Know This Love: Chemicals in my hair

This morning in the shower, as I reached for the shampoo bottle, I found myself wondering how many dangerous chemicals there were inside of it and whether I was in the process of slowly poisoning myself.

It wasn’t the first time it had crossed my mind. It wasn’t even the 20th.

I’ve been obsessive about taking care of my body for years now — ever since my health took a downward spiral nearly eight years ago.

Since then, I’ve changed the way I eat.

Instead of dairy products, processed food, and processed sugar, I eat raw avocados, organic apples, oranges, and spirulina. The water I drink is purified and fluoride-free.

I’ve changed the way I think, too.

I no longer allow stressful thoughts to run rampant through my mind and wreak havoc on my body. Instead, I do my best to be conscious of my thoughts and my emotions at all moments.

I meditate and even practice “mirror work” — looking myself in the mirror each day and saying “I love you.”

I’ve changed the way I sleep: I have a spine-friendly pillow that I adore, I keep the room cool, and always have some white noise.

I’ve changed the way I live: I do my best to keep a good sitting posture — though admittedly I’ve been lacking in that area sometimes —  to stretch my muscles, and to take barefoot walks on the earth.

And with all these conscious changes, my health has improved drastically. I feel pretty good!

Yet the one area that hasn’t changed has been my hair products. Now, granted, I’m a straight guy who doesn’t even comb his hair most days (I don’t need to), so “hair products” basically means whatever shampoo and conditioner happens to be on the shower ledge.

Still, I use them every day, so if I’m so conscious with everything else, shouldn’t I be thinking about what I put on my head?

A little later in the day, I stumbled upon an article in the New York Times about the industrial-chemical approval process in the EPA. Or rather, the complete lack of one.

Here’s the thing:  Chemical companies can do whatever they want. Unlike drug companies, which have to at least go through clinical trials with their products before they try to peddle them to the public, chemical companies can use the chemicals they want without prior approval by the EPA.

When I read that, I did a double-take. Since I started learning about health and wellness, I haven’t trusted regulatory agencies to keep me safe, but I never suspected it was this bad.

In fact, all chemical companies are required to do is provide the federal government with some information on the chemical in question.

It’s up to the EPA, with its limited budget and constant threats of shuttering by the congressional GOP, to do its own research and discover a problem before they can even begin to take action to stop the chemical’s use.

And they only have 90 days to do it.  If they don’t have evidence in that time-frame, too bad — it goes into production.

The problem is, once the chemicals enter the market, they’re even harder to ban. Think BPA (bisphenol A). Despite evidence of its harm, the EPA still hasn’t banned it from production.

Even though BPA — like many chemicals still in use in the United States — has been banned in the European Union.

Or consider triclosan — a germ-killing chemical found in everything from hand-soaps to toothpaste to silverware.  Research has linked it to endocrine disruption, and now, reduced muscle function.

A single dose of triclosan, for example, caused a 25 percent reduction in heart muscle strength, and an 18 percent reduction in strength of grip.

Oh, and by the way, the FDA says that soaps containing the chemical confer no added benefit compared to conventional soap.

Now for one of the biggest doozies of them all. Remember asbestos? How many people that made sick and how many decades it was allowed to be used?

Of course you do. If you ever stay home from work and watch crappy day-time TV, you can probably still catch some law firm advertising class action lawsuits relating to it.

Asbestos, in fact, is one of only five chemicals that have been banned by the EPA after they were already in production.  Five.

And of all the industrial chemicals used today — the NYT article estimates it at 85,000 — only a slim minority have gone through any real testing.

This standard is wryly summarized as “safe until proven dangerous.”

Now, we can either grumble about this and resign ourselves to this, or we can make small changes that we as consumers can, the kind of changes which, collectively, have a massive impact on the market:

Use natural alternatives to toxic cleaning products. If you don’t want to pay for the organic brands, make them yourself.  Most require just a couple of cheap household items.

If you drink from a jug or water bottle, find one by a reputable manufacturer that makes theirs without BPA.

Stop eating processed food. It’s easy to get a great meal right out of the produce aisle, without spending two hours in the kitchen.  (Raw avocado with sea salt, anyone?)

And for God’s sake, don’t buy into the propaganda that if we take action to keep ourselves and the environment safe from harmful chemicals, that we’ll destroy the economy.

To that I reply with a quotation from Dr. Guy McPherson.  The words within the brackets are my addition:

“If you really think the environment [or your health] is less important than the economy, try holding your breath while you count your money.”

As for hair products, well, I’m about to do some research on a price-savvy replacement. It’s time for me to get rid of the final piece of chemical crap in my life.

Matthew Stensland-Bos explores consciousness, love, wellness, and healing in Know This Love, a weekly SFBay opinion column, as well as on his website, Conscious and Nutritious.