Chemicals and health: what’s the relationship?

by Kim on August 6, 2013

As much as I want to believe that Mason’s food allergies aren’t my fault, I’m not sure I’ll ever feel 100% blameless. Did I eat too much peanut butter while I was pregnant? Was I “too clean,” to the point where he didn’t get exposed to enough bacteria to properly develop his immune system? Was I exposed to something harmful and didn’t know it?

I know some of you will say this is ridiculous. And I’m sure some of it is. But which parts??

The problem is that something in our modern environment is jacking up the rates of disease and the prevalence of conditions like food allergies and autism in kids. 20 years ago, they didn’t have peanut-free zones at baseball games and strict no-food rules in nurseries. Teachers didn’t have to maintain lists of kids’ allergies and memorize the protocol for dealing with reactions. 1 in 50 kids didn’t have autism. (I know that’s partially due to new diagnosis methods, but still.)

50 years from now, we’re probably going to look back and think, “duh, we seriously didn’t think that was unsafe?” Like we do now about alcohol during pregnancy and secondhand smoke. That’s what really kills me…we need to know NOW!

Honestly, I’m already a little nervous about my next pregnancy (if, God willing, there is one). Will I do things differently? Will I be overly paranoid and roll myself up in bubble wrap for 9 months?

People’s favorite argument against this is: “Our parents/grandparents didn’t worry about that, and we turned out just fine.” But unfortunately, that doesn’t really apply here. So many of the chemicals we’re exposed to today weren’t around years ago, so no one really knows how they’re affecting us long-term. (Plus, how many babies didn’t turn out fine, and just aren’t here to tell us about it?)

But if you do your research, there are quiet little warning signs everywhere.

If you can’t tell, I’ve been thinking a lot about this lately. I don’t know the answers, but I don’t think anyone can argue that there isn’t a lot of toxicity in our environment that wasn’t there years ago. And I think we’re all aware that it’s not just the things we’re putting in our bodies that count—everything that goes on our bodies is absorbed into our bloodstreams. The question is: what is it really doing to us and what should we be doing about it?

After a conversation with my mom about this recently, I decided to swap the antibacterial spray I use in the kitchen to this greener version by Clorox:


It claims to be 98% naturally derived and lists filtered water and “plant-based cleaning agent” as its first two ingredients. It’s scented with essential oils and includes a “biodegradable preservative.” It’s gotten many environmentalists’ stamps of approval.

And most importantly for me: it seems to work just fine and (now) costs about the same as the regular stuff. So why not??

It was kind of serendipitous timing that right after I bought that first bottle of Green Works, the Ava Anderson company, a non-toxic cosmetics company, contacted me and asked if I’d like to try out some of their products. These aren’t the kinds of things I typically review, but I saw it as an opportunity to do more in-depth research and agreed immediately.

First of all, would you believe that this company was founded by a 16-year-old? Ava Anderson was only 14 when she watched a news report describing a study that tested average teenagers for carcinogens (every single teenager tested positive for every ingredient tested).

I really need to start working on my “before 30” bucket list…

Anyway, the company sent me samples of their non-toxic 30 spf sunscreen and no-deet bug spray.


The bug spray smells like lemons and isn’t sticky at all—two factors that already beat out standard toxic bug spray. As for the sunscreen, it’s hard to compete with the clear spray kind I’ve become a huge fan of, and it doesn’t smell nearly as good as our other stuff (maybe I just attribute that standard sunscreeny smell to the beach, and therefore love it, ha).

I haven’t had much opportunity to put these through a legitimate test (it’s been overcast/rainy, cooler, and not very buggy around here lately) but they have seemed to do the job when I’ve used them. No burns, bugs, or irritated skin (and if anyone’s going to get irritated skin, it’s Mason).


I also got the chance to do some more research into this toxicity business. Here are a few of the things I learned from the Ava Anderson site alone:

–“For years scientists have struggled to explain the rising rates of some cancers and childhood brain disorders. Something about modern living has driven a steady rise in certain maladies, from breast and prostate cancer to autism and learning disabilities. One suspect is now drawing intense scrutiny: the prevalence in the environment of certain industrial chemicals at extremely low levels. A growing body of animal research suggests to some scientists that even minute traces of some chemicals, always assumed to be biologically insignificant, can affect such process and gene activation and brain development of newborns.”


–“Most people in the US believe the government makes sure personal care products are safe. Unfortunately the FDA has little authority and few resources to oversee cosmetics safety. The US Food and Drug Administration does not have the authority to require companies to safety test personal care products before they go on the market and cannot even recall defective or possibly harmful cosmetics.

Most chemicals in cosmetics have not been tested for their potential to cause long-term health problems such as cancer or reproductive harm. The USDA has little authority to ensure the safety of cosmetics or to remove unsafe products from the market. The way the system works in the US is that the cosmetics company gets to decide for themselves what’s safe.”

–“Manufacturers can legally hide up to 600 ingredients in the word FRAGRANCE.”

–Skin Deep ( reported these findings in 2005:

  • 1/3 of personal care products contain at least one ingredient linked to cancer
  • 45% contain an ingredient that may be harmful to the reproductive system or to a baby’s development
  • 60% of products contain chemicals that can act like estrogen or disrupt hormones in the body
  • 56% of products contain “penetration enhancer” chemicals, which help other chemicals penetrate faster and deeper into the body

Umm…that doesn’t sound good.

There’s even more info here. If you have 3 1/2 minutes, you can also check out this video…

I don’t pretend to know the answers when it comes to toxicity, the environment, and personal care products, but I do know that I’ll be paying much more attention to what I’m putting both in and ON by body during my next pregnancy, and beyond.

Want to try some Ava products yourself?


The company would like to share their non-toxic sunscreen and bug spray with one Healthy Nest reader. Enter below to win! Contest runs through midnight on August 13, and I’ll announce the winner shortly after.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

So what do you think? Is this something we should be worrying about?

If so (here’s the million dollar question) how much? Where’s the line?

Do I need new makeup, lotion, hair products, etc??


{ 16 comments… read them below or add one }

Rebecca @ Strength and Sunshine August 9, 2013 at 1:30 pm

I am always looking for ways to cut out chemicals from products we use. They definitely are not beneficial and can only be doing harm.


Kristina August 7, 2013 at 1:38 pm

I for one, can vouch for the fact that chemicals are not all they’re cracked up to be. I have extremely sensitive skin and my face will literally swell up if I wear make-up, lotions, etc., with parabens in the ingredient list. Thankfully, many cosmetic companies are making paraben-free make-up now.


Britt @ A Life Worth Living August 7, 2013 at 12:33 am

I started switching over to all natural stuff after reading Jessica Alba’s book, “The Honest Life”. The whole book is about all the products we use and the bad stuff with them, and then she gives some really great advice from cleaners to beauty to everyday items
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Giselle@myhealthyhappyhome August 6, 2013 at 7:24 pm

I 100% agree with you! I too am so fearful about the chemicals that we put into our bodies via body care products, cleaning supplies and our food. I’m EXTEMELY cautious when it comes to foods, pretty good with using natural cleaning supplies and working on reducing the chemical body care products we use. I’ve always used organic and all natural lotions, soaps etc. for The Love Nugget but for some reason it’s taken me longer to do so for myself and my hubby. I’ll definitely check out the Ava Anderson company as it sounds great!
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Heather @ August 6, 2013 at 5:50 pm

I think chemicals affect us more than we know and in ways we aren’t sure yet. You are right, there are SO many more chemicals used today than “back in the day.” It’s kind of scary not knowing, but you don’t want to drive yourself too crazy! This is a great post to bring the issue to light :)


Michelle August 6, 2013 at 2:07 pm

I think the changes in our health are really due to a variety of reasons – one of them being chemicals, another preservatives, and then also what they are calling the “hygiene hypothesis” — we are sterilizing SO much that we aren’t letting our immune systems function like they should.

For cleaning supplies – I will bleach the crap out of something if I need to (but that’s rare). I mostly use water, vinegar, and Mrs. Meyers products.

For everything else? It’s hard to say. It can be hard when so many of the natural products are so expensive or make my face/skin break out. I hate paying tons of money for a rash/acne!! Although, I do use coconut oil for my kid’s skin (seriously the ONLY thing that has worked for their eczema) and California Baby products for E.
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Miranda August 6, 2013 at 11:57 am

I know you like Pinterest and there are also TONS of ideas on there for making your own cleaners, mostly vinegar which I guess can do almost anything! Worth a shot anyways?!
Not sure if Mason has skin allergies too but another great product is the Vanicream line. Made right in Rochester, MN :)


Kim August 6, 2013 at 1:01 pm

Good idea, thanks!

Rochester, MN, eh? No way!! :)


Katie @ Daily Cup of Kate August 6, 2013 at 10:59 am

Last week I swopped my lotion, bodywash and facial cleansers for organic and chemical free ones. They were pretty pricey but I feel so much better using them! I plan on switching everything (cleaning products included) I use over, but one step at a time!
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Kim August 6, 2013 at 1:00 pm

Good for you! I feel like I’m way behind on this.


char eats greens August 6, 2013 at 10:27 am

THANK YOU! Ok, so I’m actually putting together a post right now on ‘natural’ cleaners for the home!! I switched to “green” products 1-2 years ago and feel like, ‘why didn’t I start sooner?!’

I totally get that we can’t bubble wrap our children (or even us!), but I do try to do what I can. Even when it comes to food, I worry about that! For generic food that is sprayed with pesticides, the amount that can be sprayed on foods is set to the tolerable limits for ADULTS; so there is no way of knowing what is acceptable for children and I’m assuming that what’s tolerable for children is way less than adults. So, this is why I mainly buy organic (and I swear it’s not because I’m snobby!).

But, one of my favourite sayings is “don’t do nothing because you can’t do everything…do something!” which is what I’m trying to do – one little thing, bit by bit!
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char eats greens August 6, 2013 at 10:38 am

Oh PS – I’m JUST making the make-up switch. I bet my makeup has a million chemicals in it, yet here I am “greening” my house in other areas. I don’t know why I just realized this now. Maybe I was in denial!
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Kim August 6, 2013 at 12:55 pm

I just looked at my makeup and didn’t recognize a SINGLE ingredient listed. All crazy chemicals. Errr…woops! I definitely want to explore makeup swaps next. Do you know what you’ll be using?

I remember listening to a Jillian Michaels podcast awhile ago about nontoxic personal care products, and I was like “yeah, great, like I need something ELSE to worry about!”

I think part of the reason I’m finally up for tackling this now is that I feel like I have pretty good control over other areas of wellness that felt more pressing before (learning how to eat clean, for example).

Love your point about doing something vs. nothing! At my old job, we used to always say “don’t let the great get in the way of the good.”


Ashley @ My Food N Fitness Diaries August 6, 2013 at 10:14 am

I definitely think chemicals are affecting our health in a negative way. I’ve been wanting to switch over to all green cleaners, but don’t even know which are the best without breaking the bank. I’d love to try these!
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Kim August 6, 2013 at 12:49 pm

I was really surprised that Green Works was almost exactly the same price as the regular AP spray. Apparently it used to be more expensive, but they’ve come down in price.


Stacey August 8, 2013 at 1:42 pm

I use the Mrs Meyers cleaning products – You can buy the Clean Day ALl Purpose Cleaner in a bottle where you mix about 2-3 T with 28 oz of water in a spray bottle. I bought my Mrs Meyers bottle 2+ years ago and it’s STILL not empty. The link shows it at $8 which is more then I paid for it at Target. Regardless it’s lasted me years and I use it everyday (spot cleaning, etc).


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