Monday, October 4, 2010

Write Pink! Education Week: Suzannah's Hopeful Tips

In support of Write Pink's Education week, Suzannah has offered to share her thoughts about Breast Cancer Awareness by guest posting today!  Be generous with your comments and make sure you stop by her blog and get to know her better.

The Chemical Component: Cancer, Cosmetics, and Cleaners

I don't know why my sister Tiffany got breast cancer at the age of 36. I don't know why anyone does or what the likelihood is that I could get it, too.

It's scary feeling at-risk.

Eating well and exercising are important for breast health and good health overall, but isn't there anything else we can do for cancer prevention? When the research and advice can be confusing [soy! no soy!], what do we know?

I know that we interact with hundreds of chemicals everyday, and the FDA does not require health studies or safety testing for ingredients in cosmetics and personal care products.

No one is regulating the chemicals we lather onto our bodies or the manner in which they interact. Could our cosmetics be the cause of some cancers and other health problems?

Coal tar in dark hair dye and formaldehyde in nail polish are known carcinogens. Phthalates and parabens, common ingredients in many body products, are hormone disruptors. Should we simply take the cosmetics and chemical industries' word that our products are safe?

I'm not saying that lipstick causes cancer, but when it comes to my body and my family's health, I'd rather ere on the side of caution, label reading, and natural ingredients--preferably ones I can eat.

It's not necessary to replace everything overnight or spend a fortune on organic alternatives. I do buy a pricier natural baby wash, but one bottle can last a year. I inexpensively switched out conventional body washes and moisturizers for pure bar soap and oil. I started making deodorant.

Some old habits die hard. Most of my make-up is still conventional, and I use many drugstore hair products that are surely full of questionable synthetic chemicals, but I won't buy more when they run out. I probably won't, anyway;)

We've gradually replaced our household cleaners: sometimes with a "green" alternative but baking soda or vinegar will often do the trick. I started making laundry soap. I didn't get rid of anything: many conventional cleaners are hazards to dispose. Rather, I gave them away or used them up before making the greener switch.

A few years ago I would have dismissed many of these concerns as alarmist or bourgeois, but when I became pregnant, a light went on. Perhaps I hadn't cared about the chemicals in my cleansers, but i didn't want to expose my baby to toxins. My sister's breast cancer diagnosis made me even more concerned about chemical safety.

I hope that I'm reducing my breast cancer risk. I can't know for sure, but I feel good about reducing chemical exposure for my family, one baby step at a time.

image credit: toban black. Further reading from the Environmental Working Group: Health Tips, Safer Shopping Tips, Preventing Cancer: 9 Practical Tips for Consumers

Suzannah blogs at {so much shouting, so much laughter} about faith, mothering, and natural living, and she posts green reviews and giveaways at {so much reviews}. In support of her sister (whose post-chemo 'do is too short for its former wild ways), the ends of Suzannah's hair are currently an awareness-raising pink.


  1. This topic is such a hot button for me as I was diagnosed in my early 30's as well and have no idea why. I have to look at conventional cleaning and personal products, food, additives, etc. Especially having a young infant which throws my paranoia into full swing.
    Wish we had some better answers for my sake, your sister's, yours andour children.

  2. Stopping over via Suzannah's blog...

    I think about this subject often too. It's hard a hard life shift to make. In the day to day pinching of pennies I find it easy to slip up & go the "easy" route. But we're striving to become more chemical free, to waste less, to eat & buy locally.

    Thanks for a great reminder & post!

  3. I know that the more I've eliminated hormone disruptors in my life, the easier my endometriosis has been. I would not be surprised at all if there was a breast cancer (or just cancer) link at all.

  4. Suzannah, thank you so much for sharing your sisters story. What, how, could it be, those are all such hard questions aren't they? It's so tough to know who and what to believe/trust.

    Thank you again for joining us.

  5. Suzannah, this piece has inspired me to do better research about what chemicals we're using in and around our bodies. It's like saying the world is flat to assume that none of these interacting chemicals aren't harming us in some way. They have to be.

    I just hope it becomes a little easier to avoid the nasties because this is so huge! I hope to tackle it one piece at a time :)

    Thanks so much for your insight and help with Write Pink!

  6. It is so sad that most of us believe we should be safe, then we discover that we are not. There are so many things added to all the products that we use. We really don't know why, or what the results will be, but it is good to be educated and make changes a little at a time. Thank you for sharing. I have lost several family members to one form of cancer or another, these are things more of us need to be aware of.

  7. Suzannah, I know just how overwhelming the process of trying to make the switch is because we are still in the midst of weeding certain items from our shelves. It's horrifying the chemicals found in baby wash and body lotion and shampoo. I get all uptight just thinking about it all.
    Thanks for writing this.

  8. It's very frustrating to know what to do! Soy is in everything, and it is supposed to be healthy, but it can mimic estrogen. My tumor was estrogen fed (I was diagnosed with bc when I was 27) but it's so hard to avoid soy! I've heard the same thing about parabens, which is used in a variety of items such as lotions and deodorants. Sometimes I just cross my fingers and hope and pray that I'm not doing something that will make the cancer come back!

  9. Great post, Susannah. It reminds me that many people aren't aware of these issues. I live in such a bubble of natural-health-green-living in this town that I forget sometimes to share what I've learned.

    When I was pregnant with my first is when I first got more serious about this all, too. I had read Sandra Steingraber's book - Having Faith (highly recommend) and it really opened my eyes.

    Great post. Thank you for sharing your sister's story with us.

  10. after i wrote this, i became aware
    of the breast cancer fund's extremely thorough (132 pages!) State of the Evidence: The Connection Between Breast Cancer and the Environment--definitely a good thing to bookmark and come back to. (that is what i'm doing--haven't given it the reading it deserves yet.)

    also, usa today ran Searching for breast cancer culprits in chemicals this week. the sidebar charts specific chemicals to avoid (BPA, pesticides, parabens, phthalates...) and tips for cutting risk (eating organic, avoiding farmed atlantic salmon, etc).

    this information can feel overwhelming, but every small life changes add up. when it comes to health, ignorance is not bliss. with knowledge, we can all make choices and changes that lead to less exposure, less risk, and better health.

    thanks, sarah, for the chance to share this here:)

  11. I'm late commenting here, but I wanted to say YES!! I couldn't agree with you more! And I love your out-of-the-mainstream educational perspective. Thanks!

  12. This is really good stuff. I think it's especially encouraging to realize that you don't have to do it all at once, but it can be done gradually.

  13. Not only do the chemicals in almost everything contribute to cancers but also, a surprising cause for cancer is what is in people's mouth. Silver Fillings are 50% mercury. MERCURY. mercury vapors come off the fillings even from chewing but more from light brushing even and hot liquids. mercury can chemically alter cells. Look into holistic dentistry to get the mercury safely removed. nickel, from braces also can cause cancer. Heavy metals like aluminum (deoderant) is placed RIGHT into the glandular region where your body detoxes (thru sweating) so, clogging up this area and aluminum is absorbed right into that glandular system. Look into getting a heavy metal total body burden test taking and then do some chelation detoxing. fluoride is another poison added to water and toothpaste. And chlorine in water. Reverse osmosis water. It sucks because we are being bombarded with toxins at every turn it seems. Fight back because its worth it. Eat organic. Detox all your household products. Use natural cosmetics and soaps, deoderants, toothpaste. Do more research into this stuff because its worth it. (SOY is not safe to eat unless its fermented! Just skip it as it is an estrogen booster)


Hmm...And how did that make you FEEL?