My Story: Scary Allergic Reactions to Consumer Products
I didn’t know that when I made a simple decision to switch to all natural products this past year that my whole life would change. All I knew was that I hated the smell of chemicals from perfumes, shampoos, cleaning products, clothing, even produce, and I knew that it must not be healthy for me to be rubbing things into my body when I could smell the chemicals in them – chemicals that I knew instinctively were hazardous to my health. But it wasn’t just a hunch, I had experienced it first-hand.
I started to really think about this issue back in college when I started to buy a lot of clothing, cosmetics, and detergent that had caused me to have the worst allergic reactions I had ever experienced. Fast forward to today, and I’ve become a little bit more familiar with this issue than I would like to be.
It happens every couple of months at very random and enormously inconvenient times, and it’s a feeling that I recognize in a heartbeat. My skin heats up like it’s on fire, every cell in my body feels like it’s buzzing trying to get my attention, my heartbeat rises, my skin itches uncontrollably, and hives start to spread all over my body. It seems to always start from my face or my scalp and it works its way down my body within a few minutes until I am covered in huge hives. At worst, one hive took up my entire cheek. I wish I was exaggerating. Every time it happens the hives stick out from my face and burn and itch until finally the Benadryl kicks in.
The worst part? I have no f*cking idea what causes this. All I know is that they put chemicals in and on clothing and other random products like I’ve found at the mall, on Amazon, and at well-known stores like Marshall’s.
My first crazy allergic reaction happened when I was a freshman in college and has happened consistently since then. So that’s when I started to get nervous when I was shopping and would often wonder whether I was making a wise decision buying any product on the shelf, especially if it was imported.
That’s also when I realized how shady and secretive these large companies are, whose products completely fill our homes and bodies. Every time I went to a store or called a company complaining that their product created an awful allergic reaction and hives on every inch of my body, they denied it. Not a single person told me what was in or on the products. Not a single person apologized on behalf of the company. Instead, every single one of them said, “No, that didn’t happen to you.” “It must have been something else.” “You’re mistaken.” “That’s not true, it’s impossible that our product would have done that to you.”
There I was after a horrible allergic reaction that scared the sh*t out of me, and I didn’t even hear an apology. Instead, I was told that I was lying. So I started to become more aware of what I was using and decided to become a more conscious consumer. Because maybe next time I’m exposed to whatever chemical that is, I won’t be that lucky.
The “Stink!” Documentary
Upon making some of these changes, a friend of mine recommended the documentary on Netflix called, “Stink!” which was extremely eye-opening, and finally informed me about this issue I’ve been dealing with for 5 years. It’s a documentary all about what factories and well-known brands knowingly put ON and IN our consumer products.
which was extremely eye-opening, and finally informed me about this issue I’ve been dealing with for 5 years. It’s a documentary all about what factories and well-known brands knowingly put ON and IN our consumer products.
“Stink!” is about a man named Jon J. Whelan who discovered on Christmas morning the dangers these chemicals present when his daughter unwrapped a pair of pajamas from Justice. The room was immediately filled with a horrible stench of chemicals–chemicals that he later found out caused cancer and altered DNA after having them tested by a lab. Through his research to get to the bottom of why his daughters’ pajamas stunk of chemicals, he discovered that the chemicals used in American consumer products are not regulated. In America, there are about 30 chemicals banned (out of 80,000) because we know that they cause cancer, but that doesn’t mean we don’t use them… Why, you ask? Because the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) cannot do ANYTHING about the issue unless they have absolute, hard-hitting proof that their product causes breast cancer, or infertility, or heart failure for example, under its intended use. So basically it’s impossible to prove. When someone dies of a heart attack, no one thinks to see if their lotion caused it, or if it’s the shirt they wore. Do they? And how on earth would you go about proving something like that? You can’t. And here’s why…
The Fragrance Loophole
“Stink!” talks about one loophole in particular that is a sneaky way companies can put ANYTHING they want into consumer products without having to disclose it or even prove that it’s safe. It’s a seemingly harmless word used on the back of almost all of our popular products that says “Fragrance” or “Parfum.” You see, all the word “fragrance” means is secret chemicals. Companies don’t have to share what is in them, whether it’s clothing, cleaning products, body products, etc., because it’s considered a “trade secret” and because it’s “proprietary.” Because of this loophole, our consumer industry is so under-regulated that other countries send their products to America where they can get away with selling it!
Side note: Would you want to know how many chemicals are banned by the European Union (EU)? Over 1,300. Europeans clearly care about their health far more than we do.
Companies will say that the reason they don’t want to disclose this information is because someone would be able to replicate their product (which means fewer sales for them and less $$$). But in reality, that’s not why it’s kept a secret anymore. The reason all of these hugely successful companies want to keep this loophole and why they regularly lobby for it, is because if American consumers knew that our body products and clothing caused cancer, infertility, birth defects, heart failure, and alter DNA, they wouldn’t buy this crap anymore!
In the documentary, one reporter shares that she had a lab test her for chemicals and found out that she had hundreds of toxic chemicals in her blood. Even American babies are born with around 200 chemicals in their bodies from the products their mothers used, breathed in, and were exposed to while they were pregnant.
If you don’t believe me yet, here’s a fun fact for you: In America, you can legally bottle and sell fracking fluid as a fragrance. That’s how much we turn a blind eye to what’s in our products.
Natural Products… May Not Be Natural
Just like anyone else would after watching a documentary like that, I immediately ran to the medicine cabinet to check my products. What I discovered was that nearly every product I own contains fragrance as an ingredient. Even the seemingly harmless and so-called “natural” products. I was completely disturbed to see that products I own were packaged to appear natural, but were far from it.
What I mean by appearing natural is that the companies used classic typewriter font; used words like “fair trade,” “organic,” and “natural”; and used natural colors like off-white, tan and light green. They may even say specific natural ingredients on the front like “made with organic coconut oil” or “rosemary essential oil.” To the consumer, these products look healthier and natural to the eye, which is why I had bought them. The products still contained fragrance, and the so-called “natural” ingredient could only account for 1% of it for all I know. Plus, even products that say “fragrance-free” on them may have chemicals anyways! Because how would anyone ever know?
But how could this be? How could even “natural” products be so harmful, trick us into believing they’re safe? That question is what lead me to learn about something called “Greenwashing.”
What is Greenwashing?
Greenwashing is when press or marketing is used deceptively to promote the perception that a company’s products are environmentally friendly. Through greenwashing, companies can sell you the idea that their products are all-natural, healthy, organic, and environmentally friendly, even if they are not any of those things. One example is the Dawn Dish Soap campaign.
Remember those adorable little ducklings being cleaned up from the BP Oil Spill with Dawn dish detergent? Did you know that the ingredients found in Dawn are extremely toxic to animals? After knowing what I know now, I would NEVER use Dawn dish soap (use Seventh Generation soap instead) but there was a time when I thought it was a responsible company that cared about people, the environment, and those little ducklings. Nope. Because Dawn is not some wonderfully eco-friendly brand. It’s a company that saw an opportunity from the tragic oil spill and thought it would be fun to play the hero so people would buy more Dawn and the company would make more money.
Also, just because a product may have environmental, or wellness, or organic logos on them, it doesn’t mean anything. The level at which American products are not regulated is baffling.
So what do I do now?
The point of this whole post is that you can’t just blindly buy products if you care at all about your health and the health of your family. You have to actively change your lifestyle to protect yourself, even if it’s inconvenient. This means doing research to figure out how to protect yourself, downloading helpful apps, reading ingredients, and regularly trying out new products to replace your old ones. The days of walking through the body wash aisle in Walgreens and buying the Bubbly Cherry Blossom and Vanilla Blah Blah Blah, are over.
Want to know what you can do each day to better protect yourself from these chemicals? Want to know how you can figure out if a product is healthy to use before you buy it? Stay tuned for next week’s post about how I limit my exposure to chemicals! Hit that little “+” symbol at the bottom of the page and type in your email where it says “Follow Blog Via Email” and the next post will be sent right to you!
And as always let me know what you think in the comments. Did you know about greenwashing or the Fragrance Loophole? Did you run to your medicine cabinet to check your product ingredients after this? What are some examples of products you used that you didn’t realize could be dangerous?
Photo by Ray Reyes @rocketsciencephoto.