How I Limited My Exposure to Chemicals and Found Safe Alternatives to Toxic Consumer Products

Health

At the end of last week’s blog post about the fragrance loophole and greenwashing, I left you on a little bit of cliffhanger about what to do next. After reading all about the toxic chemicals that fill our everyday products, you might be thinking, “OK Heather, I’m terrified! How do I protect myself?!” So now that I have you scared out of your mind, believe it or not, there are actually several things that you can do to make sure that the products you’re bringing into your life are safe and healthy.

I would like to first add that clearing out all of the dangerous consumer products in our lives is not an easy task. Most people do not have the means or the time to throw out every body product and cleaning agent in their lives and purchase all new things. So I would like to start this post by saying that if you do want to clean up the products in your life, don’t be hard on yourself about it. Don’t feel like it has to happen instantly. Don’t feel like you have to know everything right away. I’m still learning about the fragrance issue and I’m still trying to search for replacements for products that I’ve used for years. So it’s OK if this change takes a few weeks or a few months, as long as you are making the change! That’s why I put together some information for you in this post to make the transition a little bit easier. I wanted to share a few things that I have been doing to limit my exposure to chemicals so you have a place to start.

Second, I wanted to mention that several people I’ve talked to about this issue of fragrance and greenwashing feel overwhelmed and helpless OR want to throw out everything they own immediately. I’ve noticed that some people approach the problem with the thought process of, “Oh well, everything causes cancer. There’s nothing you can do about it.” But that is not at all true. And if you ask me, I think that throwing your hands in the air and saying that you’re helpless when it comes to this issue is both irresponsible and lazy.

Yes, it will take some research, time, money, trial and error, but you will figure it out and you and your family will be much better off! It just takes doing a little bit of research and switching that automatic instinct to buying something, to one of curiosity about the product. It takes training yourself to flip over a product and reading the ingredients before throwing it in a shopping cart! It’s really that simple. With that being said, here are a few things that you should know that will make a difference in your life today.

The Think Dirty App

In this mission to rid myself of chemicals over the last several weeks, I went searching for resources to make it a little bit easier. As I discussed in last week’s post, even if you do read ingredients, you might not always be able to tell how safe a product is unless you’re very familiar with chemicals and their side effects. Plus, you can’t rely on products that appear natural, because most of the “natural products” contain fragrance and use sneaky greenwashing tricks. One of these resources I discovered is a magical little app called “Think Dirty.” I’ve downloaded many different apps to help me discover what’s really in our products, but none of them stack up to Think Dirty!

Think Dirty was started by a woman, Lily Tse, who had a long history of cancer and breast cancer in her family. Due to her own personal journey and research into consumer products she learned all about the fragrance loophole, greenwashing, and the irregulation of our products. Through her own journey, she discovered that finding safer products for herself was very challenging. So she wanted to create a tool for consumers that compares products easily and has transparency about the ingredients in them. That’s how Think Dirty was born.

Think Dirty allows you to search a body or household product and see the potentially dangerous chemicals that are in them. Each product is reviewed and researched so you figure out just how safe or toxic a product is before you make a purchase. Each ingredient listed on the product’s label is evaluated for documented evidence of Carcinogenicity, Developmental & Reproductive Toxicity, and Allergenicity & Immunotoxicity. This allows the user to see if the product is completely safe or if it could cause short term versus long term health risks.

It shows consumers this by listing every ingredient in the product and then ranks them on a “Dirty Meter” that ranges from 0-10. Products that are in the green are rated as a 0-3 and do not contain any ingredients which have a documented potential negative health impact; products that are in the yellow are rated as a 4-7 and contain ingredients that have a moderate negative long term health effect; and products that are in the red are rated as 8-10 and have potentially serious negative long term health effects.

What’s also great about Think Dirty is if any product is not on the app, you can scan the barcode, type in the product and company information, and it will be reviewed. Currently, there are over 1.1 million products reviewed on the app and it’s still growing!

In the Red

When I first discovered this app, you can probably guess what came next… Matt and I immediately went to the bathroom to look up all of our products and discover what they rated on the Dirty Meter, and what we saw on the screen was so disheartening. All of the common products we both used for years were in the red. Take a look at my favorite products and where they rated:

  • Summer’s Eve Cleansing Wash – 8
  • Dove Sulfate Free Deep Moisture – 8
  • Sensodyne Toothpaste – 6
  • Dove Clinical Protection Deodorant – 8
  • Mary Kay Eye Makeup Remover – 8
  • Soft Soap Hand Soap – 8
  • Burt’s Bees Deep Cleansing Cream – 5
  • Gold Bond Ultimate Healing Hand Cream – 8
  • Gold Bond Body Powder – 8
  • Barbasol Shaving Cream – 8
  • Garnier Fructis Flat Iron Perfector Straightening mist – 8
  • Bore Pore Cleansing Strips – 7
  • Alvera Aloe and Almonds Roll On Deodorant – 8
  • Formula 10.06 Sea Side Glow Skin Hydrating Peel Mask – 8
  • Burt’s Bees Brightening Serum – 8
  • Herbal Essences Argan Oil Shampoo and Conditioner – 8

So there I was standing in the middle of a huge mess in my bathroom, discovering for the first time the true dangers of the products I had lathered on my skin every day for years! I’m not gonna lie, I was completely overwhelmed. I realized that I had to replace nearly every body product I owned, which was no small task. It all started with a big box to throw away the old stuff, a notepad to write down the products I would have to search for, and several weeks of trying out safer alternatives.

With that being said, here are the six changes that I’ve made to drastically reduce the amount of chemicals I’m exposed to without losing my mind…

How I approached this transition

1. Purging all fragrances

My first order of business was purging every product that had a fragrance listed as an ingredient. This includes all cleaning products, all skincare products, all soaps. Everything. After watching the “Stink” documentary, I was very concerned about the fact that I didn’t know what was in the fragrance ingredient. So I first started removing all of that.

However, after I discovered the Think Dirty app, I realized that several of my products may not have had a fragrance, but that didn’t mean they were necessarily safe either. I also wanted to pull all those old products back out so I could learn if what I had been using in the past causes short term or long term health risks. I put a big box in the bathroom one night, read every single label and searched every item on Think Dirty whether they had fragrance or not.

2. Tossing out the high-risk products

It took about an hour for me to look up every product we owned and realize that 9 out of 10 of our products were in the red. So I decided that rather than try to replace everything overnight, I would concentrate on the products that were an 8 or higher. I would clear out the most dangerous ones first!

This, unfortunately, meant the products I use on a daily basis: the toothpaste, the shampoo, the conditioner, and the deodorant. The things that you use every single day which are more difficult to find a quick and safe replacement for. Some of the products I had to keep for a week before I could get my hands on safer toothpaste or deodorant, but they were my top priority.

3. Using Think Dirty to find new products

The next step required spending a few nights searching for replacements on the app. It also required me to evaluate what types of products I would be willing to use instead. Would I buy products that were only in the green and rated a 3 or lower of the Dirty Meter? Would I buy products that were green and yellow and rated a 7 or lower? What level would I feel comfortable and safe using from now on?

I ultimately decided that the products I would use instead would be a 4 or lower–meaning that they wouldn’t cause any long term health risks. Bumping it up to a 4 also meant that I could give myself some leeway and that I didn’t have to be perfect.

This step required some time on Think Dirty to discover products that were in the green but also were reasonably priced. One of the big issues with going fragrance-free and chemical free is that products that are the healthy replacements can sometimes cost 3 to 5 times as much as what you used to buy.

Another challenge is that the “safe” shampoos, deodorants, toothpastes, soaps, etc., don’t work as well. They might not lather or foam up as nicely, or taste as good, or make you feel as fresh or squeaky clean as what we’re used to using, or last for as long. So this step could take you one week, or it could take you months to find a replacement. Stay strong, it will happen! It took me several weeks, but I finally found several replacements that I finally feel are good enough to use on my body every day. See below for my new collection of body products that pose no long term health risks!

Side Note: Keep in mind that when using the Think Dirty App, you’ll have to look up each product individually. Sometimes a shampoo will rank as an 8, but a conditioner will rank as a 3. You’ll also have to look up each variation of the product. A product may be in the same line but have different scents or ingredients, which means that every product will rate differently on the app. You can’t just assume that every hand soap is in the green because you looked up one on Think Dirty.

4. No longer use body lotion

The next change I decided to make was to go natural for some of the products I use all the time rather than purchasing a new product. One of these examples is that I decided to stop using lotion and instead use coconut oil. It works just as well but it doesn’t require me to spend all day searching for something else, it’s inexpensive, and it’s completely natural. I don’t have to worry about a dirty meter at all!

5. Switched to natural tampons

Throughout the last two months of making this change, I knew that I had to focus on the other items I was using that I had also turned a blind eye to for many years, tampons. Our conventional tampons contain fragrance as well! Along with alcohols, additives, and hydrocarbons. Another issue with conventional tampons is that many of them are bleached, which leaves behind other chemicals that we soak up through one of the most absorbent and sensitive areas of the female body. For this reason, one of my New Year’s resolutions this year was to switch to completely organic tampons that I didn’t have to worry about using.

I came across one brand, in particular, that’s inexpensive, can be found at your grocery store or drugstore, and is in the green on Think Dirty! It actually has a little green check next to it instead of a number, that’s how you know it’s super safe! They’re from a brand known at Seventh Generation. The Seventh Generation tampons are BPA-free, fragrance-free, cruelty-free, and are made from 95% plant-based materials. It’s simple changes like this that can drastically improve your long term health.

6. Switched to natural candles with essential oil

Another item that I decided I should be paying equal attention to is the candles that we burn in our home. I no longer trust the Vanilla Bean Marshmallow Whatever candles that I used to buy on sale at Marshalls or Bath and Body Works. Instead, Matt and I are using candles that are natural-made with essential oils instead of a man-made fragrance.

7. Saying goodbye to the Amazon shopping sprees

The last two changes that I wanted to share are about the clothing that we wear. Because it’s not just our lotions and potions that are filled with chemicals. It’s actually on our clothes too. I mentioned this in the previous post about fragrance on clothing that gave me horrible allergic reactions and caused massive hives on my whole body. In my high school and college years when I was obsessed with online shopping, I used to buy so many blouses and graphic tees from Amazon.

It wasn’t just Amazon. I shopped on many online stores that you would see in the mall, but the majority of the time when I had a serious allergic reaction, it was caused by something that I bought on Amazon. Like a big, cozy scarf, or a pretty new blouse, or a sweater, or sports bra, or tank top. Many times I would open a box of clothing from Amazon and immediately smell the chemicals on them. These were the products that would cause the hives and the burning sensations on my skin. Because, as I mentioned last week, America doesn’t regulate chemicals as strongly as other countries too. Oftentimes a company will ship products to America where they can get away with selling it.

For this reason, I no longer splurge on online shopping sprees and fall victim to the “Buy Now With One Click” button. I make sure that I want and need something, and I shop around to find things that I know are not coming to me directly from a factory in China.

8.  I wash it before I wear it

This last piece of advice also relates to clothing. When you do buy a product, make sure you wash it before you wear it! One of my worst allergic reactions was from a headband from Forever 21. Even if it’s something so small, if it’s made out of fabric, it’s best to wash it. Remember the children’s pajamas in the “Stink” documentary I mentioned that were covered in DNA-altering chemicals? You can use all the sustainable fashion apps out there, but you never know what a product came in contact with before you owned it. Always take the time to do research and clean it before you drape it over your body.

Remember: These are just mostly suggestions on how to eliminate chemicals in body products, but there are so many other things to be conscious of including the clothing your purchasing, the cleaning products you use, and food you buy. Of course, it’s impossible to tackle these issues in one day or one blog post, but remember to start making changes in those areas as well. Our consumerist and capitalist culture has left us with so many challenges that hinder our health and well being. But I would like to help make it easier for you in any way that I can, one post at a time.

Let’s Be Honest!

Several weeks later I still have a few things that need to be replaced but I’m feeling much better than I was before I started this journey. It really just takes time. If you’re feeling overwhelmed by this change, maybe just make it a point to throw out one toxic product and buy a replacement each week.

Just so we’re on the same page, I’m not claiming to be an expert on this issue. I’m just starting to learn about it now. I’m simply a young woman who doesn’t want to get breast cancer, or have a heart attack, or become infertile… all because I live in a country where the profit of companies like Forever 21, Jergens, Bath and Body Works, Marshalls, Target, and Amazon are valued over the health and well being of all of our citizens. I have had many relatives who have died of cancer, and I don’t want that to happen to me. I want to limit my exposure to chemicals as much as I can and try my best to be a conscious consumer. But I’m not perfect and I still haven’t begun to figure out what I’ll use to replace the cleaning products we’re using currently.

I encourage you to do your own research on this topic and find ways to protect yourself as well. And when you do, please please please share your knowledge in the comments section below. Let me know the lifestyle changes that you’ve made to protect yourself and what your experience has been. Our government, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Food and Drug Administration, and our very own companies are not helping us. It’s up to us to help and protect each other.

As always, let me know what you think in the comments! Are you currently trying to go fragrance-free? What inspired the change? Have you had any bad experiences that made you switch your products? What steps did you take to protect yourself? Were there any resources that helped?

If you liked this post make sure you scroll to the bottom, hit that little “+”, and type in your email where it says “Follow Blog Via Email.” The next post will be sent right to you!

Photo by Ray Reyes @rocketsciencephoto.

The Stinky, Scary Secret Behind Consumer Products

Health
Photo about the stinky scary secret behind consumer products. Greenwashing, the fragrance loophole, the Stink Documentary, and Seventh Generation products. Learn how to protect yourself from chemicals in American body products.

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.

CBD, Anxiety, & Me: Thoughts After 3 Months on a CBD Tincture

Health, Lifestyle

How Taking CBD Cured My Anxiety

What I used to think about CBD

I’m probably one of the last people to hop on the CBD bandwagon – if not THE last one. Over the last couple of years, I’ve seen CBD–cannabidiol, a compound derived from cannabis plants–become so popular for a variety of different reasons. I heard everything from it cures anxiety, relieves pain and helps you sleep. Then there were bigger claims like it fights cancer, prevents seizures, and lowers risk of diabetes. But I didn’t buy any of it. I knew so many people who were completely head-over-heels in love with CBD and raved about it all the time. However, most of them were also very well-known for… puffing the magic dragon… I’m not sure how I’m supposed to word this in a blog. Anyways, they smoke a lot of weed. You know the type: gets super defensive about weed, munching on something all the time, scatterbrained, listens to The Grateful Dead on repeat, burns incense, wears drug rugs, has at least one Bob Marley poster hanging up in their room. You get the idea.

So I didn’t buy it because I’m not a smoker, and I was never enamored with the stoner culture. I’m not going to be convinced about how magical CBD is from someone who can’t go a few hours without smoking weed. I don’t really trust them to educate me because I always wondered, is this new health supplement really as great as they say? Or has everything marijuana just become a major part of their self-identity? So I debated it many times over the last few years, and I always approached the CBD conversations with skepticism (and if I’m being honest here, a lot of judgment).

Then, I started to see a shift. Instead of just smokers using CBD, it started to become popular among many different types of people. Athletes used it, professionals used it, children used it, mothers used it, wellness advocates used it – and CBD started to become seen as a health supplement rather than a conversation in a college dorm room. Fast forward to the last few months and my boyfriend and I are both working for health and fitness companies that invite other companies to sell CBD Oil to athletes at events and competitions.

Today, I regularly meet people who use CBD for an array of reasons. People who are active professionals with 9-5 jobs. I’ve learned of so many success stories particularly with anxiety, so I finally decided that I would give it a try. I’ve now been on CBD for three months and feel much better, but also incredibly guilty for never giving this natural medicine a try. I was quick to judge these products because of the stoner culture that used to surround them and quick to get annoyed when someone would rave to me about why I should be using it. Especially because it seemed too simple. How could taking a few drops of CBD oil be enough to relieve anxiety? Wouldn’t I need to meditate every day, take prescriptions, and see a therapist if I wanted that to happen? No.

So what is CBD?

I’m not going to pretend to be an expert about this. There are so many people and online influencers out there who pretend that they’re CBD experts but they’re not. So I started looking into it for more information. From what I’ve come across, the most informative and easy to understand content was a video by health and nutrition expert, Thomas DeLauer. He explained exactly how CBD affects the receptors in the brain to make us feel good, relax us, help those suffering from cancer, and more. It really helped me comprehend why and how it works so I could finally understand all those big claims that are made and the science behind it. If you’d like to see if yourself, check it out here.

So you may or may not already know this, but for the sake of educating someone who may not, CBD is the non-psychoactive component of cannabis (there’s no THC). Yes, we all know this. Moving on.

According to DeLauer, there are two different CBD receptors in the body and brain, CBD 1 and CBD 2. CBD 1 is found mostly in the brain and affects mood, emotion, mood, pain, etc. CBD 2 is found mostly in the body and affects things like inflammation and the immune system. THC is what activates both receptors, but CBD oil doesn’t. Instead, CBD influences the body to use more of its naturally occurring endocannabinoids, enhancing how the receptors utilize them. It’s the utilization and activation of vanilloid, serotonin, and adenosine receptors that give people the result they’re looking for from CBD.

These receptors play a role because CBD increases the activity of the receptors which trigger secondary responses in the body. For one thing, it activates a secondary response of excretory catecholamines (adrenaline, noradrenaline, and epinephrine), which is what gives you a heightened sense of awareness while still feeling calm. Secondly, CBD also activates dopamine and causes the body to naturally and effectively utilize that particular neurotransmitter, which makes us feel better. Thirdly, CBD activates glutamate which (in the right amounts) can trigger energy in the right places. Finally, the serotonin receptors: CBD oil activates 5-HT1A which allows the body to create more serotonin and use it more efficiently. All of these things give us that lovely sensation that CBD companies spend tons of money marketing to us: you’ll feel calm, yet awake. So that’s the long-winded version of what CBD is, as far as how it helps someone struggling with anxiety, like myself. Thank you, Thomas DeLeaur for explaining all of that in a way that makes sense for someone like me who just barely passed science class in school.

Why I tried CBD

I heard several stories from friends who suffered from terrible anxiety and were able to relax and function normally after taking CBD. That they no longer suffered from anxiety attacks, or have moments when their heart races uncontrollably, or feel overwhelmed even when nothing stressful is happening. On top of that, my boyfriend and I also work at well-known health and fitness companies, and we’re constantly surrounded by people who are in incredible shape and participate in competitions on the weekends–and many of them take CBD. So after hearing about CBD for years, I finally decided to take a leap of faith. The worst that could happen was I wouldn’t like it, and move on with my life. When I started using CBD, I started with the brand, Elixinol. Elixinol is a high-quality, naturally processed CBD brand with 100% Organic Industrial Hemp from the U.S., Europe, and Australia. I use it in the morning before work and at night before I fall asleep. It comes in a one-ounce bottle and glass dropper with measurements on it for a .5 milliliter (ml) or 1 ml dose. I fill it up, usually to about .75 ml and I put the CBD underneath my tongue for about a minute to allow it to absorb into my bloodstream and then I swallow.

Side Note: I got this one from my boyfriend because he bought it for himself and realized that there was coconut oil in it which he’s allergic to. So if you’re allergic to coconut oil too, you really have to read CBD labels because tons of brands use coconut oil as a carrier oil.

After using Elixinol for over a month, I then tried out Charlotte’s Web CBD after hearing testimonials from so many people that swear by Charlotte’s Web and found the most success with that brand. If you’ve never heard of the story behind Charlotte’s Web, I highly suggest looking into it. The company was started because of a little girl name Charlotte Fiji who suffered from Dravet Syndrome — a very rare form of epilepsy. Her story is one that is completely heartbreaking and has shown people all of over the world how healing CBD can be. If you want to read the full story check it out here.

After using Elixinol and Charlotte’s Web both for a month and a half each, I can finally say that I am a firm believer in using CBD.

My thoughts after 3 months on CBD

Less Anxiety – Within the first day of being on CBD, I immediately felt better. I noticed that my mental state had become much more peaceful than it was before. The way that I could describe it is like taking an actual chill pill. Normally throughout the day, I have negative emotions, as we all do. I get anxious, angry, and sad, and it regularly ruins my day and makes me feel crappy both mentally and physically. If you’ve had anxiety then you’ll know what I’m talking about.

You know that feeling when you start to have anxiety? It’s not just a mental feeling, but you feel it physically too. Your heart races, you sweat, you feel wired, you don’t feel like you’re in control of your body or mind, and your whole body feels agitated and uncomfortable. When I take CBD, I still feel my regular emotions throughout the day, like sadness or anger, but when I do it’s not nearly as heavy as it normally is. Those feelings don’t spread throughout my whole body and make me feel like I can’t breathe or my heart will come out of my chest. Instead, I feel an emotion, but without all of those physical reactions that usually amplify the feelings of anxiety and make it so much worse.

The first time that I really noticed this was when I was stuck in traffic on the highway one day and someone cut me off. Normally this would have made me feel anxious throughout my whole body. I would have felt the adrenaline coursing through me, and I wouldn’t calm down until I reached my destination and got out of the car. But now, I feel slightly anxious in my mind without all of the adrenaline and nerves. Instead, whenever I experienced an emotion like this, I would think to myself, “Oh, I’m feeling a little stressed out right now. That’s fine, it’ll pass.” Or “Looks like there’s some anxiety showing up again.”

I was so surprised by how calm and rational I felt. I started to identify unpleasant emotions, and then let them go without feeding into them. This has actually been something that I’ve been trying to train my mind to do in meditation, but I haven’t been able to do it alone. But now, on CBD, I can. I watch the negative thought show up and pass by just like seeing someone pass by me on the sidewalk. Not that I’m disconnected from my emotions or have become emotionless, but rather they don’t overwhelm me and affect me physically in the way that they used to.

I also want to add that even though CBD calmed me down, the effects are not at all like a prescription drug that people use to treat anxiety. When someone takes a pill meant for anxiety, it immediately hits them and they have a noticeable reaction. They go from having a panic attack to feeling very happy, relaxed, and basically like they’re floating on a cloud away from all of their problems. Which is why I was afraid to try CBD at first because I didn’t want an effect like that. But CBD doesn’t hit you like a prescription does. It’s very slow so after a while, I’ll notice that I feel calm. Taking CBD oil reminds me of taking an ibuprofen when something is hurting. I don’t notice it kick in immediately – it happens so slowly that I didn’t even realize it was starting to work until 30 minutes later when I notice that my headache is gone. Which is why you may not even notice the effects of CBD and realize that it’s working because it doesn’t hit you like a Xanax. Days might go by and you’ll suddenly have an “ah-ha” moment in traffic like me.

Focus –The other thing that I noticed after being on CBD was that it also helped me get out of my own head and focus on what was in front of me. My mind normally races so much that it’s hard to really pay attention when I’m reading, working, or writing. Now, instead of seeing something that I have to get done and letting it overwhelm me and stress me out, CBD has helped me put my feelings aside and focus on one thing at a time. I have no idea how it does this, but it does. Why did I not get on board with this when I was still in school?!

Take-Away

I feel so guilty for judging people who took CBD as a supplement and assuming that people just used it because they thought it was cool. Maybe some people do. But I’ll admit it… I messed up. Sorry! I now take CBD oil with my other supplements morning and night and it has made each day brighter and more manageable. Now that I’ve seen what a difference it can make, I’m experimenting with some other CBD products and see which ones are the best for me. But as of now, Elixinol and Charlotte’s Web are the two that I keep going back to.

If you’re dealing with anxiety, depression, anger, or maybe you just have a hard time focusing, I think you should consider doing some research on CBD, talking to your doctor, and trying a supplement like this. Everyone is different, but this could be a simple lifestyle change that could make a huge difference in your mental state and your day-to-day experience.

Have you taken CBD oil? What has your experience been? Have you noticed any positive (or negative) changes? What brands do you use? What brands do you dislike? If you don’t understand CBD or may be against it, what are your thoughts? Please let me know in the comments! I love hearing the new perspectives! And, if you like what you read, be sure to scroll down to the bottom of the page, click that “+” symbol and type in your email to subscribe! 

Photo by Ray Reyes @rocketsciencephoto.

Text Neck: How My Cell Phone Use Affected My Physical Development

Digital Dilemma, Health

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For those of you who are new to my site and are visiting for the first time, this blog is about the effects of digital media on us and how we can stay sane in a time when we’re living half of our lives online. I’m interested in many of the ways that digital media impacts us. For example, how things like photoshop and sites like Instagram distorts the perception of our bodies. But today, I want to share something that’s a little bit more serious and even darker than that… My phone and computer use affected my physical development.

My Story

When I was in high school, I started to notice that there was a part in my back that always felt like needed to be cracked. At first, I would have to crack the middle of my back once a day, but then it started to get even more frequent. I remember when I first started to have that problem I talked to my parents about how I wanted to see a chiropractor and they were 100% against it. They might have rather seen me dead than in the hands of a chiropractor. In their minds, chiropractors were as legitimate as an old homeless woman on the street corner offering $5 tarot card readings. So, as badly as I wanted to go, I finally had to let it go.

What started as that nagging feeling that bothered me all day had slowing spread to all other parts of my body over the course of ten years the longer it went untreated. It went to my hips, my upper back, my knees, my shoulders, and finally my neck. Eventually, it became worse than a nagging feeling of needing to crack my back and turned into a pain that I felt constantly. I tried yoga, essential oils, hot presses, ice, exercise, massages, you name it. Then one day I decided to get a massage in hopes that it would ease the pain, but it only made it much worse. As the therapist was working on my neck, I could tell that the pain was in my bones rather than my muscles. The top vertebrae in my neck were sticking out and causing inflammation and knots all around that area. But even then, I still let it go. I had been told my whole life that I shouldn’t see a chiropractor so I didn’t really see it as a possibility at that point and thought that I just had to deal with the pain. Eventually, my alignment issue became so painful that I couldn’t function normally. The only time I felt somewhat decent was if I was laying down in bed. Finally, the day came when I had no choice to seek help and find a chiropractor.

Seeking Help

My online searches brought me to a highly rated office called Lighthouse Chiropractic in Saint Augustine, Florida. I read through the reviews and found one by a woman who loved this office so much and found it to be so healing that she believed fate had brought her to Lighthouse Chiropractic. I will never forget that I picked up my phone and left a voicemail for a consultation appointment while I was laying on the floor crying from neck and back pain. To this day, I’m still embarrassed by that voicemail and I wonder if they had ever noticed that I was choking back tears and trying to manage my shaking voice while I left my name and number.

After a day, they called me back and we set up a consultation. That first visit was spent getting all sorts of x-rays and other tests done to figure out what exactly was going on. I mostly sat in a room wearing an ugly gown and wondering what it all was supposed to show. The next visit I came back to go over it all with the Chiropractor, Dr. Adam Podzra (He goes by Dr. Adam so that’s how I’ll refer to him in this post), and discuss a plan for treatment. He walked me through all the different scans which showed him that the areas I always felt like I had to crack were completely inflamed. There was no wonder why I was in so much pain, bad alignment was causing my bones to poke out and cause soreness in my muscles. He also learned that my body is always in a state of fight or flight. I always had just thought that I was “a worrier,” but apparently it’s a bit worse than that.

Eventually, Dr. Adam showed me my x-rays, and I’ll never forget it. The first time I saw my alignment problems on an x-ray I wanted to cry. To him, it was nothing out of the ordinary, but for me it was scary. I was just a couple degrees away from having scoliosis so my spine looked like it was curving and pulling my hip up. My spine was also slightly twisted, and last but not least, my neck had developed straight up and down – a problem known as “Text Neck.” Here is my x-ray below.↡

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What is Text Neck?

So you might be thinking, “Duh, isn’t your neck supposed to go straight up and down?” Actually no. If you look at an x-ray of a “healthy” neck, it has a nice curve it in- kind of like the shape of C. But my neck has developed “like a stair stepper,” as Dr. Adam would say. It looks like it’s in a straight line with no curve at all. It’s caused by us constantly looking down at computers, tablets, and cell phones. This misalignment is also referred to as a vertebral subluxation.

Side Note: All of the information I’m sharing and quoting in this post is directly from documents Dr. Adam has sent me so I can learn more about this issue. One is called, “The Cervical Curve: Structure, Function, and Human Health,” and the other is called, “Occupational Health, Safety, and Chiropractic.” Both were written by a man named Keith Wassung, a Chiropractic Advocate.

So what does this mean? “Vertebral subluxations cause nerve interference which diminished the inherent healing potential of the human body. Subluxations have been documented to cause a variety of health problems including headaches, migraines, carpal tunnel syndrome, neck pain, TMJ, sinus infections, ear infections, vertigo, allergies, asthma, thyroid conditions, sinusitis, arm pain, shoulder pain, hormonal imbalance, insomnia, fibromyalgia, and many others.” And I have almost all of those wonderful things. “Vertebral subluxations are often referred to as the “silent killer” because they destroy the health and healing process of the human body long before the presence of any symptoms.”

Over time this leads to something even more exciting called spinal degeneration. What is spinal degeneration? “Spinal degeneration is the gradual and progressive breakdown of vertebral joints and related structures due to long-standing misalignments or vertebral subluxations, caused by deterioration of the intervertebral disc, bad posture, or a variety of traumatic injuries. When left uncorrected these spinal misalignments cause abnormal biomechanics which erode joint surfaces.

So if you’re like me and you don’t want that to happen to you, you have to invest in seeing a Chiropractor. “Doctors of Chiropractic detect and correct vertebral subluxations by physically adjusting the spine to restore normal spinal functions and balance which allows the nervous system to send and receiver information. This allows the inherent healing potential of the body to best express itself.”

Ok, Heather. Why Should I Care?

So this misaligned happens due to accidents, injuries, childhood falls you may not even remember, and even the birth process. But another big cause of it is poor posture, which almost everyone has now. In our modern lifestyle, we’re always looking at some screen, watching a show, scrolling through Instagram, online shopping, writing a blog, sitting at a computer all day at work, etc. This head in a forward posture can add up to 30 pounds of abnormal leverage on the cervical spine (particularly in the area where I always felt like I had to crack my back) and causing alignment to get out of whack. Also, if you really feel like having nightmares tonight, then you should know that it can also deplete our lung capacity and smush gastrointestinal organs. How f*cking scary?!

This is so important to talk about because there are now millions of children growing up with the internet. I nannied for parents who gave their 2, 3, or 4 years old their own iPads. I see little kids with cell phones. My neck developed straight up and down, and I didn’t even start to use the internet heavily until I was in high school. Children now are using this technology every. single. day. I just know that years from now every single one of them is going to wake up one morning and discover that the reason they’re in pain all the time is that their bones have been deteriorating. But by the time that happens, it will be too late to help them.

In the last couple of years more people are coming forward and talking about how digital media impacts their mental health, but there hasn’t been much a discussion about how it impacts physical health. I’m hoping that this blog post acts as a warning to other people who, like me, have spent years consumed by my devices. Let’s talk about this problem now and put an end to “Text Neck.”

Stay tuned for posts in the future about how I treated Text Neck at home and my progress after being under Chiropractic care for 7 months.

Thank you for reading Lost Online and as always, let me know what you think in the comments! What are your thoughts on Text Neck? Do you have Text Neck? Do you see a Chiropractor and has it helped you with this issue? Have you set any restrictions for your tablet, phone, or computer use?

Photo by Ray Reyes @rocketsciencephoto.

My Apple Watch Turned Me Into a Workout Junky

Health, Product Reviews

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The Apple Watch

You may be as surprised as I am, given that I’m always warning against being consumed by technology, but I’ve officially joined the Apple Watch club. After hearing my boyfriend talk about “closing the rings” for the last six months, and about how his watch inspired him to get to the gym every day, take afternoon walks, and feel more motivated, I decided to see what all of the hype was about. Since coming back from my trip to Europe, I found it especially hard to get myself to exercise, so I was curious to see if the Apple Watch would somehow be able to motivate me to get to the gym too. I’m happy to say that now that I’ve bought the Apple Watch, I quickly discovered why the people love it.

For those of you who don’t have one, or don’t know how the rings on the Apple Watch work, the blue ring is the Standing Ring, the green ring is the Exercise Ring, and the pink ring is the Move Ring. Every hour throughout the day you have to stand up and walk around for at least one minute in the hour to get one notch closer to closing the Standing Ring. The Exercise and Move ring are the two rings that you can customize by choosing how much time you want to spend working out each day, and how many active calories you want to burn. As long as you continue to move around throughout the day, exercise, and burn your active calories, you close your rings and the Apple Watch rewards you with a very satisfying swirling of the rings!

I wanted to share my experience because, after the first few weeks of having an Apple Watch, my habits completely changed. As I talked about in previous posts, I’m a personality type that cannot do something for my own benefit unless I have a form of outside accountability. (Shout out to Gretchen Rubin and her Four Tendencies for helping me realize that I’m an “obliger”). This is why I do things like write down my goals before I go to bed or use the Strides app to keep track of my reading, writing, and meditation. I need to be held accountable and I need to able to “check it off” or visually see my accomplishment to stay motived. Which means that those three little, brightly colored rings that sat on my wrist were enough to turn me into a workout junky in a matter of a week.

The Challenge

Since I am a bit of an all or nothing person, I decided that in order to celebrate this new purchase and get on the right track, I would exercise for an hour a day and close my rings for an entire month straight. I’ll be honest, I wasn’t sure if I would actually be able to do it. The first week or two was really hard since I was so far away from accomplishing my goal. Then as I got over the hump, it became extra motivating (and also stressful), because I was afraid to have come so far and then miss a day.

Let’s be clear, I didn’t give myself this challenge because I wanted to look better or lose weight, I did it because I wanted to develop the healthy habit of regular exercise and feel proud of myself at the end of the month. And this new watch and exercise challenge was the perfect way for me to get on track. I wasn’t expecting anything exciting other than feeling accomplished at the end of the month and hopefully feeling a bit more energetic and excited about exercising. But the biggest reason why I chose to do this challenge, was because I believe that by accomplishing something that you didn’t think you could, it gives you confidence in other areas of your life.

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My Method

One of the things that helped was that I decided that I wouldn’t stick to a routine. I knew that if I wasn’t in the mood to run three miles, or do legs, or finish a core workout, it would be so much harder to do it for 30 days in a row. I would instead go to the gym and do whatever exercise I was in the mood to do that day. It usually involved half of the time doing some sort of cardio, a few minutes of abs, and the rest would be weightlifting. However, some days all I wanted to do was run, and other days, all I wanted to do was lift weights. This method made going to the gym seem less daunting and boring and prevented me from getting burnt out.

The Transformation

The transformation started rather early and was mostly mental. Since the very first day, I was actually excited to go to the gym. The Apple Watch made getting up and going to the gym feel like less of a chore and more of a hobby. I was excited to go work out because I could watch the rings get closer and closer to closing. It was the first time that I started to feel like working out was fun, which started to change my relationship with the gym as well. I used to refuse to work on a certain muscle, try a certain exercise, use a specific piece of equipment, but I no longer felt that way. I felt much more conformable at the gym than I ever had before. As a result, I was getting a more well-rounded workout, instead of solely focusing on something like cardio. It made me more confident while I was at the gym and becoming more familiar with the equipment, and it made me feel confident outside of the gym too. Every day I walked myself get closer to my 30-day goal. Once I passed the two-week mark, that’s when I really started to feel proud of myself –  I had beat my record of working out 14 consecutive days!

The two-week mark was always when I started to see progress in my workouts. I noticed that I could now run farther, lift more weight, and do more reps. I was building up my endurance which meant that I was even able to accomplish more when I was at the gym. It had been a long time since I worked out enough to start to see myself getting stronger, that I forgot how good it felt. One of the best benefits of exercise, in my opinion, is that watching oneself become stronger physically, allows you to feel like a stronger person in other aspects of your life.

To make the two-week mark even more exciting, this was also when I started to see changes in my appearance. I guess I have never worked out consistently for an extended period of time to where I was able to see results like this. But after two weeks of stair stepping, planking, weight lifting, and jogging, I started to notice visible changes in my lower body. Everything was becoming firmer and a little less… jiggly. Slowly, there was less and less fat in areas that I used to be self-conscious about. After every couple of days, I noticed that my butt was becoming much firmer than it was before, and there was less fat on the back of my thighs.

Around week three, was when I noticed the most in my physical appearance. By week three, I noticed that I could see my bicep muscles start to come in. I never had definition in my arms before! Ever! It felt so incredible to see that change. After a few more days, my triceps were less jiggly. I used to have what people call “bat wings” under my arms because I never exercised my triceps before. But since I took on this challenge, each week that area became less noticeable and a little bit firmer. By the end of the month, I was even seeing my back muscles start to develop!

A defining moment for me was when a photographer I’ve been working with for over a year said to me during a bathing suit shoot, “Have you been working out? Your body did not look like this before.” (Thank you, Allen, I will forever love you for that!) Knowing that someone else was able to see my transformation was so flattering and so incredibly gratifying because I worked so hard for it!

I was so blown away by how I was completely changing my body and my mentality, just from one month of regular exercise. It started to become addicting. I had come so far without missing a day that I didn’t want to stop and deny myself from seeing that next result. Not only was I able to accomplish my initial goal of working out for an hour a day 30 days in a row, but I WAS ABLE TO REACH 47 DAYS! Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to exercise during the weekend I was moving from Saint Augustine to Saint Petersburg, Florida. But 47 days is my new workout record, and I’ve never been more proud myself than I was after making it so far.

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My New Favorite Product

Since having the Apple Watch, I now workout so frequently that I’m even encountering problems that I’ve never had before, because I didn’t exercise this much. My exercise clothes have become worn out, my shoes collapsed, some acne has popped up, I find little calluses on my hands, and sometimes I have the urge to exercise when I can’t get to the gym. These might sound terrible to someone else, but when I started to see these little problems arising, I was so happy. It meant that I was serious about my health and regular exercise for the first time in my life. I’ve had to invest in new shoes, clothes, and insoles that hold up and now I’m in the market for women’s weightlifting gloves and resistance bands! My Apple Watch has turned me into a workout junky.

I’m so thankful that this new piece of technology came into my life. I’ve always been someone that has hated going to the gym, and now I absolutely love it. I go every day and I’m still seeing changes in my body even though I’m past the challenge. If you’re struggling with going to the gym and are unable to motive yourself, I strongly suggest getting either an Apple Watch or another product like it. Instead of sitting around thinking “I should go to the gym today,” it changes the inner dialog to, “I want to go to the gym and close my rings.” To me, it feels more like a game instead of a chore or an obligation. I hope my experience motivates you to try out a product like this or start a challenge of your own. I promise, your future self will thank you and will be so proud of you.

Thank you for reading! Let me know in the comments if you have an Apple Watch too and if it motivated you to change your behaviors! Also leave a comment about where you are in your health and fitness journey right now what products, challenges, or routines helped you along the way.

My Hair Loss Story: How I Cured Androgenic Alopecia Caused By The Birth Control Pill, Ortho Tri-Cyclen Lo

Health

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Today, I’m writing something very different than what I normally do. This post may come as a surprise since it’s so far from my usual topics, but it’s about an issue I’ve been wanting to talk about publicly for years. I used to be on the birth control, Ortho Tri-Cyclen Lo, for four years before I realized that it caused horrible side effects. The worst of them was the hair thinning known as Androgenic Alopecia, which is hormonal hair loss that mimics Male Pattern Baldness. When I went through this, I remember it felt like the worst thing that had ever happened to me. As a young woman, you feel so much pressure to look beautiful and desirable, and then to realize that you’re balding and have no idea what to do about it… that’s the biggest hit to confidence and self-esteem that I’ve ever experienced. Luckily, through digging online, I found hundreds of women who have shared the stories of their horrible hair loss from Ortho Tri-Cyclen Lo. Hearing their experiences and how they were able to grow their hair back was so incredibly helpful. So I finally wanted to open up about my experience on Ortho Tri-Cyclen Lo, and how I was able to put a stop to my hair loss in hopes that it will help someone else who is going through this.

My story…

When I was a teenager I remember having horrible cramps and period symptoms that were so bad I was constantly missing school. I couldn’t stand up from the pain, I couldn’t focus in class, and I bled like crazy. So I did what my doctor and all of the girls I knew told me to do, which was going on the pill. I wasn’t informed about birth control or what it did to your body. All I knew is that everyone in my high school raved about it like it was a miracle pill. I was told that it made cramps go away, made your period less heavy, stopped symptoms like breast pain and bloating, cleared up acne, made you lose weight, made your hair grow faster, made your boobs bigger, etc. It was everything you could want and more. So without hesitation, I decided to go on the pill. It took all of 30 seconds for my doctor to put me on birth control, and I was happily on my way.

I had first gotten on the pill when I was around 15 or 16 and I stayed on it in college. I didn’t think much of it after I started taking it, but I noticed that my period cramps did, in fact, go away! Along with the aches, breast pain, and all that other fun stuff. However, I noticed that weird things were happening with my body. I was very tired, had extremely dry skin, and became severely lactose intolerant. Just one small sip of milk would have created that most terrible stomach issues for 24 hours straight. I also started to experience depression. Unfortunately, I  remember thinking, “Oh well, I’m a Cancer. We cry all the time, it’s normal.” But it wasn’t normal, I would sob every day. Whenever I was alone, I would cry uncontrollably, for no reason at all. I also noticed that I would get a cold every year that would then turn into a sinus infection and last for months. No medicine, or antibiotic, or natural supplement could help me. Last, but not least, was the problems that I started to encounter with my hair. 

Hair Loss

Over those few years, my hair had completely changed. My hair that used to be shiny, bouncy, soft, and long was now extremely dry and brittle. It actually felt like horse hair. I could put a hair mask on top of my head for an hour a day, but when I washed and dried it, it still rough and dry. I also remember that the ground in my dorm room was covered in hair all the time. It would stick to my rug and everyone would see it when they came in. Friends would comment on how gross it was to see hair all over. Still, I thought nothing of it. All of the changes happened so slowly over the course of several years that I never could figure out why these things were happening. So I just continued on vacuuming my room and conditioning my hair all the time. Until one day I was washing my hands in front of the mirror in my dorm bathroom and the fluorescent lights shined down on my head. My hair was pulled back in a braid and I realized at that moment just how thin my hair was. I could see my scalp perfectly and for the first time I realized that I didn’t just have “thin” hair, but I was actually blading. I took my braid out of my hair and ran my hand through it. Every time I did that several strands came out. I did it again and again, the hair wouldn’t stop coming off of my head. 

I was completely shocked and had no idea what to do. Since I was a kid, I was so overly obsessed with skincare and hair care that I couldn’t believe this had happened to me. I used to spend every single free moment on my computer researching shampoos, hair masks, beauty supplements, etc. I was more knowledgeable about hair care at 15 than most hairdressers. It was a full-blown obsession of mine. But that day, it dawned on me that maybe I should stop spending hours a day researching shampoos, supplements, and hair products, but I should actually research hair loss.

Ortho Tri-Cyclen Lo

Within the first few minutes of scrolling on my computer, I saw an article that said something along the lines of “my birth control caused hair loss.” At that moment it was like I heard glass shattering or a light bulb turning on over my head. I realized that every problem that I was having with my hair was all internal and hormonal. 

Next, I came across a discussion page where hundreds of women that had all taken Ortho Tri-Cyclen Lo for years and had major side effects, particularly hair loss. They all wrote about how they had drastic hair loss and hair texture changes. Every single one of them was currently balding from Ortho Tri-Cyclen Lo, was now off of it and trying to regrow their hair, or had been off of it for a few years and was offering advice to the rest of us. Seeing that hundreds of other women were experiencing this made me feel so relieved that I wasn’t alone. 

To my surprise, they also reported a bunch of other issues they were having from it such as becoming lactose intolerant or having mood swings. I was so happy when I realized that I wasn’t crazy and that these were all real side effects from Ortho Tri-Cyclen Lo. It wasn’t something I had imagined. The discussion page also gave me hope since many of them said that after stopping the pill, their hair grew back and their texture became more normal. However, they all said that it never completely went back to normal. Their hair was always less thick than before they started the pill, and their hair texture was different than what they had been born with. For example, many women said that their hair lost its curls. Now that I’m writing this post four years later, I can’t seem to find that same discussion page. It must be Lost Online (lol) among billions of other discussion pages out there. But if I do happen to find it, I’ll update this post with the link!

Seeking help

When I realized what was going on, I had no idea what to do for hair loss, so I immediately went to see my doctor and my dermatologist. To my surprise, they didn’t believe me and tried to make me stay on the birth control pill! The told me that I wasn’t balding, that it was all in my head, I just had extremely thin hair, and nothing was wrong. Even when I told them about the hundreds of women that are reporting this online, they still didn’t take me seriously. Finally, I was sick of arguing and demanded that they check my vitamin levels and hormones. 

After the results came back, the doctors finally saw that I wasn’t crazy! No sh*t. They saw that my hormones were completely out of whack. I had extremely high levels of testosterone. According to my doctors, the high levels of testosterone were creating high levels of DHT or Dihydrotestosterone, which is what attaches to hair follicles and causes the hair follicles to shrink and the hair to fall out. In turn, your body stops supplying nutrients to the follicle and the hair doesn’t grow back. This creates what we know as Male Pattern Baldness. Once the doctors saw this, they admitted to me that I was, in fact, experiencing hormonal hair loss known as “Androgenic Alopecia” a.k.a Male Pattern Baldness. They assured me that my hair would grow back after a few months as long as I took care of it and listened to their advice. 

The Treatment 

Below, are all of the steps that I took to treat my Androgenic Alopecia and includes a mixture of the advice of my doctors and advice from my own online research. Keep in mind that I am not a doctor, this is just what worked for me and what I recommend! If this is happening to you, make sure you go to your doctor and get your hormones and vitamins checked as well!

1. Minoxidil 2% for Women

The first thing that my doctor and all of the online articles about hair loss told me, was to use Minoxidil 2% for women. If you don’t know what this is, it’s basically Rogaine. However, you can buy Minoxidil cheaper without paying for the high price of Rogaine. Minoxidil works by blocking the DHT to prevent more hair from falling out and stimulating the hair follicle so it can receive nutrients and begin re-growing hair. It can also extend the growth phase. I applied this topically once or twice a day for several months. I didn’t experiment with different brands of Minoxidil, but I did have a side effect which was painful acne on my scalp from the product being extremely oily. However, I dealt with it since I was desperate for new hair growth and scared my hair may still fall out. 

2. Biotin

My doctor also instructed me to take Biotin every day morning and night. I told him that I’d been taking it for years, but it never made a difference in my hair. He explained to me that I wasn’t taking the right dosage of Biotin. Most of the supplements contain 5,000 mcg of Biotin, which is not enough to see a change in your hair. In order to see a difference, I was told to take 10,000 mcg morning and night for many months. Only then would it be enough to see a real change. I started doing this and to this day taking 10,000 mcg of Biotin morning and night is my biggest beauty secret. It’s the one thing that I know works for certain. 

I also used to have extremely thin, bendy nails that I could never grow out. If there was just a tiny bit of white at the end of my nail, my fingers literally hurt. I was never able to grow them out even slightly. They would have to be completely cut down for me to be conformable and not have any nail bending. Taking this amount of Biotin was a miracle worker. It made my nails grow back so much stronger and now I haven’t had any nail problems in the last four years. I highly recommend it. 

When you’re buying Biotin make sure to buy a real Biotin supplement, not one of those “Hair, Skin, and Nail” vitamins. If you look at any of the “beauty supplements” or “hair supplements” out there, they all do a wonderful job at their packaging, marketing, and getting us to believe that it works. However, if you look at the ingredients there will not be enough Biotin to see a difference in your hair. Many of them only contain about 3,000 mcg. And if you look at the ingredients, you’re actually getting fewer vitamins for your money. You’d be better off taking a daily multivitamin which contains so much more.

3. Iron

When I got tested at the doctor, one of the things he told me was that I needed a lot more Iron. I had an Iron deficiency which contributed to hair loss, dry hair, pale skin, and weak nails. I believe that Ortho Tri-Cyclen Lo caused this too. For the few years I was on Ortho Tri-Cyclen Lo, I craved hamburgers and steak all the time, even after I ate those foods. I would want a hamburger every day and I was always going out for meat. With the amount of red meat I ate during those few years, it doesn’t make sense that I wasn’t consuming enough Iron, but I believe that Ortho Tri-Cyclen Lo effected my absorption of it. Once I stopped Ortho Tri-Cyclen Lo and took Iron supplements for a few months I completely stopped craving meat. 

My doctor put me on a prescription Iron supplement with an extremely high dosage of Iron you can’t buy at the store. I was told that I should be taking it every day along with my Biotin. Iron helps with overall hair growth by carrying oxygen and nutrients to the scalp and hair follicles. Make sure to consult your own doctor before you try this method since I’ve found many articles that warn against taking too much Iron. By taking too much you can actually make hair fall worse. So it’s important to talk to a doctor and have them check your Iron levels!

4. Vitamin D

Another important vitamin that I was lacking was Vitamin D, which makes sense because I lived in Wisconsin where I could go a week without ever being able to go outside in the sun. The sun came up late, went down at 4 pm during the winters, and it would be too cold to go outside. So it’s no surprise that I was lacking Vitamin D. My doctor told me that I should be taking a Vitamin D supplement morning and night that I could pick up at a drugstore. I took 5,000 IU of Vitamin D in the morning and night along with my Biotin and Iron supplements.

If you live in an area where you may experience this too, it’s important to make sure you’re getting enough of the vitamin either through your diet, a supplement, the sun, or light therapy. Lack of Vitamin D can also contribute to hair loss. The vitamin stimulates hair growth and regulates the growth cycle. There are also Vitamin D receptors in the hair follicle that have to be fed while your hair is growing. Which means that if you’re not getting enough Vitamin D, your hair can’t grow optimally. 

5. My Miracle Hair Mask

If you’re trying to prevent hair loss, regrow hair, or make your hair healthier it’s important to do a regular hair mask. Through my research online I found two ingredients that are real miracle workers for hair growth and used them to create the perfect hot oil hair mask that I used on my hair once a week for months. I still do it sometimes, and it’s one of the beauty secrets that I absolutely swear by.

Here’s how to make it:

Once a week (I did it every Friday), put about a 1/4 cup of Olive Oil in a small bowl and warm it up in the microwave for around 30 seconds. Once it’s warmed up put three to four drops of Dottera Rosemary essential oil in the Olive Oil and mix it together. Make sure it’s not too hot! Rub a small amount on your palms and fingertips and slowly massage it onto your scalp until the whole scalp is covered. With any remaining oil, I like to put it along the hairline near the forehead and temples where hair loss is the most visible. Next, gently run that extra oil through the ends of your hair to act as a leave-in conditioner. Lastly, put your hair in a bun and cover it with a shower cap. Leave the mixture in your hair for an hour and then hop in the shower to wash it out with shampoo.

Why It Works:

Olive Oil – Using Olive Oil helps stop the production of DHT and prevents it from attaching to your hair follicle. Thus it will prevent further hair loss. It’s also a source of antioxidants with promotes scalp and hair health, so it can help your hair even if you don’t experience hair loss. Olive Oil is also a very common household ingredient so it’s always an easy hair mask to make.

Rosemary – Rosemary has been a beauty secret for years and has tons of different beauty benefits, but it’s most known for its ability to grow and thicken hair. In fact, in several studies, Rosemary has been proven to regrow hair as well as Minoxidil, which is why many hair loss products use it as an ingredient. So if you don’t want to spend a ton of money on that product, try putting Rosemary essential oil in a cup of water and then slowly pouring it on your scalp and letting it air dry. This way you’ll receive the natural benefits of Rosemary all day without spending a ton of money on products.

Using Rosemary essential oil also stimulates blood circulation to the scalp so more nutrients and oxygen gets to the follicle the hair can grow faster. Rosemary unclogs hair follicles and removes any product build-up that can be affecting healthy hair growth. It’s also high in nutritional value, antioxidants and is a natural anti-inflammatory which all promote healthy hair. Lastly, it’s known to and add shine for those of us who experience dull, lifeless hair.

Side note: I would not recommend picking the first Rosemary Oil you find off of Amazon or the drugstore shelves. Those products are diluted with water and don’t have the concentration that you need to receive benefits from the oil. I recommend using a trusted brand like Dottera or Young Living where you’ll get the real thing! Don’t cheap out on Rosemary, or you’ll never see how helpful this natural remedy can be.

Massage – The reason the massage is so important is that it will evenly distribute the oil through the hair and to each hair follicle so you receive maximum hair growth. Another benefit is that a scalp massage will strengthen the root of the hair to support the existing hair. Head massages will also stimulate the follicles and causes more blood flow to the scalp. I know I’ve mentioned this a few times, but if you have any hair loss issues, it’s super important to wake up those follicles to get the hair growth started. Otherwise, the hair follicle will continue to remain dormant.

Hot Oil – I have tried dozens of hair masks over the years in order to condition my hair and help it grow back, but nothing works as well as a hot oil treatment with Olive Oil. Hot oil treatments help the oil to penetrate the hair instead of just sitting on top of it like other products and conditioners, which means that it’s able to moisturize the driest and most brittle hair better than something you could buy at the drugstore. Hot oil massages will also strengthen any existing hair, prevent split ends and breakage, and add a beautiful shine. From my own experience with this treatment, I also know that by doing a hot oil treatment it enhances hair color and shine tremendously. I remember that every time I would do a hot oil treatment with Olive Oil, friends and family would ask me if I went to the salon or colored my hair! Keep in mind that in order to receive the full benefits of a treatment and notice a difference in growth specifically, you have to leave it on for the full amount of time.

Side note: If the oil is too hot it can damage the hair, just like anything else! So you have to be careful.

6. Switch Shampoos

If you’re loosing hair or very concerned about hair care, chances are that you’ve tried tons of different shampoos and have already done some research. However, if you’re losing hair, just using “natural” shampoo or “growth” products is not enough. There are actually DHT blocking shampoos on the market to prevent further hair loss. I switched to a DHT blocking shampoo and used it until my Androgenic Alopecia was cured.  Make sure that whatever you’re using is meant for hormonal hair loss specifically. 

7. Don’t Shampoo Everyday

Many people have heard this advice before and have already made up their opinions about it. Let me tell you, I have very thin, very oily hair, and I now live in a hot and humid environment. You don’t have to tell me about hair being “too oily” and how you must wash it every day. Trust me, I understand the greasy hair life. Unfortunately, it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter how gross it may look if you wait 2 days, 3 days, 4 days. The longer you can go without washing your hair, the better. Leaving the natural oils on your hair will help the health of your existing hair and support hair growth. If you can only wait two days before shampooing that’s fine. Whatever your normal shampooing routine is now, extend it. Eventually, your hair will adapt and it won’t be as oily. Most people just haven’t waited long enough to actually notice the change. 

8. Out of Sight, Out of Mind

When you’re having a hair loss issue as a woman, the best thing that you can do is to put it back. Once I noticed that I was actually balding, I put my hair up in a ponytail every day and wore a baseball cap. A lot of articles I found have urged people to not to put their hair in a hat or a ponytail, because it could cause more hair loss and breakage. But I noticed the opposite. While my hair was down, I would constantly be looking at it in the mirror, playing with it, moving it around, and always thinking about it. It was always on my mind which made the hair loss that much more stressful, and by messing with it I was causing more damage. Putting it up with a hat on meant that I also didn’t have to witness the hair loss if it was happening. I wouldn’t see strands of hair on my clothes throughout the day and begin to panic again. Plus, the Minoxidil I used was extremely greasy, so I didn’t want to look rough all the time. 

9. Avoid the Salons

Many people recommend that when you’re going through hair loss, it’s best to go to the salon and have it chopped off. I would recommend avoiding the salons all together. Don’t try to have it cut or colored. The hair is already extremely delicate, and if you’ve ever gotten a haircut, you know there’s nothing delicate about what the stylists do. There’s so much combing, tousling, blowdrying, applying products, and shampooing that it’s not a good idea until the hair loss has stopped. I stayed away from the salons for at least six months until I was sure that a trip to my stylist wouldn’t set me back 500 strands of hair! Plus, most hairdressers are very knowledgeable about hair care, cutting, and styling but not about hormonal hair loss. In my experience, the stylists I knew personally did not understand the severity of the problem or how to help me through the transition. 

10. Nighttime Hair Care

When experiencing hair loss, simply going to sleep at night could cause more damage and loss of hair if you’re not careful. The best way to prevent further damage, hair loss, and help your hair grow in is by keeping your hair back at night in a loose braid. Every night before I went to bed, I put a small amount of coconut oil on my hands and would gently run the oil through the ends of my hair. Then I gently braid if back in a French Braid before going to bed. This conditions the hair overnight and prevents the hair from getting tangled or pulled out if your tossing and turning in your sleep. 

11. No Styling or Heat

This is pretty obvious but very important. If your experiencing hair problems, you may try to cover it up by styling it regularly in hopes that people don’t notice. However, it will only make the problem worse. Heat and styling will cause more breakage, loss, and dryness. The best thing to do your hair health is to leave it alone and allow it to grow.

12. Use a Wide Tooth Comb

Another thing that you’ll want to do to help the hair grow is to not brush it! A big mistake that a lot of people make it brushing their hair too frequently, and brushing it when it’s wet. This will cause more hair loss and stretch and break the hair that you want to protect. You’ll want to only comb it once a day and use a wide tooth comb. It’s the most gentle way to get rid of tangles and knots in the hair. 

The Results

If you’re like me when I was going through this issue, you’ll be dying to know how long it took for the hair to grow back and if it regained its fullness. The most important thing to know is that I was determined to grow my hair back, and I did all of these treatments and supplements religiously for at least six months! New hair growth does not happen right away and it needs a lot of help after you’ve had a major stressor or hormonal changes. You’ll have to stick to this advice for a long time until you notice it coming back. 

It wasn’t until many months later when I found out that I was moving to Florida that I wanted my hair to look decent for when I moved to my new city. I rewarded myself for going through all of the emotional stress of balding as a teenager by booking an appointment for a cut and color at my favorite salon in Madison. 

This was probably a year after I realized I was balding from Ortho Tri-Cyclen Lo and went off the pill. Towards the end of my appointment when my hairdresser had cut, colored, washed, and blow dried my hair, I looked in the mirror and could see through the salons’ fluorescent lights that I had tons of new hair growth. It actually looked like a halo or a crown over my head with all of the new hairs peaking up. It was about two to three inches long and because of the blow drying and fluorescent lights, I was finally able to visibly see the hair growth that had come in. My hairdresser also checked and made sure that it wasn’t breakage, but actually little baby hairs that were growing in. I will never forget how relieved I was in that moment to finally know that I wasn’t loosing hair anymore and it was actually coming back! So there is a light at the end of the tunnel. You can grow your hair back, but it will take time and dedication to proper hair care. 

Four years later…

As for all the other symptoms, I’m still lactose intolerant ever since being on the pill. But the depression I experienced from Ortho Tri-Cyclen Lo did completely go away about six months to a year of stopping the pill. It did take some time for my hormones to adjust, so I got a little bit worse after I went off of it, and then I slowly got better. Ever since my body adapted, I’ve actually felt normal. I don’t sob uncontrollably and feel like I’m losing control of myself like I did when I was on it. It blows me away what I went through on this pill and how I didn’t feel normal for four whole years while I was on it. To this day, I’m so thankful that I’ll never have to feel that way again.

When I look at my hair today, I’m not sure if my hair ever regained its complete fullness. It’s hard to tell because I’ve always had very thin hair. I was not born with a beautiful head of hair like many people I know. I was always self-conscious of my hair even as a child. Experiencing women’s hair loss definitely made that much worse. However, my hair is much healthier now and I don’t have any sort of hair growth or hair loss problems anymore. My hair also went back to feeling soft again, it no longer feels like rough horse hair like it used to. So if anyone is going through this, know that there is hope! I understand the emotional stress and loss of confidence and self-esteem that comes when you’re a young woman going through this, but it will get better. Get off that disgusting pill that wreaks havoc on your body, do the steps listed above, and trust that it will grow back.