Although my work focuses primarily on what we put in to our bodies by way of nutrition, I am very passionate about how we care for ourselves on the outside also. From the day we are born we are lathered in lotions and potions for hygiene reasons, and of course to look and feel good. Considering the amount and variety of products we use over the years, have you ever wondered about the volume and diversity of chemicals you are exposed to – your body washes, deodrants, make-up, nail polish, hair dyes to name a few, are a manufactured combo of various ingredients, many of which are preservatives and artificial additives.

Marra Hensby, owner of My Pure Earth, is on a mission to not only educate you about the downfall and potential dangers of these products, but she also stocks natural versions which are far healthier in the long run. Marra also runs workshops to show how make your own yummy scrubs and lotions at home!

I had the pleasure of interviewing Marra recently, just before the birth of her first baby! Congratulations Marra!

Liza: This time of year people like to ‘detox’ to get the year off to a good start, and for many that means getting rid of toxins that have built up in their body. However, apart from adopting a clean ‘diet’, what are the other main steps that we should take to reduce our exposure?

Marra: What a lot of people don’t realize is that the air quality inside our homes is two to five times more toxic than the air outside. Our homes have hundreds and sometimes thousands of toxic chemicals in them. They are hiding in our personal care products, cleaning products, fabrics on our furniture, the paint on our wall and even the fragrance in the air. It really does bring new meaning to the phrase “get outside for some fresh air”.

As part of your detoxification this year, take a look at the products you bring into your home other than food. Think about what you splash on your floors, spray on your windows and rub into your skin.

Liza: They say our skin absorbs many toxins through our pores – is this really the case and can you put this into perspective in some way for our readers?

Marra: Yes, our skin is our largest organ and since it is porous, it absorbs whatever we put on it. Just think about nicotine or birth control patches. These are a perfect example of how effectively our skin can absorb products placed on our skin and how quickly they enter the blood stream.

There have been studies published in the American Journal of Public Health that have looked into our skins absorption rates. One study found that when contaminated water was placed on our skin, we absorbe 64% the amount of contaminants compared to if we drank it. Studies have found that the skin on our face is far more permeable than broad body surfaces and that the skin on our underarms and genitalia has an absorption rate of 100%.

Liza: In personal care items, what are the worst offenders – the main chemicals we should avoid and why?

Marra: It’s hard to tell which chemicals are the worst offenders because it all depends on the level of exposure that we have to them. I prefer to tackle the problem by identifying the ‘easiest things to remove from the home’ or the ‘low hanging fruit’. This is the best way for people to start detoxifying their home as many of these items won’t be missed or it’s easy to replace them with healthier, more natural options.

1 – Air fresheners and perfumes.

Anything that you breathe in or spray onto your skin eventually ends up in your bloodstream. Synthetic smells or anything that lists “perfume” as an ingredient can have up to 300 chemicals in it. They also contain phthalates which have been linked to birth defects, respiratory difficulties and even liver cancer. Instead, choose products that are scented with natural products such as essential oils. You can diffuse essential oils in your home, purchase candles that are scented with them and even use them in a body spray to give yourself a fresh boost.

2 – Take a closer look at how you clean your home and the products you use.

There are no regulations in Singapore for cleaning products. Companies don’t have to list the ingredients and there are no rules about what they can claim. They can use phrases such as ‘all natural’, ‘eco’ and ‘chemical free’ without having their products tested. Many of these products contain phthalates as discussed above.

Products that claim to be ‘antibacterial’ will most likely contain triclosan which was used as a pesticide in America in the 60s. Some studies have found that it alters hormone regulation and promotes the growth of drug-resistant bacteria. Quarternary Ammonium Compounds (or Quats) are similar to Triclosan as they are used to add an antibacterial element to cleaning products and long term exposure has been linked to asthma, especially in young children.

In reality, the list of chemicals found in cleaning products is extremely long and it would take hours to go through them all and discuss their health impacts. I recommend for people to choose one or two products to start with and replace them with a more natural solution. Maybe you make these products yourself, or find a trusted brand to buy from. Some of my favorites in Singapore include: Ecover and Seventh Generation.

 

3 – Cosmetics

From shampoo to lipsick, the average woman in America applies 12 personal care items each day and the average man up to six. According to the Environmental Working Group, this adds up to roughly 126 unique ingredients in our bathroom alone. Look for cosmetics with mineral-based pigments and natural oils. Choose soaps and shampoos that are free of synthetic fragrances and chemicals such as triclosan. I buy most of my toiletries from iHerb who have many products to choose from and offer free delivery to Singapore.

 

4 – In ‘detoxing’ our personal care items, what do you suggest is tackled first.

Think about what you have the most exposure to. What do you use most often and in higher quantities? For example, if you use body lotion every day and rub it into your entire body this would be a higher priority than finding a natural eye-shadow. For me, that means my shampoo, conditioner, body lotion and deodorant are my main concerns.

You can experiment with making your own, or there are lots of great companies out there that make natural options. Just remember to give these products a chance. Just like with chemical filled products, we usually have to try and few before we find one that suits us.

 

5 – You’re expecting your first baby very soon, congratulations, and many of the readers are young moms.

No doubt babies are more susceptible to toxins and we tend to cover them in anything from talc, to nappy rash cream, and other skin care items – mainly due to pressure from marketing. Is this really necessary, or do you think we should just let their skin ‘breathe’ naturally?

This is such a sensitive topic. As excited as I am to become a first time mom, I’ve also found that motherhood is filled with so much guilt! There are so many decisions to be made and sooooo many opinions out there. For me, I’m sticking to the same philosophy with my baby as I use already in my everyday life. I make what I can using basic all natural ingredients and when I do have to buy products I go for the most natural option I can find.

I really believe that the world of marketing has made our lives as consumers way too complicated.

We buy a ton of products that lead to issues that require more products to fix them and we get caught in a nasty cycle. Baby products are a perfect example. Many new ‘fancy diapers’ (as I like to call them) come with all kinds of bells and whistles such as extra absorbency and odor capturing super powers. Many of these features are made possible with the use of chemicals.

Babies are extremely sensitive to these chemicals so further issues occur such as diaper rash etc. Now I’m not saying all diaper rash is a chemical reaction, but studies have shown that this can be the case. Also, many pediatricians that I have spoken to also warn against the use of commercially bought baby wipes for the same reason.

So how what are some consumer choices that we can make to limit our babies exposure to these chemicals? Opt for a chemical free non-bleached diapers such as the ones made by Seventh Generation. Brands such as the Honest Company are also starting to come out with decent options.

You can also just use a spray bottle with water and a cloth instead of baby wipes to keep things simple. If you are looking for an all natural product line for other personal care items for your baby, I love ‘Earth Mama Angel Baby’. They are one of the most natural lines that I have found and they are sold in shops in Singapore. Plus I don’t find them painfully expensive.

 

6 – What are the items you recommend for babies and young kids in reducing their toxic overload.

Personal care products are #1! If you want to take it a step further I recommend looking at their bed as this is where they spend the most time. Many mattresses contain fire retardants and a list of other potentially harmful chemicals. So opt for a chemical free mattress made from natural fibers and organic cotton bedding. The third priority for me would be looking at the toys babies are using as many of these end up in their mouths.

 

7 – And for the expecting and new moms other there?

Don’t get too stressed out about all of this stuff. It can be very overwhelming and at the end of the day we are all just doing the best that we can. Your priorities should be lots of cuddles with your little one and lots of rest for you 🙂

Marra Hensby

Marra has been working within the environmental management and sustainability arena for over six years. Having started her career in North America, she has since travelled to Australia and South East Asia to shape large multinationals’ corporate responsibility policies working with global brands such as Home Depot and Williams-Sonoma.

Marra left the corporate world in 2015 to start Balanced Impact, a Singapore based consulting company working with SME’s, NGOs and entrepreneurs to assist them with shaping and implementing their environmental strategies. She also founded My Pure Earth, which focuses on inspiring people to live a more sustainable, low-impact lifestyle in their homes.

With a background in environmental management and sustainability, and armed with a Masters degree in Environmental Management, Marra is working to inspire everyone from large corporations to small families to rethink how they can reduce their carbon footprint and live a healthier, chemical free lifestyle.

 

Liza Rowan

Holistic Nutritionist

When not not busy in my favourite role as mother to my two boys,  I dedicate my time to educate, motivate and inspire us all to lead healthier, happier lives. This involves hosting Nutrition courses (in-class and online), corporate wellness talks, workshops and when I have time, private consultations.

 You can follow me on one or more of the following channels:

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