern rating for organ system toxicity. 


Our Choices Matter

In Mother Earth Living, we spend a lot of time focused on how our food choices affect our health—in this issue alone, we share recipes that help a food writer manage chronic health conditions; a profile of some of the world’s healthiest spices; and a look at the toxicity of Roundup. Yet, vital as our food choices are to our health, the impact of our choices goes way beyond our own bodies.

When I visited Rise & Root farm in Chester, New York, to write a profile of the four inspiring women who turned their farm dream into a reality, I knew I’d learn about the farm and the work that went into building that dream. I didn’t know I’d learn so much more about the ways our food choices support injustices in our laws and treatment of farmers and farm workers.

When we buy food from the industrial agriculture system, we’re not only consuming pesticide residues. We’re also supporting a system that depends upon the mistreatment of people. Many temporary or seasonal farm workers are exempt from minimum wage requirements, which means they often work long hours for below minimum wage, with no overtime pay or sick leave According to the National Agricultural Workers Survey published by the U.S. Department of Labor, the average annual income of crop workers is between $10,000 and $12,499; 30 percent of farm workers’ family incomes are below the poverty line.

Low pay and no benefits are just part of the problem. In the media, stories of farm worker abuses abound, with everything from sexual harassment and rape to wage theft. These workers, often impoverished, have little power when it comes to defending their rights. As Bill Tamayo, regional attorney with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission told NPR in a story about sexual harassment against farm workers, “Conditions that allow sexual assault to occur all revolve around who has power.” On industrial farms, supervisors have all the power: “He determines who gets hired, who gets promoted, who gets fired. And if you’re a sexual predator, that’s the ideal position to be in because you can determine whether her family eats or not,” Tamayo says.

Our food system depends on the exploitation of farm workers to keep prices low and profits high (the CEO of one major farm/food conglomerate is worth $2.4 billion). Many industrial farms also claim a dependence upon chemical herbicides to produce high yields. Thus, on farms throughout our nation, underpaid people wear hazmat suits as they spray carcinogenic chemicals on the food we eat. And it’s no better in the arena of factory-farmed meats. When it comes to our food system, problems abound.

So, what can we do? One of the simplest answers lies in supply and demand. It’s our responsibility to consider the impact our food choices have on our planet, on other creatures and especially on other people.

High-quality food can cost more, and I know the idea that we all buy from small, organic farms suggests a level of economic privilege many people don’t have. But by engaging with local farmers via CSAs and farm-volunteer programs, it’s possible to get better food for less money. If there is one worthwhile expense, it’s healthy food. Eating well is not only crucial to the health and well-being of ourselves and our families—eating well honors the work of our fellow humans, the sacrifice of animal life and the wonders of the earth itself.

3 Things I Love This Issue

From the garden to the grocery store, ways to eat well every day:

7 Surprisingly Healthy Foods

Healing Recipes

Planting in the Fall for a Spring Bounty

Spend More Summer Time Outdoors with an Efficient Evaporative Cooler

When it comes to the idea of energy efficiency, "air conditioning the outdoors" is the quintessential no-no. But severe summer temperatures (in Kansas, it's going to be 98 degrees today and feel like 104) can mean not spending time outdoors. I will admit I was doubtful of the ability of Honeywell's outdoor evaporative air coolers to make sense in my life. But when I got one, I realized that these fans make a serious difference in enjoyment of outdoor activities. So many days have found our family outside rather than in thanks to the difference the air cooler makes. It evaporates water, then uses a fan to disperse mist into the air, cooling an area of nearly 400 square feet. It's also super energy-efficient, requiring about 288 watts to operate (for comparison, a dehumidifier requires about 350 watts, while a coffee machine requires about 1,500). In my solar-powered home, I feel OK using that energy to spend more time outdoors, even when the temperatures are through the roof. Another benefit? The breeze helps keep away the No. 1 deterrent to my outdoor time in our Kansas home--mosquitoes. So, this efficient dual-purposed device has most certainly enabled me and my family to spend more time outdoors in the summer, whether the temps are scorching or the mosquitoes are biting. The cooler is expensive at $450, but it's likely cheaper than alternatives such as installing an outdoor ceiling fan or enclosing a porch. They also have lower-priced models. I wouldn't recommend this product for anywhere but places with the hottest of summers--here in the lower Midwest and through the Southwest and Southeast--but if you find you can't enjoy your outdoor spaces throughout much of the summer, you might want to give it a try. 

Common Baby Skin Products with Harmful Chemicals Part 1

It's disturbing enough to look at the ingredients in personal-care products and cosmetics for adults--with zero government regulation, these products are frequently filled with chemicals that are, no exaggeration, proven carcinogens. Take, for example, formaldehyde, categorized as a human carcinogen by both the U.S. government and the World Health Organization. This ingredient is the base of keratin treatments used for straightening hair. It's also frequently used as a preservative in lotions and other products.

But it's even more disturbing to discover the harmful ingredients present in popular products for babies. Parents of infants--likely too overwhelmed to research every ingredient on every product they buy--purchase these items in good faith, hoping to help their babies. Unfortunately, despite marketing to make these items seem healthful, some common baby products contain chemicals proven to be harmful.

So for this blog series, I researched some of the top-selling baby products in the U.S., and hope to share their harmful ingredients for all the parents of little ones who are a little too busy to spend time researching product ingredients. Here's to naturally healthy little ones.

 Johnsons#1: Johnson's Baby Creamy Oil Aloe Vera & Vitamin E 

This product gets an overall score of 5 out of 10 on the Environmental Working Group's (EWG) Skin Deep database--a moderate risk. It's likely not going to cause serious damage, but it has several ingredients of concern. My take is why use something with potentially hazardous chemicals when you can use natural salves or other better products.

Ingredients of concern:

Fragrance: The main problem with fragrance is that companies don't have to disclose what makes up this ingredient. The EWG ranks this ingredient an 8 on its 10-point hazard scale, citing high concerns for allergies and immunotoxicity. Fragrance frequently contains phthalates,  known hormone-disruptors. "Fragrance mixes have been associated with allergies, dermatitis, respiratory distress and potential effects on the reproductive system," the EWG writes.

Propylparaben: Parabens are a family of preservatives that mimic estrogen and can act as potential hormone system disruptors. The EWG ranks propylparaben a 7 out of 10, citing strong evidence of  human endocrine disruption, immune toxicity and allergenic activity.

The product also contains several items ranked a 4 by the EWG, among them: Hydrogenated cottonseed oil, which itself is fairly safe but raises the risk of contamination (contamination risks occur when chemicals break down and recombine to make new potentially dangerous pollutants) in the product of mercury, arsenic and lead, all ranked highly hazardous; ethylparaben and methylparaben, two more parabens considered endocrine disruptors and potentially immunotoxic; and phenoxyethanol, a preservative that can cause irritation of the skin, eyes or lungs. 

Peace from the Past

This past weekend found me working in the garden, and as I dug holes, added compost and packed dirt in around seedlings, I was reminded of what gardeners the world over avow: Working in the soil is calming to the mind. There’s something meditative about the motions of digging in the earth, fully focused on the task at hand. It’s almost impossible to multitask while planting a seedling. You must perform each step one at a time.

According to most accounts, my birth year puts me among the oldest of the Millennial generation. I’m not sure it’s a perfect fit, but I do think I fit that generation in my attitude toward technology: I consider it a fundamental element of life, one I believe transforms the way humans interact in the world. To me, technology is a powerful tool; like any tool, its benefits or harms are determined by how we use it. The internet has allowed a democratization of information never before seen, and this is proving to be a catalyst for social change. In the age of information, transparency is necessarily on the rise in politics, law enforcement and business.

But we also know living in a way that is very different from the ways of our ancestors may be problematic. For example, the predominant psychological ailments of our times—anxiety, hyperactivity and depression—all have links with the fast pace and tech focus of modern living. Studies show that the things most tied with our evolutionary past—spending time in nature, for example, or getting regular exercise and eating a whole-foods diet—offer significant benefits for these afflictions. But what about other activities our ancestors enjoyed before the age of “screen time”: Making music, creative writing, dance and visual arts? Preliminary research has found them all to be therapeutically useful.

When I was writing the feature about hobbies that benefit our brains for this issue, I was particularly struck by one fact: Reading is good for our brains because, evolutionarily speaking, it’s a relatively new and complex task. Humans have been reading for thousands of years. Yet, for our physical brains, it’s still a challenge because all of those years just aren’t that long in the grand scheme of things.

That made me wonder: What activities might make our brains feel most at peace? I think the answers may lie in those activities so fundamental to human survival that we’ve been practicing them for eons: Growing our own food, harvesting wild plants in nature, knitting or sewing clothing, making art, telling stories, sitting by firelight. My life wouldn’t work (at least in its current form) without technology, and I wouldn’t want it to. The internet helps me know what’s going on with people across the globe; it enables my parents to frequently talk face-to-face with my son even though we live a few hours apart; and it allows me to collaborate on this magazine with our fantastic art director although we live in different states. But I find it intriguing to think about our health needs through the lens of human history. I think some of the best advice for calming our minds and spirits may be to step away from technology from time to time and spend a few hours on the activities humanity has cultivated since the earliest beginnings of civilization.

3 Things I Love This Issue

Ways to reduce our bodily intake of synthetic chemicals:

1. Safe, natural alternatives to common OTC drugs

2. Tips and recipes to use DIY salves for a range of minor ailments

3. A look at chemical use in personal-care products