Choosing Green: How to do a Chemical Cleanse

by | Hormone Balance, Lifestyle, Toxin Free | 0 comments

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Are you ready to step into the green and do a spring chemical cleanse?

Environmental toxins have been top-of-mind for many people after a Norfolk Southern train, loaded with hazardous materials, derailed in East Palestine, Ohio on February 3rd. East Palestine residents were understandably distressed that toxic chemicals were released during the derailment—and the short- and long-term health consequences. Nationwide, the derailment raised questions about the frequency of such incidents, the soundness of our infrastructure, a sluggish Federal response, and our vulnerability—as Americans—to being unwittingly exposed to toxic chemicals that affect our health and well-being.

Yet, as sobering as this derailment incident has been, the vast majority of toxins to which we are exposed, are through the products we choose to use EVERY DAY.

Did you know…

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has over 85,000 chemicals listed on its inventory of substances that fall under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA)? But…even the EPA is unable to ascertain which chemicals are in the marketplace now and how they are actually being used (1)!

That said…while we cannot control external events, like toxic train derailments, lax EPA standards or corporate negligence—we can be mindful of making different choices for ourselves. Spring, a season of renewal and rebirth, is a perfect time to do an external “spring cleanse” that lessens our body burden, the amount of chemical toxins accumulated in the body via ingestion, inhalation or absorption through the skin (2).

I know…the thought of changing out our favorite foods and/or products can feel overwhelming. But when you know better, the goal, hopefully, is to do better. For me, personally, integrating non-toxic choices into my lifestyle has been an ongoing decade-plus journey. Educating yourself is the first step. Then, start small—with basic, everyday items—and build from there.

1. Pesticides | Food

What they are:

Pesticides are chemical substances—in the form of herbicides, insecticides, and fungicides, rodenticides, bactericides and larvicides—used in commercial agriculture to protect plants from weeds, pests or diseases.

Types + Potential Adverse Effects:

Conventionally raised crops are often sprayed with synthetic pesticides, including:

1. Organochlorines. The most infamous organochlorine pesticide? DDT. Used after World War II, DDT was officially banned in 1972 because it caused human health harms: breast cancer and other cancers; male infertility, developmental delays, and nervous system and liver damage (3). However, DDT is a forever chemical that persists to this day—and it is still used in some countries.

Considered an endocrine disruptor, other organochlorine pesticides include dieldrin, endosulfan, heptachlor, dicofol and methoxychlor (4, 5). Chronic exposure to organochlorine pesticides is associated with adverse effects on the liver and kidneys (6).

2. Organophosphates. This class of pesticides includes malathion, parathion and dimethoate, some known for their endocrine-disrupting potential (7).

One of best known and widely used organophosphates is glyphosphate, a.k.a., Roundup, which is widely sprayed on commercial crops, like wheat, as well as on golf courses and home lawns and gardens.

Glyphosphate (Roundup) is linked to many adverse health effects, including: ADHD, gluten intolerance, hypertension, diabetes, heart disease, stroke, autism, kidney failure, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases and cancer (8). As an endocrine disruptor, glyphosphate mimics estrogen and is associated with increased risk of breast cancer (9).

3. Carbamates. A class that includes aldicarb, carbofuran and ziram, carbamates demonstrate endocrine-disrupting activity, and they are associated with reproductive disorders, increased risk for dementia and non-Hodgkins lymphoma (10)

4. Triazines. This category of pesticides, which includes atrazine, simazine and ametryn, is associated endocrine-disrupting effects and reproductive toxicity, including increased breast cancer incidence (11).

5. Pyrethroids. These include fenvalerate, permethrin and sumithrin. Studies suggest negative reproductive effects including DNA damages in sperm (12). Exposure to pyrethroids, like fenvalerate and sumithrin, may be linked to reproductive dysfunction, developmental impairment and cancer (13).

6. Neonicotinoids. This relatively new class of systemic insecticides—imidacloprid, thiacloprid and thiamethoxam—has negatively affected honeybees and is associated with reproductive dysfunction in birds and mammals. Researchers have found that neonicotinoids also increase the expression of the enzyme aromatase, which contributes to breast cancer (14).

Where they are:

Pesticide residue can be found in:
–Conventionally grown fruits and vegetables
–Conventionally raised meats
–Dairy products, like milk, cheese, butter, sour cream, yogurt (15)
–Processed foods
–Fast food

What YOU can do:

–Eat organic produce. Leafy greens, like spinach, kale, collards, mustard greens and lettuces are highest in pesticide residue.
–Eat organic fruit. Strawberries (and other berries), apples and peaches retain the highest levels of pesticide residue.
–Eat organic and/or 100% grass-fed and grass-finished meats and poultry as much as possible.
–Rethink the amount of dairy you consume.
–Eat more organic whole foods (and I’m not talking about “organic” Oreos!)—and less fast food and processed foods out of bags, boxes and cans.
–Get support around making healthier, toxin-free food and lifestyle choices. Schedule a free consult HERE.

2. Sulfates | Shampoo

What they are:
Sulfates are made of sulfur-containing mineral salts. Sulfates are surfactants, molecules that can attract both oil and water. One end of the molecule attaches to oily dirt; the other end attaches to water. Sulfates can lift grease and grime off our skin and scalp, creating an “emulsion” that enables an easy rinse and leaves our hair and skin feeling “clean” (16). The two most widely used sulfates are SLS and SLES. Both are inexpensive and pervasive surfactants, synthetic detergents that serve as cleansers, degreasers and foaming agents.


Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS). Sodium Laureth sulfate (SLES). There are more, but these are the two most commonly used sulfates.

SLS and SLES are chemically similar. SLES is derived from SLS and further undergoes a process called ethoxylation to become SLES. ‌

The result of ethoxylation is two-fold: SLES is a less harsh chemical than SLS. However, the same ethoxylation process that makes SLES less irritating also exposes it to 1,4-dioxane, a carcinogen (because of its ability to damage DNA); 1, 4-dioxane is also a known by-product of ethoxylation (17).

Although SLES must be purified to remove 1,4-dioxane, there is no way of actually knowing if SLES has been purified or not (because this process is not legislated).

Where they are:

Marketing campaigns have programmed us to believe that a “good” shampoo produces a foamy lather, but that foaminess is created by SLS or SLES.

In addition to shampoo, you’ll also find SLS and SLES in the following:

Hair conditioners. Soaps (bar and liquid). Bubble bath. Bath bombs. Facial cleansers. Shaving cream. Toothpaste. Mouthwash. Body wash. Laundry soap. Dish soap. Household cleaning products. Beware of greenwashing terms like “derived from coconuts” or “comes from coconuts”—it’s still SLS/SLES!

Potential Adverse Effects:

The skin is our largest organ and serves as our first line of defense. This is where surfactants, like SLS and SLES, can be problematic, especially in susceptible individuals.

In one study, German researchers found that among 1,600 patients who were tested for reactivity to SLS, 42% (668 subjects) had an irritant skin reaction (18). A small sample study found that regular exposure to SLS over 6 non-consecutive weeks (103 days) caused contact dermatitis; once participants were no longer exposed to SLS, their skin irritation stopped (19).

The European Medicines Agency acknowledges that while sensitivity to SLS can vary based on concentration, contact time and patient population: “SLS is a moderately toxic material with acute toxic effects including irritation to the skin, eyes, mucous membranes, upper respiratory tract, and stomach.” (20).

Who should avoid SLS / SLES?

Personally, I avoid all shampoos, soaps and toothpastes containing SLS and SLES. The Cosmetic Ingredient Review (CIR) deems SLS and SLES generally “safe”. But we are all physiologically different: let your body be your guide.

Consider avoiding if you have:

–Sensitive skin
–Dry, itchy and/or flaking scalp
–Color-treated hair, damaged hair
–Hair loss

What YOU can do:

–Go native. Wash your hair with baking soda as a “shampoo”—there will be no “lather”! Rinse hair with a mixture of 1-2 tablespoons raw apple cider vinegar in 1 cup filtered water.
–Choose sulfate-free shampoos, conditioners, and other personal care products.
–Get support around making healthier, toxin-free food and lifestyle choices. Schedule a free consult HERE.

3. Parabens | Lotions

What they are:

Parabens are a family of related chemicals that are commonly used in cosmetics as preservatives to prevent the growth of bacteria, fungus and mold. Parabens may also be used in foods and drugs (21).


Methylparaben. Propylparaben. Butylparaben. Ethylparaben. Isobutylparaben. Isopropylparaben. “Parahydroxybenzoate” is another name for “paraben”.

Where they are (22, 23):

Lotions. Moisturizers. Eye creams. Makeup. Hair care products. Shaving products. Processed foods (to prevent spoilage). Processed food packaging (to prevent spoilage; think fast food wrapping and takeout food containers).

Potential Adverse Effects:

Parabens are classified as an endocrine- disrupting chemical (EDC) and have been linked to reproductive harm. Why? As a xenoestrogen, parabens are synthetic compound(s) that mimic the hormone estrogen by binding to—and activating—estrogen receptors (24). As a result, your body reacts negatively to this fake “estrogen”. Parabens can disrupt both female and male reproductive system functioning.

Parabens are easily and quickly absorbed into the skin (25). Parabens are linked with:

–In women: Decreased fertility (26).
–In women: Interference with birth outcomes, including increased risk of pre-term birth and low birth weight (27).
–In men: Decline in sperm count and motility (28, 29).
–In men: Increase in sperm DNA damage (30).
–In men: Lower testosterone levels (31).
–Skin irritation / reactivity. An allergy or sensitivity to parabens can manifest as itchy skin, redness, redness, flaking or hives (32).
–Increased risk of developing malignant melanoma due to estrogenic effects of parabens (33).
–Increased risk of certain cancers; in particular, breast cancer (34).
–Accelerated growth of breast cancer cells (35).

*Note: In a 2004 British study that tested for parabens in human breast cancer tumors, researchers found traces of 5 different parabens in 19 out of 20 tumors (36). Although this did not prove a definitively causal relationship between parabens and breast cancer, this study was significant in that it revealed how parabens can penetrate skin and remain in breast tissue (37, 38).

In a 2019 study of Iranian women with breast cancer, researchers reported that some risk factors were stimulated by parabens. The study found that the amount of parabens consumed increased breast cancer risk—this was an especially significant association for women with a family history of breast cancer (39).

Who should avoid parabens?

–Pregnant women
–Couples trying to get pregnant
–Anyone struggling with hormone imbalances (that’s virtually everyone today)

What YOU can do:

–Use unrefined, organic coconut oil to moisturize your body.

*In the past, I had tried using “dermatologist recommended” Cetaphil for my dry skin, but it always felt slick with an icky chemical feel. When I began reading the labels of personal care products, I realized that, in using Cetaphil, I was saturating my body in synthetic chemicals. Plus, I never felt truly moisturized. I have now been using organic coconut oil as my all-over body “moisturizer” for over a decade and have found it soothing and effective. It’s also toxin-free and half the price that Cetaphil was!

–Choose organic, plant-based oils to moisturize your skin. Jojoba oil, sweet almond oil and evening primrose oil are all excellent choices. I like this one HERE.
–Choose paraben-free skincare and personal care products.
–Eat more home-cooked whole foods; avoid / limit processed foods.
–Get support around making healthier, toxin-free food and lifestyle choices. Schedule a free consult HERE.

4. Phthalates / Fragrance | Soap (Bar and Liquid)

What they are:

Phthalates are a common industrial chemical, derived from a family of man-made chemical compounds, used in the manufacture of plastics, solvents and personal care products.

Types of Phthalates (40):

BBP (butyl benzyl phthalate). *DEP (diethyl phthalate). *DBP (di-n-butyl phthalate). DEHP (di-(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate. DiDP (di-isodecyl phthalate). *DiNP (di-isononyll phthalate). DnHP (di-n-hexyl phthalate). DnOP (di-n-octyl phthalate).

*DEP: Commonly added to personal care products to enhance fragrance.
*DBP: Commonly added to nail polish
*DiNP: Commonly added as a softener in the manufacture of toys and bath toys.

In plastic products, phthalates act as a “plasticizer” making plastic more flexible and harder to break; think of commercial bottled waters. Phthalates are used to soften vinyl plastic; for example, shower curtains and IV tubing.

In personal care products and household cleaners…where you smell fragrance, there are phthalates. Guaranteed! One exception is if a product label specifies that it uses essential oils. Otherwise, if “fragrance” or “parfum” is listed as an ingredient (even alongside essential oils), or if a product is labeled “Scented”, assume it contains phthalates.

In personal care products, phthalates are used as a fixative in synthetic fragrances to help “hold” scent. This is why the scent of someone’s soap, shampoo or perfume lingers—long after they have long left a room. And why you can smell your laundered clothes a week after washing.

Where they are (41):

Soaps. Shampoos. Colognes. Perfumes. Nail polish. Sunscreen. Make-up. Any personal care or household product (e.g., all-purpose household spray cleaners, bathroom disinfectants, laundry detergents) that lists “fragrance” as an ingredient. Air fresheners. Vinyl (e.g., lawn furniture, garden hoses, building materials, shower curtains, raincoats, vinyl toys, vinyl floor coverings, etc.). Coatings on some medications. Plastics. Paint. Plastic medical devices (e.g., IV tubing, catheters, chest tubes, etc.). Foods packaged in plastic. Food processing materials.

Potential Adverse Effects:

Like parabens, phthalates are endocrine disruptors, meaning that they mimic and/or interfere with your body’s hormones. As synthetic chemicals, phthalates are linked with developmental, reproductive, brain, immune system and other problems. Phthalates can affect the functioning of multiple organs (42, 43).

Phthalates are also obesogens, chemicals that cause weight gain by interfering with your metabolism and hormones. Obesogens can increase the size / number of fat cells and/or the storage of fat in existing fat cells.

Obesogens indirectly promote obesity by altering energy balance to favor weight gain. How? By altering your basal metabolic rate (the number of calories your body needs to maintain basic functions); by altering your gut microbiome so that you are storing (vs. burning) calories; and by altering the hormones that regulate your hunger, appetite, satiety and insulin sensitivity (44, 45).

Exposure to obesogens early in life (in utero, childhood) may also increase risk of obesity later in life.

In human studies, exposure to phthalates have been strongly associated with negative health, metabolic and reproductive outcomes in both men and women, including (46):

–Type 2 diabetes
–Insulin resistance
–Overweight / obesity
–Allergy (especially in children)
–Poor semen quality (47)
–Impaired sperm motility (48)
–Infertility in men with significant exposure to phthalates, like DEP (49).
–Infertility in women with significant exposure to phthalates, like DEP and DBP (50).

Phthalates are an endocrine disruptor, and they interfere with estrogen receptors. Some phthalates also mimic estrogen. As a result, exposure to phthalates can cause:

–Early onset of breast development in girls (51)
–Ovulation problems (52)
–Endometriosis (53)
–Hot flashes  *Some phthalates and phthalate metabolites may affect the severity of hot flashes in midlife women (54)
–Growth of uterine fibroids (55)

Studies also suggest that exposure to phthalates increases breast cancer risk (56):

–In a 2022 study of Indian women, published in Cancer Epidemiology, researchers found a significant association between urinary concentrations of phthalates (DBP and DEHP) and increased risk of invasive breast cancer (57).

–When Danish researchers conducted a long-term study of phthalate exposure (via redeemed prescriptions for phthalate-containing drugs) on 1.12 million women at risk for a first cancer diagnosis, they found that high-level exposure to the phthalate DBT was associated with double the rate of estrogen-positive receptive cancer. Lower levels of exposure were not associated with breast cancer incidence (58).

Who should avoid phthalates?

EVERYONE! But, especially:
–Pregnant women
–Children, especially those under age 3

What YOU can do:

–Read labels. Read labels. Read labels!
–Avoid all products marketed as “Scented” or where the label lists “Fragrance” or “Parfum” as an ingredient.
–Avoid products, where scent is marketed as a benefit. For example, scented candles or Lemon Pledge (“fragrance” is included in the label).

–Get support around making healthier, toxin-free food and lifestyle choices. Schedule a free consult HERE.

–Rethink the soap you use! We have intimate daily contact (hands, face, body) with soap, which enables multiple exposures to endocrine-disrupting chemicals, like parabens and phthalates (synthetic fragrance).

The labels of conventional brand-name soaps often read like a chemistry experiment. According to the FDA, most body cleansers (liquid and solid) are actually “synthetic detergent products” because they foam and make suds easily (59). Commercial soaps can potentially contain various endocrine-disrupting chemicals, including synthetic fragrance (phthalates) and/or antibacterial agents, like triclosan.

A true soap is made by combining fats or oils (from animal, vegetable or mineral sources) and an alkali (e.g., lye). The lye reacts with the oils and liquid turns into a block of soap. When made properly, no lye remains in the finished product (60).

–Buy local or choose small soap-making companies. Check out vendors who make soap at your local farmers’ market or choose small companies that make, for example, goat’s milk soap or tallow soap.

–Choose a pure glycerin soap that is fragrance-free and SLS-free, like this one.

*Note: Glycerin is a natural compound derived from vegetable oils or animal fats. It is clear and naturally fragrance-free. However, many OTC glycerin soaps can contain additives, including fragrance and other chemicals that can irritate the skin. Always read the label.

–Choose pure castile soap, which is a vegetable oil-based soap. A widely accessible brand that is SLS-free, paraben-free and fragrance-free (hence, phthalate-free)—and my longtime go-to favorite soap (both bar and liquid) is THIS ONE. This is one brand committed to high quality, well-sourced ingredients and all of its soaps (except for the Unscented bar and liquid soaps) contain scent derived from organic essential oils.

–Choose nail products that are free of phthalates (DBP).
–Avoid plastic as much as possible—and never heat your food in plastic!
–Avoid plastic products with recycling codes “1”, “3” and “7”. Recycling codes “2”, “4” and “5” are safer.
–Limit or avoid your use of or avoid processed and packaged foods.






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6  Carmen Freire, Rosalina Jorge Koifman & Sergio Koifman (2015) Hematological and Hepatic Alterations in Brazilian Population Heavily Exposed to Organochlorine Pesticides, Journal of Toxicology and Environmental Health, Part A,78:8, 534-548.

9  Juan P. Muñoz, Rocío Araya-Osorio, Raúl Mera-Adasme, Gloria M. Calaf. Glyphosate mimics 17β-estradiol effects promoting estrogen receptor alpha activity in breast cancer cells. Chemosphere, Volume 313, 2023, 137201.

12  Joanna Jurewicz, Michał Radwan, Bartosz Wielgomas, Wojciech Sobala, Marta Piskunowicz, Paweł Radwan, Michał Bochenek & Wojciech Hanke (2015) The effect of environmental exposure to pyrethroids and DNA damage in human sperm, Systems Biology in Reproductive Medicine, 61:1, 37-43.

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14  Élyse Caron-Beaudoin, Michael S. Denison, J. Thomas Sanderson, Effects of Neonicotinoids on Promoter-Specific Expression and Activity of Aromatase (CYP19) in Human Adrenocortical Carcinoma (H295R) and Primary Umbilical Vein Endothelial (HUVEC) Cells, Toxicological Sciences, Volume 149, Issue 1, January 2016, Pages 134–144.

15  Schopf MF, Pierezan MD, Rocha R, Pimentel TC, Esmerino EA, Marsico ET, De Dea Lindner J, Cruz AGD, Verruck S. Pesticide residues in milk and dairy products: An overview of processing degradation and trends in mitigating approaches. Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr. 2022 Jul 23:1-15.

16 What Is Sulfate Used For?

17  National Cancer Institute. Ethylene Oxide. Dec. 5, 2022.

18  Geier J, Uter W, Pirker C, Frosch PJ. Patch testing with the irritant sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) is useful in interpreting weak reactions to contact allergens as allergic or irritant. Contact Dermatitis. 9 Apr 2003. Pages 99-107.

19 Branco N, Lee I, Zhai H, Maibach HI. Long-term repetitive sodium lauryl sulfate-induced irritation of the skin: an in vivo study. Contact Dermatitis. 2005 Nov;53(5):278-84

20  European Medicines Agency. 9 Oct. 2017. Committee for Human Medicinal Products. Sodium laurilsulfate used as an excipient.

21, 22  FDA. Parabens in Cosmetics. 2/5/22.

23  Environmental Working Group. April 8, 2015

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26, 27, 34, 35  Environmental Working Group. Tasha Stoiber, PhD. What Are Parabens and Why Don’t They Belong in Cosmetics? April 9, 2019.

28  Jurewicz J, Radwan M, Wielgomas B, Dziewirska E, Klimowska A et al. Human Semen Quality, Sperm DNA Damage, and the Level of Reproductive Hormones in Relation to Urinary Concentrations of Parabens. Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, Vol. 59, No. 11, Nov. 2017, pp. 1034-1040 (7).

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32 June 16, 2020.

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36, 37  Darbre PD, Aljarrah A, Miller WR, Coldham NG, Sauer MJ, Pope GS. Concentrations of parabens in human breast tumours. J Appl Toxicol. 2004 Jan-Feb;24(1):5-13.

38  Campaign for Safe Cosmetics. Parabens.

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40  Zero Breast Cancer. Phthalates.

41  Environmental Working Group. May 5, 2008.

42  National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. NIH.

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44  Darbre, Philippa D. Endocrine Disruption and Human Health. 2015

45  Heindel JJ, Blumberg B, Cave M, Machtinger R, Mantovani A, Mendez MA, Nadal A, Palanza P, Panzica G, Sargis R, Vandenberg LN, Vom Saal F. Metabolism disrupting chemicals and metabolic disorders. Reprod Toxicol. 2017 Mar;68:3-33.

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48, 49, 50 Campaign for Safe Cosmetics. Phthalates.

51, 52, 53 Lisa Marie Basile. The Everyday Chemicals That Could Be Harming Your Hormone Health. Feb. 17, 2002.

54 Ziv-Gal A, Gallicchio L, Chiang C, Ther SN, Miller SR, Zacur HA, Dills RL, Flaws JA. Phthalate metabolite levels and menopausal hot flashes in midlife women. Reprod Toxicol. 2016 Apr;60:76-81.

55  Iizuka T, Yin P, Zuberi A. Mono-(2-ethyl-5-hydroxyhexyl) phthalate promotes uterine leiomyoma cell survival through tryptophan-kynurenine-AHR pathway activation. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Vol. 119, No. 47, Nov. 14, 2022.

56  Wu, A.H., Franke, A.A., Wilkens, L.R. et al. Urinary phthalate exposures and risk of breast cancer: the Multiethnic Cohort study. Breast Cancer Res 23, 44 (2021).

57  Mukherjee Das A, Gogia A, Garg M, Elaiyaraja A, Arambam P, Mathur S, Babu-Rajendran R, Deo SVS, Kumar L, Das BC, Janardhanan R. Urinary concentration of endocrine-disrupting phthalates and breast cancer risk in Indian women: A case-control study with a focus on mutations in phthalate-responsive genes. Cancer Epidemiol. 2022 Aug; 79:102188.

58  Ahern TP, Broe A, Lash TL, Cronin-Fenton DP, Ulrichsen SP, Christiansen PM, Cole BF, Tamimi RM, Sørensen HT, Damkier P. Phthalate Exposure and Breast Cancer Incidence: A Danish Nationwide Cohort Study. J Clin Oncol. 2019 Jul 20;37(21):1800-1809.

59, 60  FDA.


Hi, I’m Kathryn Matthews. As a Board Certified Functional Health Coach, I help clients reclaim their energy, vitality and well-being. I want you to feel empowered about taking charge of YOUR health! To learn more, see About Kathryn.

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