A completely chemical-free life seems close to impossible. So where should you prioritize?
We all have the friend who swears by kale-and-avocado salads, grass-fed bison, and free-range eggs. He'll punctuate his Saturday workout with a trip to the farmer's market ... before getting his weekly spray tan. He also uses whatever moisturizers, creams and shampoos he finds at his local drugstore, paying no mind to ingredients.
Then there's the friend who shops at big box grocery stores, buying factory-farmed chicken and beef and non-organic produce. She regularly eats on the fly, grabbing whatever processed food is within reach. Hoping to limit chemical exposure, she goes organic with makeup and skincare, and buffs rather than polishes her nails.
Who’s better off? “It’s hard to say what’s a healthier approach. We get contamination from the environment, foods, beauty and personal care products and the problem is we don’t really know the answer,” says Brian St. Pierre, a fitness and nutrition coach with Precision Nutrition.Here, our experts make a case for each side.
The Argument: What you put on your body matters more
The Expert: Urvi Radia, homeopath, The Organic Pharmacy, Beverly Hills
1. Your skin is an organ. I have clients that’ll try to rationalize that the antioxidants and vitamins they take in will balance out the other unhealthy things they’re doing. But it doesn’t work like that. Skin is the largest organ of the body and 60% of what you put on your body is absorbed within 8 hours.
2. Your hormones face disruption. Ingredients in beauty and personal care products like phthalates and parabens, which are still common in drugstore and high-end brands, are endocrine disruptors. This means they mimic estrogen in the body. Spray tan formulas, makeup, and nail enamel can also contain formaldehyde precursors as preservatives, which then release formaldehyde, which is used to preserve dead bodies and is a known carcinogen.
3. Your liver has to work harder. For healthy detoxification, we need a healthy liver and, yes, if someone is eating healthy, organic food, it will benefit his liver. Also, the sweating, exhalation and increased heart rate of exercising will help the body’s detoxification process. But applying toxic ingredients to your skin it only makes proper liver function harder.
4. Applications add up.Even in small amounts, toxic chemicals risk damage, because those repeated applications add up. A better approach would be to seek out some healthy alternatives for daily-use products—like going paraben-free, or choosing face and body cleansers with a natural foaming agent derived from coconut like Cocamidopropyl Betaine.
The Argument: What you put inyour body matters more
The Expert: Brian St. Pierre, R.D. fitness and nutrition coach with Precision Nutrition
1. Cosmetics are just the finishing touch.A diet heavy on processed food exposes you to nutrient deficiencies, trans fats, and chemicals. Limiting your exposure via cosmetics is beneficial, but it’s secondary. It’s like the cherry on top of the actual sundae.
2. Weight gain has more deadly consequences.Processed food also makes weight gain far more likely. It’s engineered to cause you to overeat because it overrides your normal satiety mechanism. And having extra body fat causes inflammation and more potential health problems than exposure to any topical cosmetic would.
3. Antiobiotics in food can contaminate. The most recent data shows that 30 million pounds of antibiotics are used for conventionally-raised meat and poultry vs. 7.7 million pounds for sick humans per year. The USDA tested a variety of conventionally raised meats and found 81% of ground turkey, 69% of pork chops, 55% of beef, and 40% of chicken to be contaminated with antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
4. Pesticides on fruits and veggies mess with hormones. Conventionally-grown fruits and veggies also contain more pesticides, which may not cause immediate health problems but the accumulated exposure adds up over time. Most pesticides mimic estrogen in the body so it’s like having excess estrogen circulating, which then locks onto different receptors, negatively impacting metabolic function, thyroid function, sex hormone function, and immune function. Going organic—even if it’s only for theDirty Dozen—would be an even better step.