Does this new health concern affect you?

by Swarna Kuruganti September 18, 2016

In the US, toxic chemicals are often found in regular use personal care products and household goods. Over the past decade, research studies have been linking the alarming growth of many health conditions in the US to such toxic exposures. But there has been an ongoing political battle to regulate chemicals used in US beauty products. This New York Times articlein Aug 2016, highlights the issue. Needless to say there has been a growing consumer concern about such exposures. Whether you are a skeptic or just curious, this quick read may help know if exposures to toxic chemicals affects you.

Till recently, I didn’t think about my environment or if products I use affected me. You could have called me a ‘healthy’ skeptic. Then my doctor diagnosed me with asthma. Around this time, I also had a series of relatively mild health issues, including chronic cough, migraines and fatigue. They took over my lifestyle and baffled my physicians. With no prescribed recourse, I started exploring what, if anything in my environment could be affecting me. Funny how we pay attention only after we feel sick!

I learned the following after tracking, among many other things, when and where I felt bad.

  • Triggers in our environment affected my health. My triggers included fragrances, toxic chemicals in shampoos and skin care and ozone levels in our zip code.
  • I had to reduce exposure to these suspected triggers, or avoid them completely. Our move to another city for example, made a big difference to my health, leaving behind the unhealthy ozone levels in our previous zip code. But if a move is not practical and ozone is a health trigger, you can also check your local ozone levels to stay indoors and reduce exposure. EnviroFlash from the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) andBreezometer android app are some useful tools to check local ozone levels. I also started paying attention to ingredients in my personal care products.

If you are like me and facts excite you, below are a few relevant and mind blowing ones:

  • We have more than 80,000 chemicals in the US registered for use across many industries.
  • Fewer than 10% have been tested for effects on human health. US law for the personal care industry, including skin care, cosmetics is worth noting. It does not mandate ingredients testing for health effects before being put on the market.
  • The poor US chemical regulatory environment has led to misleading product labeling. For example, personal care products labeled “organic”/ “natural” can include toxic chemicals that can be harmful to an individual’s health. But they are not required to disclose them on their labels.

So, here are three simple checks to see if exposure to toxic chemicals around you should be of concern to you. This is assuming you don’t live or work in high toxic exposure environments.

1. Family history. Some health conditions can be genetic and are known to be affected (in some cases caused), by exposure to toxic chemicals, pollutants. (Please see below for a list of such health conditions). A simple conversation with your family members can help you know of the health conditions that run in your family. Genetic tests can also show your individual risk to each such health condition. This is important because genetic history alone does not cause the development of some diseases. In my case asthma runs in our family.

2. Individual vulnerability.

a. Gender can affect health in a big way. For example, exposure to toxicants are linked to heightened risks of auto immune diseases. 78% of those diagnosed with auto immune diseases are women.

“There is no doubt that autoimmune diseases are on the rise and our increasing environmental exposure to toxins and chemicals is fueling the risk. The research is sound. The conclusions, unassailable.” — Dr Douglas Kerr, M.D PhD. John Hopkins School of Medicine.

b. Lifestyle can affect our health immunity. Lifestyle can include exposure to stress, commuting, diet, work environment, work exposure to toxic chemicals.

c. Some life stages are more vulnerable, although harmful exposures can affect health at all life stages. Most vulnerable stages include women of childbearing age, couples planning a family, pregnancy, childhood and those middle aged.

d. Some ethnic backgrounds or race can also be more susceptible (for e.g. Latin American, African American or Native Americans are more vulnerable to auto immune diseases).

How does your individual vulnerability profile chart out?

3. “Our” acceptable environmental wellness.

The US government has issued strong guidelines for exposures to elements like lead, asbestos in the housing sector. But not when used in personal care products. Also, physicians don’t yet have clear medical guidance to help with newer chemicals used in products.

The medical community had waited for decades of research on smoking’s ill health effects. Only after a toll on many affected lives, did they start issuing warnings against smoking in the 1970s. Parts of the medical community have learned from those experiences. In the interest of prevention, some have started warning about regular exposure to toxic chemicals (see below).

In the absence of clear governmental regulation, and firm medical guidance, it really is up to us to be careful about our own toxic exposures. Our “acceptable environmental wellness” is guided by our own preferences and choices. When combined with our family history and individual vulnerability, our choices can expose our health, or reduce risks to it. So will your acceptable wellness exposure style be easygoing, balanced or strict?

We cannot cut all toxic chemical exposures around us. There are too many. And getting stressed about what we cannot do is a threat all on its own to one’s health. A balanced approach can help us start moving to an environment with lower risk exposures. But more on that in another post. In the meanwhile, what are your concerns, questions about toxic exposures around you?

Swarna Kuruganti (@swarnak7) is the founder of The Clear Scoop, a social impact business with a mission to help individuals with their best wellness environment. The Clear Scoop is an online, mobile service that helps those with affected health, skin conditions, reduce their exposure to toxic chemicals from daily use skin care & makeup products. We are actively seeking sign ups for our BETA service that helps discover curated products for special skin & wellness needs, helping make informed wellness choices in less time.

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Environmentally affected health conditions

Reproductive health (fertility, pregnancy), asthma, auto immune diseases (eczema, lupus, celiac), lung conditions, breast cancer, obesity, parkinsons disease.

Some warnings from Medical Professionals:

The American Academy of Pediatrics

International Federation of Gynecology and Obstetrics (FIGO)

Swarna Kuruganti
Swarna Kuruganti


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