Happy Friday beauty enthusiasts! Normally, my blog topics are more lighthearted and educational, but after seeing a recent documentary, called “Toxic Beauty”, I felt compelled to write this and share my own personal experience. Toxic Beauty is currently out on Amazon Prime. I am not an alarmist by any stretch, but this documentary, similar to “Not So Pretty” which was on HBO Max a year or so ago, makes me want to share my story in hopes that it may make you pause before you make your next personal care or beauty purchase.
If you haven’t seen either one of these documentaries, I highly encourage you to watch it and form your own opinions, but the short description is that for DECADES, there has been evidence that many ingredients that are used in every day in the United States in our personal care and/or beauty products (which includes everything from lotions and soaps to skincare, shampoos, makeup, and more) are linked to cancers, low birth weight, hormone disruptions, endocrine related diseases and more. Further, there is growing concern that these same products when used on children within a specific age range may create health/developmental concerns, such as infertility, that might not be apparent until much later in life. We are not just talking about females here as boys and men are at risk too.
Given that I own a business that curates organic bath, body and beauty products, you might be thinking that of course I would want my readers to think regular products in the beauty/cosmetic industry may be harmful for you, but whether or not you believe this, my goal of this article is that YOU, my readers, have all the information so you can make your own opinions and make your own purchasing decisions. Be informed, but don’t rely on the FDA to protect you from these ingredients (at least not yet).
LET’S START WITH THE FDA
The FDA was established as the result of the Pure Drug and Food Act of 1906 which “prohibited the sale of misbranded or adulterated food and drugs in interstate commerce and laid a foundation for the nation’s first consumer protection agency, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).” (Cited from the US Capitol’s Visitor Center’s website https://visitthecapitol.gov). Take note of two key words, “consumer protection”. In 1938, the FDA’s role was expanded to include the cosmetic industry as a result of Congress passing the Federal Food, Drug & Cosmetic Act of 1938.
I am one who believes people are generally good and want to do the right thing, and I hope I never get so discouraged that I lose that belief. However, I was so incredibly naïve about the FDA, because I truly believed that they were doing their best to protect all consumers in the United States. If you believe this too, then I encourage you to not only watch “Toxic Beauty” and “Not So Pretty”, but also the docuseries “Dopesick” about the opioid crisis. Or even the documentary called “The Bleeding Edge” that focuses on medical devices/products that are implanted in people to help them with an ailment. Watch all those documentaries and see if you still feel the same, and these are only a few of them. In my opinion, something seriously needs to be done with the FDA because there is no consumer protection at all or very little. Drugs, chemicals used in every day products, the food we ingest, the equipment and products put in our bodies to make life better, are as stated in “Toxic Beauty” “innocent until proven guilty”. That’s not consumer protection in my book.
In 2009, at the age of 39, I was diagnosed with breast cancer, that thankfully was caught early because I hadn’t yet had a mammogram. My kids were 8 and 5, and I was newly re-married to my husband, Teryl, who actually was the one who found the lump. Or I should say two cancerous tumors that fused together into one big lump. Because my cancer was fed from hormones both estrogen and progesterone, and was an aggressive form because it overexpressed the protein HER2, my treatment was aggressive. I had a mastectomy, 6 rounds of a chemo cocktail that would put my body into a chemical menopause, and 17 rounds every 3 weeks (a full year) of a drug called Herceptin, which I credit (along with my husband who found the lump) for saving my life. After finishing the 6 rounds of my chemo cocktail, I started a 7 year protocol of a daily maintenance drug called Femara which was supposed to keep me body in a chemical menopause by not only keeping my ovaries from producing estrogen, but also preventing estrogen from forming from natural particles in the body that can bind together and create estrogen. However, it didn’t work. A year after completing the chemo cocktail, I started my period, and my recurrence risk skyrocketed. As a result, I had a full hysterectomy, and when I say full, I mean all my lady parts….uterus, ovaries, fallopian tubes, cervix, and maybe more (anatomy is not my strong suit). I then continued with the remaining 6 years of Femara. All this time and to this day, I cannot take any estrogen (or any hormone) replacement because it could significantly increase my risk of a recurrence. My oncologist told me she was so glad that I had everything removed from the hysterectomy and oophorectomy because my female parts were covered in tumors. All benign, praise God, but a few of those had a high likelihood of turning cancerous in time.
At the time, I didn’t think any of this was environmentally related, other than a fleeting thought when my radiologist made a comment when she did a second biopsy on a benign tumor on my other breast. She said that she is seeing these hormonal cancers occurring in younger women at a higher rate of frequency. I asked her why she thought it was. She said she believed it was something environmentally, whether it was preservatives in products were using or ingesting or plastics and microwaves. She didn’t know because she hadn’t studied it, but she really believed our environment had something to do with it.
The reason I didn’t think it could be environmentally, was because I come from a family that has a long list of cancers at “younger” ages. My paternal aunt passed away from colon cancer at 22, two paternal uncles passed away, one at the age of 44 from thyroid cancer that metastasized (this was before current advancements in thyroid cancer treatments), another at 55 from pancreatic cancer, and my dad himself had prostate cancer at 62. Their mother also passed away from colon cancer, but in her late 80’s. Plus, there was colon cancer with my maternal Grandpa and the less threatening skin cancers with my mom, one of my sisters and myself. Additionally, one of my other sisters had thyroid cancer as well. I believed at the time, and still today, that there is likely something genetic that is tied to all the cancers. However, there was not a history of breast cancer on either side of my family, and I was genetically tested at the time to see if I was positive for any known genetic cancers. I was negative. Five years later, I went to a geneticist and was tested again because new genes had been identified that were linked to genetic cancers, and I want to know if I am a carrier so my kids can be informed. Again, I tested negative on all known cancer genes. In 2020, because of a scare of recurrence, I ended up at MD Anderson in Houston. Once again, among other things, I was tested for all newly identified cancer genes, and once again, I tested negative.
So now, while I still think it is something genetic that has not yet been identified that is the cause of my cancer, in the back of my head, I am starting to wonder. I am starting to wonder if, could it be the abundance of products I’ve used over the decades until I made the switch to organic products in late 2020? I’ve always had drawers full of skincare and makeup since I could start using the products. Or, I wonder, maybe my husband’s thoughts might be truer. That its not a gene passed through generations tied to cancer, but some other gene that makes us more susceptible to cancers when exposed to certain chemicals.
WHAT’S YOUR DEFINITION OF BEAUTY?
I thank God every day that I am still here as I know many are not as fortunate. Beauty means something different to everyone, but to me, it’s looking and feeling my best and living life to its fullest with those I love. Beautiful is the joy of watching my children grow up and make their own way into life as adults. Beautiful are the amazing souls that light up my life every day. Beautiful is that gorgeous sunset that ends even the toughest of days. I can’t wait for the day that all of us can go to stores and know without a shadow of a doubt, that the ingredients we use in every day life, have been thoroughly tested before they are out on the market, so that we never have to wonder if our lives or health and of those we love are at risk. That, my friends, will be BEAUTIFUL.