External toxins: Are your cosmetics impeding your gut health?

external toxins

Most people recognise the connection between the food we eat and the function of our gut bacteria health, however, few are aware of the risks of external toxins to not only our gut health but also to our general well-being. Toxins, harmful elements found in the environment and lurking in products we consume, can cause numerous health issues, so decreasing our exposure to these nasties is essential.

Hidden away in many of the products we use every day, cosmetics, skincare, personal care products and deodorants are some of the biggest offenders, releasing damaging toxins and chemicals into the body on the regular. 

Today, we take a deep dive into the often-ignored world of toxin-ridden personal care products and how they can be damaging to anyone seeking to heal their gut! But don’t worry, we’ve found some useful and safer alternatives, so you don’t have to live without your favourite products forever.

Cosmetic and skincare products

Did you know that according to a recent survey by the non-profit Environmental Working Group (EWG) in the USA, the average woman applies 126 chemicals to her skin every single morning? (1) Whilst all chemicals have the potential to be dangerous if consumed in high enough doses, the two major chemicals we should actively be avoiding are parabens and phthalates, which both act as endocrine (hormone) disruptors when present in high quantities.(2)

Although parabens have a powerful antibacterial effect, giving products a longer shelf life, and phthalates give your favourite products more flexibility by acting as a plasticiser, years and years of daily exposure to these toxins can have harmful effects on your gut health. Not only can they squash your efforts to heal your gut, but phthalates can also potentially cause reproductive and developmental issues,(3) as well as having links to asthma, ADHD, and in the case of parabens, breast cancer, among other health concerns too. So, we need to be especially vigilant of these nasties that are often times hidden within the ingredients of hair spray, lotions, shampoo, conditioner, perfumes, and makeup.

If you’re keen to make the switch to natural cosmetics that are sure to be paraben and phthalate free, you can find an ever-growing selection of brands online catering to the increasing demand for “clean” cosmetics, as well as in many health and organic produce stores throughout the UK. 

Sun cream

What if we told you that products meant to protect your skin against damaging sun rays could conversely actually be jam-packed full of known hormone disruptors – a skincare nightmare. Oxybenzone and homosalate are hormone disruptors that are found in most high-street sun creams, meaning in large quantities these nasties can impede growth and development, sexual function and reproduction among other biological processes.

Furthermore, on an environmental level, Oxybenzone has even been increasingly found in the ocean, damaging our earth’s precious coral reefs and negatively affecting marine life.  

But before you give up on sun cream, there are many zinc and titanium dioxide-based products on the market, free from any parabens, phthalates and artificial fragrances, but with a high UVA protection rating, available. So, fear not – you can still go out and enjoy the most of the sun and get that well-needed vitamin D in the process.

Synthetic scents and fragrances

Many synthetic scents and fragrances may smell delicious, but in reality, their ingredients aren’t so sweet. Many perfumes and scented products are packed with allergens and irritants, which can cause numerous health issues, among them, respiratory difficulties, migraines, and most notably gastrointestinal problems(4) – not at all ideal for your gut bacteria health. Products incorporating fragrance can be made out of hundreds of chemicals at most, and oftentimes these scents are mixed in with added phthalates (one of the ultimate skincare nasties!) so the scents keep for longer. 

Make sure to watch out for products marked with synthetic or added fragrance or “parfum” and instead opt for natural scents, keeping in mind to also avoid fragrances including phthalates, as mentioned earlier.  You can find natural and “clean” perfumes online and in organic health stores throughout the UK.

Deodorant 

Similar to fragrances, spray deodorants have links with increased symptoms of asthma, eczema and other respiratory difficulties. However, without a doubt the most demonized ingredient in many high-street deodorants is aluminum. The chemical element aluminum has links with breast cancer, since they might have the ability to enter and disrupt cells, as well as having links to Alzheimer’s and other health risks.  But is this ingredient really so bad in such a small dose? Researchers are currently unable to prove a link between deodorants and breast cancer, and the pores under our arms are meant to expel toxins – not help to uptake them. Nevertheless, making the change to aluminum and toxin free is a smart choice if you’re looking to reset your gut. 

While salt crystal block deodorants are a great alternative to some of the respiratory risks linked with spray deodorants, going aluminum free might also be worthwhile for your gut health and beyond. So, if you want to smell sweet without the added risk, organic and “clean” roll-on deodorants are available at most supermarkets with their aluminium free properties clearly advertised – if in doubt just take a look at the ingredients list to double check that they’re toxin free.

So, to apply or to not apply?

Whilst external toxins such as parabens and phthalates are proven endocrine disruptors, known to wreak havoc with our gastrointestinal and gut health, chemical elements such as aluminium are not currently confirmed (in such small doses) to cause any great harm to the body. Furthermore, whilst its ideal to cut contact with products containing these toxins from our daily lives, we recognise that this isn’t always possible. However, every little helps, and if you’re serious about improving your gut health, it’s best to make an educated decision when shopping for personal care products and try your best to avoid added chemicals and toxins. 

If you’re eager to restore your gut and improve your health, why not combine the RYH plan, our 4-week online course that’s packed full of recipes, shopping lists and top tips, with a conscious effort to minimise contact with added chemicals and external toxins in your personal care products?  A sure-fire way to reset your gut and reset your health.

References

  1.  Rogers, Catherine, Gut Well Soon, 2019 (pp. 154)
  2.  Monneret C. What is an endocrine disruptor? Comptes Rendus – Biol. 2017;340(9-10):403-405. doi:10.1016/j.crvi.2017.07.004.
  3. Phthalates: why you need to know about the chemicals in cosmetic, The Guardian, May 2019. Accessed August 2021
  4.  Rogers, Catherine, Gut Well Soon, 2019 (pp. 157)