So, maybe you've heard recently about going toxin-free or low-tox. Maybe you've already adopted this lifestyle. Maybe reading this right now is the first you've ever heard of it. Welcome to you all!! This post is meant to give a really informative, easy-to-follow, non-overwhelming introduction to the whole toxin-free thing. What it is, why it's beneficial, and how to start. Let's begin:
WHAT IS TOXIN-FREE LIVING?
Toxin-free living, in my own words, is essentially a way of living in which you are taking special care to remove environmental toxins from your life and specifically, your home. Toxins are everywhere. Toxins are, frankly, unavoidable at times. However, there are lots of ways to reduce the amount of toxin exposure you have, especially when it comes to the 2 environments you live in: your body and your home.
WHY IS TOXIN-FREE LIVING BENEFICIAL?
Picture a normal-sized bucket. Imagine that you have a hose nearby and you splash some water into the bucket. Just a little water into the bucket doesn't really make that much difference. But then imagine that you repeatedly keep splashing water into that bucket over and over until the water reaches the top. Suddenly, the water spills over the edge. Okay, so now imagine that your health is that bucket, and the water is environmental toxins. Sure, just a splash of toxins here and there may not make a noticeable difference in your health, but over time, the toxin exposure adds up and spills over, causing a reaction in your body. At a minimal level, that reaction could be acne, headaches, anxiety, digestive issues, insomnia, or many other things. At a more detrimental level, that reaction could be infertility, autoimmune disease, or cancer. And yes, if you're wondering, all of those things are linked to environmental toxin exposure. So simply put, WHY should you consider toxin-free living? Because life is short, and we are given one body and one chance to experience life in this world. Reducing your toxic load will keep your bucket from overflowing and will, consequently, give you a healthier, happier, more fulfilling life. And a ton of peace of mind. And if you need just a little more convincing... here's a piece of my story (that you're welcome to skip if you're one of those people that hates a back story on a blog post and just wants the freaking recipe!!! (I understand, lol).
HOW LOW-TOX LIVING SAVED MY LIFE
Here's a picture of me, sick in the hospital with a debilitating autoimmune disease in late 2018:
I was newly married, a senior in college, and honestly? Super unhealthy. We ate lots of Taco Bell and boxed mac n' cheese during those first few months of marriage because let's be honest, I had NO idea how to really cook. Nor how to cook with any vegetables, at that. Our campus had a Chick-fil-a which was a multiple-times-a-week staple for me (and my husband) and I cleaned our little house with bleach and washed our clothes with Tide Pods and dryer sheets and also had scented candles burning 24/7 for those good study vibes. Ya know? Now you might be asking, what's the problem with all that stuff? We'll get there, don't worry.
Well I found myself with what I thought was chronic urinary tract infections which developed into what I thought was a kidney infection, hence the hospital stay. I had severe urethral burning, intense back pain, and fever. Turns out, a couple weeks later, a urologist diagnosed me with a chronic condition called Interstitial Cystitis (IC). He handed me a 3-page brochure about IC and said "good luck!" The reality is, IC is relatively unknown in the medical world, and it honestly happens differently for each person who has it... and there's no cure that people know of.
I was devastated, thinking I would be in horrible pain for the rest of my life. But if you know me at all, you also know I'm incredibly stubborn and determined, so I decided to do allllllll the research and learn literally everything I could in order to at least maintain the nasty disease. So first I started with diet. After doing some reading about what had helped others suffering from IC, it became clear to me that A: I needed to reduce and maybe eliminate gluten in my diet and B: I needed to drink WAY more water.
So I hesitantly tried to go gluten free. As someone who had literally lived on pasta and Burger King chicken fries, this felt like an incredibly daunting and horrible task. And honestly I wasn't that committed to it at first and gave myself tons of "cheat days." But let me tell ya, I realized VERY quickly just how much hard gluten was doing to my body because anytime I had a cheat day, I would immediately start into a flare of IC (imagine sharp shooting pain every time you go pee and a constant burning feeling down there. Ick). So gluten was gone. Done-zo. Forever. And I haven't looked back. Aaaaand I just spent a whole paragraph talking about GF when you really want to hear about toxin-free. Alright, moving on:
In December of 2018 I started having some severe break-outs on my face after using a drugstore face mask that I got for Christmas. I tried a bajillion different lotions, hoping that I would find the *perfect* lotion to soothe my dry, cracking, red cheeks. But every time I applied different lotions, my face would just feel like it was on fire and I'd have to start my search all over. Eventually I realized that I needed to find something for sensitive skin. But sadly, all those lotions also contained alcohol, which I had realized was contributing to the burning sensation. So then somehow I stumbled across a company that made toxin-free face lotion. No sulfates, parabens, alcohols... just seed oils and essential oils and vitamin E. And I could read all the ingredients!!! And it was like my skin cleared up nearly overnight. So then I was hooked.
The snowball effect really caught me and suddenly I was researching all things toxin free. If toxin free skincare could fix my face, maybe other toxin-free things could fix my immune system??? I read all about toxic load in the body and which chemicals were most harmful in normal household products. We started slowly but surely switching out all our skincare, hair care, makeup, and bathroom products to toxin-free brands. We threw away our bleach and Tide Pods and found a toxin-free cleaning solution. We tossed all our scented candles and instead started diffusing essential oils. But even that was just the tip of the iceberg. And guess what? After a year of reducing environmental toxins to the best of our ability... I went into remission. My IC was GONE. I will say that there were a few others factors too, like diet, sleep, exercise, and regular chiropractic therapy. But low-tox living was what started it all. And we will NEVER go back to our old way of living. This way is just soooooo much better. And here's a picture of me in 2021, newly pregnant, in permanent remission, and full of joy:
SO HOW DO I GO TOXIN-FREE?
Okay, here's where I will do my VERY best to boil this down to some simple steps, because this process is long and can feel totally overwhelming. No stress, let's talk this out together.
Learn what ingredients are the most toxic. I'll give you a starter list of things you can probably find in your house: bleach, parabens, ammonia, benzyl benzoate, BPA and BPS, formaldehyde, fire retardants, phthalates, PFAs, PFOA, PFOs, PFCs, VOCs, and many more.
Okay at this point you might already be like WHAT THE HECK are those things and howwwwww on earth am I supposed to remember all of those, I am freaking out, this seems too complicated, etc etc etc.
No stress, remember? I just wanted to show you that it CAN feel super overwhelming. So let's simplify it ever further.
Start with 1 or 2 things at a time. I recommend starting in your bathroom. That's where you keep all the things that go directly onto your skin, and that's the most important place to start- things that directly touch and absorb into your skin. So what should you do? This:
#1: Grab all your bathroom products and put them on the counter. Read the ingredient list. If you see the words "laurel" "sulfate" "fragrance" or "alcohol," it's gotta go. And then if there's also a bunch of other words on there that you can't read or don't recognize, it is time to log onto my favorite website of all time for aspiring toxin-free-ers, www.ewg.org/skindeep. This is The Environmental Working Group's database where you can type in the name of a product or an ingredient and it will tell you exactly how toxic that item or ingredient is. If it's red, you're dead (not really, but stick with me here). If it's green, it's clean. Seriously. They have it all color coded. The toxin-free stuff is green, and the worst offenders are red (the less-worst offenders are orange and the slight offenders are yellow).
#2: Toss the toxic products. It's that simple. Let go of your emotional attachment to that Bath and Body Works perfume you've been using since 2010 my friend! It's time to make healthy changes.
#3: Replace the toxic products with toxin-free ones. Now you may be wondering, how do I even know what the toxin-free alternatives are? Ah, I can help you out there. Once again, take a dive back into www.ewg.org/skindeep and search away! They seriously have THEEEE most incredible website with tonsssss of products that are EWG Verified, meaning they are toxin free!! Safe for you to use!!! Woohoo!!! Or, stay tuned for the next blog post and you'll catch all of my fave brand recommendations.
#4: Move on to another room and repeat the process. For example, in your kitchen, pull out all your cleaners and take a look at the ingredient list. Not sure what's toxic and what's not? Search for it on The Environmental Working Group's database for cleaners and ingredients: https://www.ewg.org/guides/cleaners/. Next, head to the laundry room. (PSA, if you've been using normal grocery store brands in your laundry room, odds are that you'll need to replace it all. Just a heads up. All that stuff is CHALK FULL of nasty chemicals.)
#5: Whenever it's time for you to buy something new (food, clothes, cleaners, containers, furniture, etc), do a Google search on how to buy that thing toxin-free. You'll actually be shocked as you start to learn that toxins are in EVERYTHING. And seriously my best tip of all time is to just take it one thing at a time as it needs to be replaced. Need some new paper towels? If you search, you'll discover that paper towels actually contain formaldehyde (horrible chemical) and you may want to consider buying some more kitchen washcloths or reusable bamboo paper towels instead. Ready to buy a new sweater? If you do a simple google search on toxins in clothing, you may be shocked to discover that polyester is actually terrible for both your air quality and for the environment, so you'll want to opt for organic cotton instead. Same goes for bedding, towels, curtain, pillows, socks, underwear.... you get the point. Furniture contains toxins. Paint contains toxins. Tea bags contain toxins. Aluminum foil is toxic. Non-stick cookware is toxic. But remember... one thing at a time, that's all :)
#6: Don't stress, and don't become legalistic. The point here is to improve your quality of life. If you suddenly learn about all the toxins lurking in your home and start having a panic attack because you're thinking about how much time and money it will cost you to replace it all... calm down :) Remember the bucket analogy? Every single little change you make is a step in the right direction toward reducing the amount of water in your bucket. Is it ideal to have no water in the bucket? Well, yeah. But that's just not really possible! If you wanted to completely avoid toxins you'd need to build a whole new house form toxin-free materials and never leave your house because public places always have lots of chemicals too. And that life would probably suck. And also? Do your best to adopt a mindset that isn't judgmental of others who haven't yet been convinced of the amazing life it is to be toxin-free. They just don't know yet, so don't think less of them <3
#7: Be a lifelong learner, and help educate others on toxin chemicals around them. Don't be annoying about it. But if you have a chance to share about toxin-free living and how it's helped you, share it! So many people would follow in your footsteps if they only knew! So give them a chance to know.
And it's really that simple. Yes, it takes time. Don't expect to go from chemical-full to toxin-free in a week (unless you have like 100 hours and $100,000 to spend right away, lol). It's expensive to throw tons of things away and buy new products! Take it ONE THING AT A TIME. I'm still on the toxin-free journey! Yes, all my bath and beauty products are toxin-free, as are my household cleaners and kitchen items. But not all my furniture is yet, neither are my clothes or all of our paint or all my pillows. IT TAKES TIME. And money! But every single time you switch something toxic for something clean, you're reducing the amount of water in your bucket. And it freaking helps.
All my toxin-free product recommendations are coming in the next blog post. Stay tuned.