Toxic Overload: Why You’re Not Feeling Better on an Elimination Diet
You’ve started your elimination diet and you’re well on your way to identifying food sensitivities and feeling better.
But, what if you’re not feeling better?
You’ve done the MRT or you’ve constructed your list of inflammatory foods and you’re following it to a “T” but still feeling lousy.
Remember, sometimes symptoms become worse before they get better (but keep in mind any symptoms you have should be mild, if they interfere with your daily life or work please contact me or your health care professional!)
Your Skin Can Have Sensitivities Too!
Time to dig a little deeper.
Take off your diet detective hat and put on your skin detective hat.
Your skin is your biggest organ.
And it absorbs the things we put on it.
Think about all the products we put on our skin each day.
Shower gels, shampoos, soaps, lotions, deodorants, makeup, sunscreens, chapstick, the list goes on.
You’re careful about what goes into your mouth, but what about what goes on your skin?
If you’re on an elimination diet and you’re not feeling better it may be time to consider what you’re putting on your skin is impacting you.
Your lotions and potions may not be (directly) affecting your gut, but they can certainly be affecting your overall health.
Of course, taking a good, hard look at some of your personal care products is a good idea anyway.
All these things- and the components of them- are absorbed by the skin.
If you’re loading your skin up with toxic compounds or compounds derived from items you have sensitivities to, those compounds are finding their way into your body.
You bet those products impact how your feel once they're in your body.
How concerned should you be?
Our skin is exposed to toxins daily from the environment, our personal care products and other assaults.
And, for the most part, we're fine.
Researchers have found kids in Oakland, California have higher lead exposure than kids in Flint, Michigan.
While the kids in Flint were exposed through their drinking water, kids in Oakland were exposed through lead based paint dispersed in the air and dirt and, consequently, absorbed by their skin.
Another study found intact parabens (likely from deodorant or other personal care products) in breast cancer tissue.
Parabens are preservatives and have been found to mimic estrogen in the body- even in small amounts parabens have been linked to breast cancer.
So, How Much Does Our Skin Actually Absorb?
Absorption, simply put, is when something is transported through the skin and makes it into the bloodstream.
Known as cutaneous absorption or external absorption, this includes absorption through the skin and mucous membranes.
On the whole, our skin is designed to be a fairly impenetrable barrier, which is most definitely a good thing.
But, plenty of topical medications exist which are designed to be applied to the skin and make their way into our body: think of nicotine patches, pain medications, estrogen and testosterone patches, creams and gels.
Clearly, some our skin is not entirely impenetrable.
However, because the skin is a living, dynamic organ, many variables are at play here- our personal chemical makeup, age, skin color, skin dryness, where a product is applied, the chemical makeup of the product, the amount of product and more all affect how much a product is absorbed by the skin.
Here's How Your Skin Absorbs Toxins
You put a product on your skin, if it doesn’t evaporate or get rubbed off, it makes its way into the topmost skin layer: the outermost layer of the epidermis known as the stratum corneum- a layer of dead skin cells designed to protect you.
It may go all the way through the stratum corneum to the living epidermis or even into the vascular network.
As it journeys through the skin, a product may remain the same or it may be broken down or changed during the absorption process.
This means skin products can appear in the body as parts of the whole as opposed to appearing in their original, whole form.
The next layer, the living epidermis, however, is fairly adept at blocking out those fat based compounds.
So, in theory, a product would be blocked by one or the other, right?
Well, if it was just water or just oil, sure. However, most products are a little bit of both (and cosmetic companies are tricky).
When things are amphiphilic (they love both water and oil) they are able to sneak a little bit deeper into your skin.
Things like lotion.
Lotion, which is amphiphilic, is designed not to sit on the top of your skin but to absorb into it quickly and completely.
Of course, many products are made up of molecules too big to simply absorb into your skin.
But, again, cosemetics companies are tricky.
Certain ingredients added to cosemetics can actually break down those large molecules making pieces small enough to enter into your skin.
Still other ingredients can increase skin's permeability, making it easier for chemicals to pass through.
One common ingredient that does both?
And ethanol is in almost everything- from skin care products to perfumes, aftershave to cosmetics (go look, I’ll wait).
Ethanol (alcohol) breaks down the skin’s barrier making it more porous and at the same time breaking up chemicals into smaller, more absorbable pieces, thus increasing the absorption of chemicals in cosmetics and other personal care items.
Side note: the same thing happens with hand sanitizer- it breaks down your hands' natural barriers allowing more potentially problematic ingredients in.
Hand sanitzer actually causes your body to absorb more chemicals. Yikes!
The bottom line?
Not everything is 100% absorbed by the skin, but many things are absorbed to a point (especially when their ability to be absorbed has been increased by ingredients like ethanol).
Your personal make-up, the product and all of its constituents can impact absorption rates and amounts.
What Happens When Your Skin Absorbs Harmful Things?
Although the skin is tough, chemicals and ingredients in skin care products can make it down into our skin and then our blood streams.
Of course, sometimes they don’t even need to make it that far.
Sometimes they can cause irritation when applied to the skin itself.
Either way, if you’re not feeling better on an elimination diet, take look at your personal care products.
What are you looking for?
Depending on your personal sensitivities and allergies, it can be different things.
Personal care products can contain ingredients derived from milk, eggs, avocado, peanuts, sesame seeds and other nuts/oils.
Remember, what you put on your skin is absorbed: If you have any issues eating these foods and/or chemicals, chances are allowing them into your body via the skin will also create problems.
This is especially true if you have any skin issues- from itchy dry skin to eczema.
Always read the ingredient labels to make sure your favorite products are free of potential irritants.
Check out the Environmental Working Group's Skin Deep website to identify sneaky names for ingredients like almond oil (simply type “almond” into the search bar and a list of names for ingredients made from almonds will pop up).
Foods to Watch Out For
if you’ve got an intolerance to coconut and you’ve got any skin issues or you’re just not feeling amazing yet, be sure to scrutinize all your personal care products. Coconut is a predominant ingredient in personal care items.
What are you looking for? Lauryl or Laureth. As in sodium laureth sulfate or lauryl sulfate.
If you’ve got a sensitivity to almonds you’ll want to look out for almond oil in your shampoos, body washes and lotions.
Food coloring isn't just in foods. If you’ve got a sensitivity to any of the food colorings look for FD&C blue, green, red or yellow on labels for your personal care products as well.
If it's going on your skin, it’s going into your body. Be sure to check your mouthwash, toothpaste and others (click the products tab on the left).
What are you looking for?
- Anything that says FD&C and then a color.
- Carmine, carminic acid, tartrazine, erythrosine, indigotine and anything with a color in the name.
- "Lake pigments"- these are a type of dye made from FD&C colors.
Don’t have a sensitivity to FD&C Blue #1? You may still want to avoid it- this dye is often petroleum based.
Lecithin- if you have a sensitivity to soy lecithin check out your moisturizers (especially facial moisturizers), chapstick and sunscreen (for other products containing lecithin, look here).
What are you looking for? Soy or soya lecithin.
Products often use soy lecithin as an emulsifier. It helps to create a barrier between your skin and the environment.
This ingredient can be found all over in your personal care products, especially cosmetics, hair care and wipes.
People have reported hypersensitivities to it with topical use and studies have linked polysorbate 80 to respiratory tract, skin and eye irritation as well.
What are you looking for? polysorbate 80, sorbitans, mono-9-octadecenoate poly (oxy-1,2-ethanediyl) derivatives, polyoxyethylene (20) sorbitan monooleate, sorbimacrogol oleate 300 and more.
If polysorbate 80 is a problem, avoid polysorbate 60 as well- they’re closely linked.
If you’ve got arthritis and you’ve removed nightshade vegetables you may be missing a piece of the puzzle if you’re still smoking. Or using other forms of tobacco. Tobacco contains traces of solanine and if you’re still using it it can prevent you from getting better.
Sorbic Acid- another food additive that goes into your personal care products, especially cosmetics (does it bother anyone else the same chemicals in these lotions can also be found in my food?). The Environmental Working Group notes sorbic acid is a potential skin toxicant or allergen.
But Wait! There's More...
It goes deeper than just identifying items you may have a sensitivity to.
We're discussing taking a real look at the ingredient label and deciding if those products are truly the best choice for you, your skin and your health.
If you have any skin issues and you’re not getting better, it may be a good idea to dig deeper into your skin care hygiene routine.
Because the list doesn’t end with just ingredients you have sensitivities to.
The skin care industry uses a variety of shady ingredients that wreak havoc on your body, increasing toxic load and sending your immune system into overdrive.
Knowing what you're putting on your skin and being an informed consumer can make a world of difference in how you feel.
What are you looking for?
Heavy metals, chemicals and toxins.
You wouldn’t eat formaldehyde, why would you want to put it on your skin?
But chances are, you do.
On a daily basis.
And it's not just formaldehyde.
The average person is exposed to over 100 chemicals before they even leave their house in the morning.
Little wonder you’re feeling lousy, isn’t it?
Keep reading to discover what else you should be wary of on an ingredient label.
Chemicals to Watch Out For
Triclosan was banned from hand soaps by the FDA in 2016, but this antimicrobial agent is still found in body wash, mouthwash, toothpaste, deodorant, dish soap and cosmetics. It’s not essential to any of them, and the Mayo Clinic recommends avoiding it.
It can lead to endocrine disruptions (which means it messes up your hormones) inhibit your body’s ability to synthesize fatty acids, reduce testosterone levels and degrade T4 (the thyroid hormone). Triclosan is also an environmental toxin.
The FDA requires all cosmetics and personal care items have their ingredients listed, so, in theory, identifying phthalates should be fairly straight forward.
Except for one thing: companies are not required to list ingredients in “fragrance”. And phthalates are often used in perfumes and as part of “fragrance”.
Accoriding to the FDA's website:
“the regulations do not require the listing of the individual fragrance ingredients; therefore, the consumer will not be able to determine from the ingredient declaration if phthalates are present in a fragrance.”
They go on to note the labeling act doesn’t apply to products used exclusively in salons or by professionals either.
According to an article in The Guardian phthalates, a plasticizer, have been linked to ADHD and other behavioral issues including autism, cancers (specifically breast cancer), obesity and diabetes, low IQ and development issues, and reproductive issues.
Another preservative, parabens (often found as methylparaben, propylparaben, butylparaben, ethylparaben, isopropylparaben, isobutylparaben, phenylparaben, benzylparaben and pentylparaben) can be found in cosmetics, toothpaste, lotions/moisturizers, hair care products, shaving products, some deodorants and occasionally even food.
While the FDA declares them safe in small amounts, they are rapidly absorbed into the body and seem to have a cumulative effect in the body.
When parabens start to build up they may start to disrupt hormone function by mimicking estrogen and binding to estrogen receptors in the body (increasing the risk of breast cancer and other reproductive problems) according to Scientific American.
In fact, the EU had enough concerns about their safety they banned certain parabens in way back in 2014.
Polyethylene Glycols (PEG's)
Polyethylene Glycols (PEG’s for short), also known as polyethylene oxide (PEO) or polyoxyethylene (POE), are hydrophilic compounds that work as “penetration enhancers, especially in topical dermatological preparations”, these babies are actually designed to permeate deeper into your skin.
They’re made from condensed ethylene oxide, a toxic gas that “possesses several physical and health hazards” including breathing problems, headache and nausea in small, or occasional, doses and cancer, DNA mutations, neurotoxicity and reproductive problems with chronic exposure.
However, PEG’s themselves are classified as “safe”. The caveat being, a myriad of different PEG's exist, many of which have NOT been studied for safety.
Another issue with PEG’s is their level of purity vs. impurity- common impurities like ethylene oxide, propylene oxide and others are highly volatile and known to be carcinogenic.
PEG’s are found in cosmetics, lotions, soaps/detergents, wood preservatives, textiles, rubber, cleaning agents, laxatives (like Miralax) and more.
The FDA does not restrict the use of formaldehyde in skin care products, despite it being a known carcinogen. Furthermore, they don’t restrict preservatives which can give way to formaldehyde in products.
Formaldehyde is found in one in every five cosmetics.
Even at the small amount found in those cosmestics, formaldehyde can be dangerous.
If you straighten your hair, be aware that formaldehyde derived ingredients are also a common ingredient in keratin hair smoothing treatments.
What are you looking for? According to the Environmental Working Group formaldehyde can be present in products listed as any of the following:
- DMDM hydantoin
- Imidazolidinyl urea
- Diazolidinyl urea
- Bronopol (2-bromo-2-nitropropane-1,3-diol )
The American Cancer Society recommends staying away from:
- Formic aldehyde
- Methyl aldehyde
- Methylene glycol
- Methylene oxide
Anything with "Fragrance" or "Parfum"
From lotions to body wash and soaps items containing "fragrance" can be potential irritants to your skin (and can be made up dozens or more potentially toxic and carcinogenic chemicals).
If you find yourself missing the fragrance, add your own fragrance with essential oils.
(This includes air fresheners- to make your own air freshener mix 15-20 drops of essential oils with 1 cup water and 2 TBSP rubbing alcohol or vodka and place in a spray bottle)
Fabric Softeners & Dryer Sheets
These are often filled with synthetic chemicals and fragrances. Instead, try using white vinegar.
Add ½ cup white vinegar to your washers fabric softener dispenser or add it to the final rinse.
Not only is it cheaper than fabric softener, it doesn’t have any synthetic or potentially harmful chemicals and, bonus, the vinegar whitens and brightens your clothes.
Worried about the smell? The vinegar smell dissipates after drying- which means your clothes won’t smell like vinegar, I promise!
On to the good news!
Plenty of options, free from these questionable ingredients, not only exist, they are readily available.
This list is not even close to exhaustive, so be sure to check out your favorite products!
- Toothpaste: Herbal Choice Mari Natural Toothgel, CloSYS Sulfate Free Toothpaste (great for sensitive teeth)
- Alcohol Free Mouthwash: CloSYS Mouthwash (also flouride free)
- Soap: Kiss My Face Olive Oil Soap
- Lotion: Yes to Carrots Daily Moisture Body Lotion
- Shampoo: Clean Kids Naturally Tropical Orange Burst Shampoo or Moroccan Method Heavenly Essence Shampoo
- Laundry Detergent: Give soap nuts a try!
- Makeup: Caren Minerals and Beautycounter (some of their products do have dyes, read labels carefully if you're sensitive to dyes)
Being an informed consumer and reading ingredient labels on everything can go a long way towards keeping you healthy.
Whether you’re on an elimination diet or not, reading product labels is always a good idea!