Chemical free gifts for your mum this Mother’s Day
As we approach Mother’s Day, retailer shelves are brimming with an abundance of “health, beauty and wellbeing” products – from bath bombs and body scrubs to makeup and moisturisers – all of which are marketed as the perfect gift to help mums relax, unwind and feel good.
However, some of these products may expose us to potentially harmful chemical ingredients that could create a burden for our body.
Clean perfumes and fragrances
Consumers should have the right to know which chemicals are used in their perfume, so they can make an informed choice about what they are buying. However, the reality is that very little is known about the ingredients actually used to give perfumes their unique fragrance.
The terms “parfum” and “fragrance” were originally used on perfume bottles as a way of keeping companies’ formulas a trade secret, but this means a number of ingredients can be kept hidden from the labels of products. Among these ingredients are phthalates, an endocrine disruptor that can affect your hormonal balance.
In a 2021 study conducted by the Danish Consumer Council, Stand up to Cancer, and the Dutch organisation Tegengif-Erase all Toxins, 20 popular perfumes were selected and their labels compared with substances of concern listed by several authoritative bodies, such as the European Commission and the Danish Government. A total of 26 problematic chemicals were found in the selected perfumes, including suspected endocrine disruptors, with researchers concluding that the current regulatory framework is unfit to protect consumers from exposure to problematic chemicals in perfumes.
Fortunately, in recent years, we’ve seen a “Clean perfume” movement emerging in the market, with many brands now shunning phthalates and deliberately selecting natural, organic ingredients. While we always recommend checking the label of products, remember that phthalates don’t need to be listed by law on an ingredient list. The only way to be 100% sure that your perfume contains no phthalates is by choosing a brand that promises that is 100% phthalate-free.
Naturally scented candles
The majority of candles are made using paraffin wax, a bi-product of petroleum, including candles scented with essential oils or ‘naturally’ scents. Scent libraries used in candles can often be complex, and phthalates might be added to bind fragrances together and to extend shelf life. However, as candles burn, these phthalates are released into the air where they potentially could be inhaled or absorbed through the skin.
If you’re thinking about purchasing a candle for your mum this Mother’s Day, choose 100% beeswax or soy candles that are either unscented, or using only essential oils. Avoid synthetic fragrances, and look for products specifically marked ‘phthalate free’ that use more natural ingredients.
We’d all like to think that chocolate is good for us, so the good news is that it’s a natural source of Tryptophan, a precursor to the production of other hormones that can help with sleep.
After absorbing tryptophan from food, our body converts it to 5-HTP (5-hyrdoxytryptophan), and then to serotonin and lastly, melatonin. Melatonin is a hormone that plays a role in your natural sleep-wake cycle. Natural levels of melatonin in the blood should be the highest at night, helping us to get to sleep, and gradually decrease in the morning, prompting us to wake up. Choose an organic chocolate to avoid pesticides used in the production of the ingredients.
‘Paraben free’ cosmetics
Parabens are usually added to skincare and cosmetics products because of their preservative and antibacterial properties. However, we don’t fully understand what a safe level for human contact is yet; consequently, paraben use is currently tightly restricted and only permitted at low concentrations. A growing body of evidence suggests parabens can indeed harm our health, especially during sensitive periods of development when hormones are working at force, for instance during puberty or pregnancy.
Thankfully, there are many brands out there offering ‘paraben free’ alternatives. Unlike with phthalates, parabens are easier to spot on the ingredients section of any product – the word will typically end in ‘paraben’, for example methylparaben, propylparaben and butylparaben. There may be more than one in the ingredients of a single product.
Our EDC guide to parabens offers further insight into paraben usage. Other helpful tools we’d recommend include the Yuka app, which helpfully deciphers product labels and analyses the health impact of food products and cosmetics, and the Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep search tool, which currently contains information on 8,892 popular personal care product ingredients.
Cut flowers do not have the same regulatory controls as crops, meaning that pesticide and herbicide use is much higher than allowed on foodstuffs. Chemicals used are classed as Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) – ‘forever chemicals’ that stay in the environment long after their first use.
The world’s most widely produced herbicide, and perhaps its most divisive, is a chemical called Glyphosate. Sold under a variety of brand names, including Roundup, it is used across hundreds of products in agriculture, forestry, and home gardening. Glyphosate has been linked to many illnesses including the disruption of the endocrine system, fertility, and reproduction. Described by the World Health Organisation as “probably carcinogenic” to humans, it is also widely believed to be a cause of many chronic health problems, most significantly, cancer. Nevertheless, given the difficulties in proving cause and effect, even in rigorous scientific studies, scientific opinion remains divided, and it is still currently legal to use in the UK. You can read more about glyphosate and its health risks in our guide.
To help avoid exposure to herbicides like glyphosate, grow and pick your own seasonal flowers at home if you can. Not only does it add a personal touch, but it is the most sure-fire way of ensuring that no unnecessary chemicals are used in the growing process. Plus, your transportation emissions will be non-existent. If this isn’t possible (or if you’ve left it too late this year!), try to buy seasonal, locally grown flowers and ask the florist about any pesticides or herbicides that may have been used in the growing process. Alternatively, you could buy a locally sourced potted plant, or plant your own bulb as a gift, but remember not to spray it with insecticides or weed killers.
The online directory Flowers from the Farm promotes British grown flowers and is great place to start when looking for blooms grown locally and sustainably.
Always check the label
It almost goes without saying, but before purchasing any gifts for Mother’s Day always check the label and ingredients list. Anything that lists ambiguous or vague ingredients, like “fragrance”, is perhaps better off avoided.
We would like to wish everyone a very happy, healthy Mothering Sunday this weekend!
Can you test for EDCs in the body?
It is possible to test for the presence of endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs) in the human body, but requires specialist tests, and expert medical analysis to interpret potential health risks. At Lasting Health, we are developing new tests for anyone worried about EDC exposure to find out if they are carrying a Body Burden of chemicals. Get in touch today to find out more.
For more information about body burden and how to reduce your exposure to EDCs, please click here.
Read more about Body Burden.