Is Your Child Suffering From This Not-So-Well-Known Allergy?

Most of us are well-aware that tree nuts, dairy, soy, corn, seafood and other foods can cause serious issues to those allergic to them.  However it is not so well-known that harsh, synthetic chemicals can also cause serious allergic reactions especially in children.

I found out the hard way a few years ago, when I slathered my then 2 year old’s body in a big brand chemical-based sunscreen thinking I was protecting her. The result was frightening. Her wee body swelled and turned red from head to toe. Luckily in our case no swelling of the throat occurred. The medical doctors attending to her described the situation as a ‘hyper-allergic reaction’.

However, as many parents of allergic children know, you NEVER let your guard down. You arm yourself the best way you know how and are always on guard. With allergies you can’t assume what the ‘next time’ could bring.  I now live life avoiding chemicals in my daughter’s products that could be suspect in fear of a similar or worse episode.

I was happy this week when CBCHealth raised awareness of chemical allergies. Their article documented the case of an otherwise healthy 8 year old girl who had an allergic reaction to a synthetic chemical in a children’s product. The girl was having her mouth wiped constantly with baby wipes containing methylisothiazolinone (aka MI or MIT). The picture of the young girl causes me upset. Unfortunately her parents had no idea what was in the wipes and the issue synthetic chemicals can cause.

MI is a very commonly used preservative that has been on my personal ‘hotlist’ since my daughter’s episode (it was one of the chems making up the chemical stew that was her sunscreen that day).  You will find this chemical on Health Canada’s Hotlist of cosmetic chemicals…a list of the nastiest chems known to be used in cosmetics in Canada. And if you research MI, you will also find medical studies linking it to neurotoxicity. All good reason for any parent to avoid methylisothiazolinone in their family’s products.

Also according to the CBC article the girl’s allergy was initially mis-diagnosed as impetigo or eczema and she was prescribed steroid creams and antibiotics.  As the baby wipes were still being used, the prescription drugs did nothing to clear up her skin. Makes me wonder how many other kids may have been similarly mis-diagnosed? And how many parents are not aware of the potential issues caused to children from commonly-used synthetic chemicals? How many parents think their child’s eczema-like symptoms may be an inherent skin condition as this girl’s family did?

Once I my guard down. My husband took my daughter to a classmate’s birthday party when she was in kindergarten.  It was being held in the family’s backyard. Being mid-June, the mom hosting the party opted to slather the child-guests upon arrival in big-brand sunscreen (full of the same chemicals that caused our family grief a few years before).  I never considered someone else would put product on my child’s body. As my husband ran to the car to retrieve our zinc-based sunscreen, the hostess was insisting not to bother as she had enough for all. In my perfect world all parents would be aware that products other than food can cause serious allergic reaction.

I understand navigating chemicals is not everyone’s cup of tea.  Fortunately, I have the advantage of having studied environmental chemistry at university. Since my daughter’s allergic reaction I have delved deeper into researching everyday household chemicals, all health issues they are linked to as well as alternative products which do not contain controversial chemicals. And I now love to talk chemicals to interested parents in hopes of helping out. So feel free to ask!


Babies Are Born ‘Pre-Polluted’. So What’s A Parent To Do?

Recently Environmental Defence Canada reported on the results from testing umbilical cord blood OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAof three newborn babies born in Toronto and Hamilton, ON. A small sample size that indicated a potentially HUGE issue. Each baby was found to contain 55 to 121 toxic compounds such as flame retardants, PCB’s, organochloride pesticides, dioxins and furans, mercury and lead. Of 137 toxic compounds found in these wee babies, 132 are reported to cause cancer. So before our babies can even say the words….they are subject to these horrific toxins.

It is important to note that the test results reported by Environmental Defence, by no way are the result of the actions of any one of the women whose baby was tested. The reality is that toxic chemicals are most everywhere….including in a significant number of common household products. Lax laws on toxic chemicals are affecting all of us including our newborn babies.

Luckily, organizations on both sides of the 49th parallel are urging both the US and Canadian governments to make change and to tighten laws around toxic chemicals. This is an issue where conventional borders often mean nothing. Irregardless of where you live, it is most important to note that the US and Canada share waterways, airways, and consumer goods.  Lax laws affect all of us. While we all wait (Read: law reform can be very slow!), there are steps we can all take toward reducing our individual toxic loads:

1) Speak up! Feel free to sign petitions such as this one to get laws put in place to protect us. Give backing to those who are working on all of our behalf.

2) Follow and support organizations who are working on all of our behalf everyday. In addition to Environmental Defence, I follow Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families and Women’s Voices For The Earth. I cannot tell parents how fabulous the information is I get just by ‘liking’ or following these organization that report on this subject matter everyday.

3) Inform yourself!  I like to say ‘make google your best friend’. Research and then make the decisions you feel are easiest and most important for you and for your own family. The Top 10 worst household toxins are easily found on-line making them easier for you to avoid.

4) Know that toxic chemicals are finding their way to you in your bodycare products, clothing, beds, couches, food, toys, backpacks, lunchboxes, laundry detergent just to name a few.  I know it can be overwhelming but make one small change at a time.  It becomes easy and feels so good to know you are reducing your family’s toxic load.

5) My mantra is ‘speak with your wallet’. I choose not to buy from companies that are not making change toward cleaner products and conversely I wholeheartedly support those who are. Companies that fight the move toward cleaner products or call it ‘fear-mongering’ when we ask for chemicals banned in other countries to be eliminated from products in our country, lose me AND my dollars.

6) Make it your business to know what is in your family’s foods. organochloride pesticides were found in that cord blood. Research organic farming and see why foods grown organically might suit your family better. Know what genetically-modified food is and that toxins are spliced right into the foods we eat.  Then make the decision if you want your family to eat that type of food? Or speak up so none of us have to even make that decision. Really all food should be free from toxins, shouldn’t it? Know that it has become the norm in processed grocery-store foods to add oodles of health-affecting additives most people don’t even know are there. For instance take a look at what is commonly in commercial breads. Who wants that for breakfast?

7) Choose safe body care products from reputable businesses. In Canada, Environmental Defence has a list of some pretty fabulous companies that offer all-natural and good quality products. And I am a fan of the Skin Deep database for being the best single database around for families to check out what is in their cosmetic products. Know that hundreds of UNTESTED toxic substances are allowed in bodycare in Canada and the US. Read your labels..research ingredients you find such as methylisothiazoline, oxybenzone, Quaternium-15, parabens, BHA, BHT, triclosan, sodium lauryl sulfate….just to name a few. Once you know what these chemicals are suspect of, you may change up the products you have been using.

8) Say ‘no’ to plastics! I know its a challenge but we all can do it it. Ditch the plastic wrap, plastic grocery bags, plastic toys, plastic shower curtains, plastic drinking containers, plastic rain gear.  And know some companies are even using plastics in exfoliating skincare products! So ditch the polluting plastic skincare products too….

Seemingly small changes by all of us can make a big difference not only to us here and now, but to our children and their children. Perhaps from all of our combined efforts, in a generation or two, babies will no longer be born ‘pre-polluted’.

Feel free to share changes you are or will be making toward reducing your family’s toxic load. We always love to hear from you!

7 Nasty Chems to Avoid in Baby Products


iStock_baby in bathBaby bath and body products often contain unsavoury synthetic chemicals just as adult products do.  I am often asked by moms wanting to avoid chemicals with a bad rap, what to avoid in their kids products?

First off, I don’t subscribe to the’ If its allowed to be used, what could possibly be wrong with it?’ line of thought. My personal rule of thumb is if there is even a suspected health issue I will not use it on my kids. I grew up in an era when my parents said over and over again about smoking, ‘We didn’t know’…Science can take decades to conclude ill health effects of products and take action so why wait?

Here are current chemical concerns in common baby and kid products that I choose to avoid:

1) Formaldehyde-Releasing Preservativess such as Quat-15, Diazolidinyl Urea, Imidazolidinyl Urea, DMDM Hydantoin

I found Quat-15, in the shampoo my kids were bathed in by hospital staff when they were hours old. I have really never got over the fact that both my babies had a ‘christening’ of controversial chemicals, only hours out of the womb. 

2) Parabens are one of the most widely used preservatives in body care products. Parabens have been linked to ill heath effects, most notably with breast cancer. Some baby products are ripe with this stuff. So make sure you are aware of brands that still see fit to use such unsavoury ingredients in baby products.

3) PEGs (polyethylene glycols) widely used as thickeners, solvents and softeners. There are a number of types of PEG’s used in baby and kid products.  The issue science has found with PEGs is that they are often contaminated with toxic compounds such as ethylene oxide and 1.4 dioxane both possible human carcinogens.  So best to be safe and not use any products containing these compounds

4) Sodium Laureth Sulfate is basically an inexpensive detergent which makes bath/shampoo products bubble and foam up. David Suzuki and others tell us it is ALSO often contaminated with ethylene oxide and 1,4 dioxane, again both suspected as human carcinogens. So as Sodium Laureth Sulfate is neither gentle on skin nor a safe option, better to avoid it. Check out baby shampoos currently using this.

5) Oxybenzone a very common sunscreen chemical.  Basically THE reason I gave up those conventional sunscreens when I had babies. Oxybenzone is linked to developmental, AND reproductive toxicity, and as if that’s not enough, also linked to endocrine disruption. So why do some products geared toward children still use it in baby sunscreens? And perhaps the most serious situation is by companies that claim to have at least one foot in the camp of natural or ‘better than’ products that use oxybenzone in baby sunscreens…. causing serious confusion in the marketplace.

6) BHT and BHA are closely related compounds which act as preservatives in moisturizers. These are also used as food preservatives most notably where kids are concerned in their breakfast cereals. Research has shown a link to messing up hormone function and both are sadly suspected as a human carcinogens. I find it unacceptable to find such nastiness in kids products at all.

7) Methylisothiazolinone and Methylchloroisothiazolinone are widely used in shampoos and soaps.  As these are known neurotoxins, and are found in some kids products.   These compunds also used used in paper mills to control algae and fungus growth.  Yup, industrial chems. And be aware some ‘natural’ brands use these in children’s nail polish. So research your product ingredients to be sure you are getting something truly safe.

It is not so important what product or brand you use but that it is clean and offers no hint of potential health concerns.  And its good to note, ‘fancy’ brands are often no better. If in doubt, research and ask questions.

A great option to check what is in your products yourself is the Skin Deep database. It a valuable resource to check out ingredients in cosmetic and body care ingredients….even ingredients for which you may have sensitivities or allergies too. And if you find there is any suspected toxicity in an ingredient, of course you can research further.

I always like to say that we all need to become a warrior for our own family’s health. Only you can decide what level of risk you find acceptable where your family is concerned. And I take the stance that its best to figure out what level of risk is associated and then decide what I can live with. Nothing makes me crazier than someone trying to convince me about a particular chemical ‘It can’t be that bad or ‘Studies haven’t concluded…’  A ‘link’ to something horrible is enough to have me seek out alternatives where my family is concerned.

Some of The 2012 Headlines That Scared the Bejesus Out of Parents

Some of The 2012 headlines that scared the Bejesus out of parents and caused many to change their ways.

In April, consumer advocates blew the whistle on Proctor and Gamble as the toxin 1,4 dioxane was found in Tide Free and Gentle laundry detergent in laboratory tests.  If you find this unpalatable as I did, know that there is petition asking Proctor and Gamble to remove this ingredient. You can sign it here and join almost 80,000 people who have already signed. Sadly I was one of the believers that Tide actually made a cleaner detergent and was buying this product.  This story made me a convert to totally naturally laundry detergent. Why take chances?

In August Johnson & Johnson stunned parents by admitting they used harmful carcinogens in their products, AND most notably in their baby products. Yes, they vowed to clean up their mess by 2015 but baby won’t be a baby by then so really who wants to stick around and wait? Like me, many people had the fear of G*d put in them by this story and have switched to all natural care for the whole family including baby. And its good to note that J & J are the only behemoth cosmetic co. who has admitted using such carcinogens. Many other huge cosmetic co.s use these horrible ingredients as well but perhaps are counting on the fact that most don’t read product labels in detail.

In September just in time for back to school, news broke that Disney backpacks and lunchboxes contained toxic chemicals. A mom, Lori Alper is taking on Disney to get them to remove the toxins on behalf of all of our children. This woman deserves kudos from parents everywhere for her heroic efforts as she continues to work on Disney through the end of 2012.  If you admire her as I do, you can follow her on her blog Groovy Green Living.

And a story I read in September that blew my mind, focused on the findings from the work by chemist Arlene Blum. Basically if you read her story, you will find out about ‘killer couch chemicals’.  I know hard to believe a whole industry is sending poison into our homes but read her story and chances are you may find you own a ‘killer couch’. Sad thing is that it is taking years and years..a whole generation for this issue to be addressed.  Arlene Blum started her research in 1976 citing the killer chemical then found in kids pj’s as a mutagen.  It was removed from pj’s but not from couches…my kids sit on couches. what about yours?

And just the other day the Chicago Tribune ran a frightening article citing the flame retardant chemical, Chlorinated Tris is commonly found in baby crib mattresses. As a mom whose kids are now out of baby matresses, I wonder if their little bodies were subjected to the harmful chemical a few years ago? Horrible thought but what it does do is make me believe in organic bed matresses all-round especially for kids.

So as we go into 2013 knowing this info, the message is any hint of toxin in a product you use or use on your kids, is good reason for a change.  Sadly it can take a fight and/or years of research before a government or industry bans use of a killer chemical.

Here’s to a more informed and healthier 2013.

Five Ways to Detox For A Healthier 2013!

My Top Five ways to DETOX inside and out for a healthier 2013!

1) Get your sweat on!  Whatever it is you like to do, sweat a little everyday.  My personal fave is yoga…it does wonders for stretching and strengthening AND body sculpting. And if you have never tried yoga, you may be surprised how it can work wonders for weight loss. Trust me. And if you have tried yoga and want a change, try a class in the heat or a vinyasa (power) yoga class for extra challenge.

2) Watch what you eat.  In 2013 it’s not about just losing weight, it’s about being healthy.  Watch your intake of processed sugars, grains and of course hydrogenated fats. We all know this but many of us, yours truly included, may need a little nudge to be reminded now and again. And if its weight loss you seek, of course by eating healthier, that can be a definite benefit for many. I plan to start 2013 ‘healthier’ by doing a 10 Day Detox in January. I am doing this as a way of figuring out how to eat healthier for myself and for my family.  This DETOX can be done on-line where I spend alot of my time AND comes with recipes…as a mom I love that taking part in this detox sounds so easy!

3) Choose less-industrialized foods aka the ‘back to the farm’ approach. In 2012, my family continued along the path of getting food from local farmers where we could.  Living in the centre of a massive city, we did this by buying meat from butchers who had cultivated relationships with local farmers. We liked that we could ask which farm our dinner came from and that we ate ‘natural’ meat as compared to mass factory-farmed stuff.  The bonus for us was that we were not at risk when the countless issues arose in 2012 of E.Coli in mass-processed beef. Supporting small, local farmers made us feel good as we don’t want to live to see the day where all food is mass-produced. We took the same approach with our veg and fruits getting weekly or bi-weekly local organic produce delivered to our door from Front Door Organics. Some of the best tasting veg. I have ever had.  My kids agreed, voraciously eating the organic produce. Woo Hoo!!

4) Watch what you put on your body.  Toxins are plentiful in oodles of body lotions, shampoos, deodorants, face creams and serums.  You can’t really detox inside and forget what you are putting on the outside of your body.  Think of how a nicotene patch works.  The chemicals you put on your body sink in. So best to ditch toxic preservatives such as parabens, methylisothiazolinone, and the like (read: too many to list!). And plant based skincare is always safer and works better than petroleum-based. If you are not sure what you have in your medicine cabinet, look for ingredients on labels such as cyclopentasiloxane, dimethicone, petrolatum and mineral oil to confirm if it is petroleum-based or not.  Lots of companies say they are natural and aren’t 100% natural so best to check for yourself. Consult a trusted source such as Environmental Defence Canada for ingredient no-nos. And shop at a ‘nice retailer‘ such as Sessabel.

5) Be aware of toxins in your environment and try to reduce where you can. If you didn’t read newspaper headlines in 2012 about toxins in everyday items such as cosmetics, clothes, carscouches and crib mattresses, be sure to. I know that its not easy to make changes in all cases  as toxins have become ubiquitous in so many industries. But even a few changes in the right direction will help. The more people who know the scoop and make informed decisions by speaking with their wallets, the better.  Hopefully we collectively change the culprit industries for the better someday soon.

Here’s to a Healthy (and Happy) 2013!