Eczema, my son, and a polluted home: how I cleaned up our environment and simple ways for you to do the same.
My baby was miserable. I had to keep a hat on his head and socks on his hands at all times or he’d scratch himself until he bled. His eczema covered his whole body except his cheeks. As his mom, I knew I had to do whatever I could to fix it.
When I decided to become a nurse, I valued the nursing viewpoint that we care for the whole person: body, mind, and spirit. However, in the Emergency Department, I found myself offering short-term band-aids for chronic issues. We just looked at the body (or with psych patients, the mind.)
I knew I had to find the source of his eczema. There are things in life that are common (skin problems, aches, and pains, excess weight) but these things are not normal. Each of us was created in the image of God. Daniel was not created to have eczema. He wasn’t designed to be itchy all the time. Yes, there is sin in this world and it has caused problems, but there is so much we can do about those problems and to prevent them.
I had to dive in and I had to dive in deep. My baby’s health was on the line. If you are a mom you know how it is: you’ll do anything for your kids.
That’s what I did. I didn’t have time to go back to school and become a nurse practitioner; I had to dive in right then.
The Whole You
I learned all I could about whole health. I had to look at everything: my food, environment, stress, sleep, physical health, everything.
Have you ever done a detox and not gotten the results you were expecting? Or have you been doing what you can to get rid of pain or skin issues and it’s not working? Or you are trying to lose weight, but it’s not coming off? All these things could be because you are missing a key ingredient. You are missing the whole you.
You are a whole person: body, mind, spirit, diet, and environment. Working on one or two of those aspects, you will get some results. But putting all five pillars together and working on the whole you can result in transformation.
I made chili for dinner. I used my electronic pressure cooker. I’ve read that when you are making beans, they turn out better if you don’t add the salt right away. So, I put all the ingredients in my pressure cooker except the salt. I left the salt on the counter next to the pressure cooker to remind me to add it when the chili was done.
Well, the meal was for company. My house is not perfect and there was a typical speed cleaning session in the kitchen/dining room before our guests arrived. During that clean-up, someone put the salt away. Guess what I forgot to add before serving the chili … Yup, I didn’t add the salt.
The chili was beautiful. It smelled amazing. It tasted flat.
Your life is like that. You have to have all the ingredients to have the results you want.
When you are improving your health, look at the whole you. You can’t expect a diet detox to transform your health like when you include the whole. When Daniel broke out in eczema, I focused tackled my diet and environment right away.
Cleaning our cleaning: the environmental pillar of the whole you
Close your eyes for a second and mentally go through your own personal care routine. What items do you use?
- Body wash
- Facial toner
- Facial moisturizer
- Perfume/body spray
- Eyeshadow or liner
- Lipstick/lip balm
- Hand sanitizer
How many items did you come up with? The average woman has 12 personal care products in her daily routine.
Those 12 items result in 168 different chemicals on your skin!
Your skin is a great pathway into your body
In medicine, we know that the skin is a great place to put things that we want to be absorbed into the body. We deliver things like heart medication, pain medication, birth control, and nicotine via stickers on the skin. What you put on your skin, will get into your system. And the average woman puts 168 chemicals onto her skin each and every day.
When I had to dive deep into the various causes into Daniel’s eczema, personal care products were one of the first things I investigated. I found chemicals and toxins that I could not expose my baby to any longer. (No, I wasn’t putting those things on him, but I was holding him and baby’s skin absorbs a lot. I was also breastfeeding, so anything that might cross over into my milk had to go.)
The Environmental Working Group is a great resource for cleaning up your personal care products. They have a free app for your phone so you can search the database or scan the barcode to look up safety.
Scientists have found many common cosmetic ingredients in human tissues, including phthalates in urine, preservatives called parabens in breast tumor tissue and persistent fragrance components in human fat. (From EWG’s article Why This Matters: Cosmetics and Your Health.)
One of the easiest toxins to identify in your personal care products are parabens. Look at the ingredient list and there will be a multi-syllable word with “paraben” in it somewhere. Thankfully, the industry has started to listen to the consumers and use less of this toxin. We don’t want it. Afterall, it’s been found in breast cancer tumors.
Even with more paraben-free alternatives, our exposure is still great. In one small study, 100% of teenaged girls tested positive for parabens. That means she put it on her body and it absorbed through her skin.
I first learned about phthalates during a lecture by Ann Louise Gittleman. She spoke about “chemical obesogens” or, in plain English, chemicals that cause or are related to obesity.
Phthalates are one of these chemical obesogens. Not only are they in many plastics (including the toys we let our kids play with) but they’re in our cosmetics and personal care products. They disrupt our hormone balance and make us fat.
Unfortunately, phthalates are often hidden in the ingredient list and not very easy to identify. They are used in the fragrances and thus are not required to be listed. Instead, look for product claims of “phthalate free.”
Dr. David Williams states, “The number-one threat to your brain’s health is aluminum. Its effects are cumulative, and can take many years to show up as full-blown disease.”
If you use an antiperspirant, you are most likely applying aluminum to your armpits. Most of us know this because we’ve looked at the labels looking for the strongest one on the shelf hoping to keep ourselves from becoming stinky. (That’s not just me, right?)
Instead of using a high-aluminum content antiperspirant, focus on your diet and use a deodorant. Also, wash your armpits well. The smell comes from the bacteria getting wet, not the sweat itself. Here is a great article on sweat, smell, and how to stay fresh.
Volatile organic compounds (VOCs)
We’ve moved several times since starting to have kids. Each time, we need to paint. I have some opinions on the paint color, but mostly, I’m concerned with the fumes. Have you painted lately? You can (pay a little more for) “low VOC” paint. As much as I love the smell that says “our walls are fresh,” I know that smell is not healthy.
Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are the gases that certain solids or liquids give off. They are, in general, NOT healthy. I tend to think of any processed product I can smell as having VOCs.
VOCs include a variety of chemicals, some of which may have short- and long-term adverse health effects. Concentrations of many VOCs are consistently higher indoors (up to ten times higher) than outdoors. VOCs are emitted by a wide array of products numbering in the thousands. – The USA Environmental Protection Agency
It is because of these VOCs that your pollution exposure inside your home/office is usually higher than outside!
In fact, Anne Steinemann, at the University of Washington, tested 25 air fresheners, laundry detergents, fabric softeners, dryer sheets, disinfectants, dish detergents, all-purpose cleaners, soaps, hand sanitizers, lotions, deodorants, and shampoos.
They found that every single one tested, released up to eight toxic or hazardous chemicals, and close to half generated at least 1 carcinogenic hazardous air pollutants. These hazardous air pollutants have no safe exposure level! (Click here for the interesting report.)
Aware of these VOCs I removed anything “smelly” that I could from our house: laundry detergent, hand soap, shampoos, candles, etc. I don’t want my kids running around a polluted home!
Small steps or a giant leap?
How will you proceed? Will you take small steps and clean out your house as you use up current products? Or will you get rid of all you can right away? Either way, you are creating a healthier home for yourself and your family. Your kids might not have horrible eczema like Daniel did, but their little bodies will be better off in a less polluted home.
I am happy to say that Daniel’s skin cleared up after a few months. Those months were challenging as we had to go through every single thing in the house and my diet, but the work was worth it. Watching him run around with clear skin and a big smile was worth it.
PS – By the way …
Please do not allow yourself any guilt over this post. Your job as a mom is to do the best you can with the information you have. Now you know, so now you can implement healthy change. No guilt for what you didn’t know. You are doing a good job, mom! I promise.
What I use:
(Some of the following are affiliate links. That means I’ll receive compensation for your purchase, but it will not cost you anything extra.)
As a result of writing this post and doing a livestream on the same topic, I’ve changed some of what I use. You will notice that some things below are in the picture of my own counters above, but some are different. The pictures I took were before I cleaned up my products even more than I had done 4 years ago!
Skin care: Celavive
Household cleaning: Norwex microfiber with water.
Soap: GoatMilkStuff for all bars (even shampoo bars!) and Dr. Bronner’s castile soap for creating my own foaming handsoap.
Laundry: Molly’s Suds
If I want pretty smells: Essential Oils in my diffuser.
Share this post with a friend who wants to clean up her home environment.