“Take care of your body. It’s the only place you have to live.”
― Jim Rohn | Author, Entrepreneur
It's our first contact with the outside world. It is the permeable, flexible, sensual organ that keeps our body united - literally.
Skin is constantly in exchange with the environment. We sweat out toxins through our pores, and we also absorb what’s on our skin into our bodies - in seconds. This is why we feel dryness after hours in the salty sea, or warmed and rejuvenated after the hot springs. What moisturiser we use, what chemicals we work around, how the clothes we wear are created - it all matters, because it all becomes part of us.
In short - Our skin breathes.
Consider what environments and products are you interacting with each day. Do you know what effect these have on your wellbeing, and the wellbeing of your loved ones?
While we do have an innate defence mechanism against inevitable encounters with toxins in our life each day, there are choices we can make to ease the pressure on our immune system. These are choices which also bring perspective to the larger picture of health - for our bodies, and for Mother Earth.
To help make these choices, there are some basics about skin we should first know.
YOUR SKIN: The Anatomy
Skin is a complex, intricate organ that breathes and lives. It responds to our movements, our diet, our surroundings, and is sensitive to changes in our emotional experience. Stress can manifest in mouth ulcers or skin disorders, allergies in rashes or sores, while rest and contentment often brings more glowing skin.
The three main layers of our skin (epidermis, dermis and hypodermis) form a shield for our internal organs. These are made up of insulating fat, blood vessels, nerve fibres, and its own immune system.
This porous shield is not invincible. While we have an innate resilience against harmful external elements like UV rays and unfriendly bacteria, we are also vulnerable to the many toxins that permeate modern lifestyles - most of which we have not evolved to be resilient to.
YOUR SKIN: The Impact of our Daily Rituals
Consider the number of products in your morning routine: how many of the ingredients listed are ones you know or trust? Many of us are exposing ourselves to well over 100 toxins before we even have breakfast (1).
Of the countless chemicals in our households and workplaces, many are common across the range. Parabens and phthalates (‘fragrance’), for example, are found in all sorts of cosmetics, antiperspirants, and cleaning products. Both are highly correlated with interference to hormonal processes and carcinogenic tumours.
This becomes a bigger issue when it comes to our wardrobes, because the toxins are hidden.
All day long, our skin is in contact with some form of textile - be it the towels you dry off with, your underwear, or the sheets you sleep in. There are no labels that alert us to the toxic chemicals used in the growing, processing, dyeing or handling of the materials in these fabrics.
The faster the fashion, the more emphasis is placed on turnover and productivity, rather than integrity and sustainability. Cheap, accessible chemicals are now widely utilised to bring down the cost of manufacturing.
Chemical fasteners are used to lock colour in, while toxic finishers are used to artificially create a softer fabric. The above-mentioned Phthalates, used to make plastics more flexible, are commonly found in clothes and shoes. It often emits a strong plasticky smell, demonstrating that the chemicals are now airborne - and able to enter directly into your respiratory system.
These toxins are especially dangerous because they are hidden, and sometimes do not exhibit immediate symptoms. For many people, however, they can manifest in multiple skin sensitivities, respiratory disorders, or over time, accumulate into hormonal disruptions and skin allergies. Our bodies fight back, and attempt to safeguard against these intruders; but all warriors need rest, and if your immune system is constantly exposed to the fight against harmful chemicals, it will eventually begin to wither and wear down.
Furthermore, the saturation of hidden toxins goes all the way to the roots. Formaldehyde, Alidicarb, and Parathion, for example, are in the top 10 insecticide treatments for textile crops; these are classified to be Extremely Hazardous (category Ia on the LD50 scale) by the World Health Organisation (2). In ways direct and indirect, our demand for cheaper goods permits the degradation of health beyond our own bodies; it affects the farmers and makers, the waterways, and the soils that form the skin of our Earth.*
We simply don’t know enough to understand what further complications the interaction of chemicals may lead to, for our bodies and our environment - especially when they are so numerous and the interaction so unpredictable. If we continue to be around harm, we will be harmed - thus the sooner we can step in, the better.
So what can we do?
YOUR SKIN: The importance of awareness
Realising the impact and prevalence of toxins in our environment can be overwhelming; but this realisation is also powerful, because understanding and knowledge can lead to change.
We do not have to go without our creature comforts, but it does take commitment to becoming more informed, and making wiser choices.
Certifications like GOTS (Global Organic Textile Standard) and ACO (Australian Certified Organic) are wonderful allies in finding skin-friendly alternatives, for everything from skincare to sleepwear.
At Bhumi, we use, and will only use GOTS certified organic cotton for our creations - for bed, bath and body. This means that all products adhere to the strict internationally recognised standards. These standards care for the health of people as well as the environment, through the entire production process from Seed to Shelf (short animation).
Just as we can promote glowing skin through a fresh, organic-focused diet and active lifestyle, we can choose to become conscientious about what we invite onto and around our skin. We can choose to make, purchase and promote products and environments that support wellbeing, for us and the people we love.
Furthermore, we can empower ourselves by choosing to support a sustainable system of creation. To take part in alleviating the health risks for everyone along the supply chain from farmers to textile workers - the people, including children, already suffering quietly from preventable toxic exposure (3).
By doing this, we also agree to protect the soil, the waterways, the land that forms the skin of Mother Earth - a skin just as porous and sensitive as our own, and a skin that is intimately connected to our existence on this planet.
Let’s go deeper, together.
For more information on the significance of our choices in caring for our skin, in particular the impact of the non-organic cotton industry, see the highlights and details in this comprehensive public report - and don’t hesitate to share with those you look out for:
The Deadly Chemicals in Cotton | Environmental Justice Foundation (UK)
Educating ourselves about how it is all connected is a duty to our being, and our privilege as humankind. Simplifying our lifestyles and habits can help us reflect on what really matters, and what we value most deeply.
Over the next few weeks, we will be focusing on coming back to basics, and asking a key question: what are the Essentials in our daily life?
If you haven’t already, sign up to the Earth Life Balance blog, and discover how you can bring more understanding, compassion and contentment to your choices.
* Footnotes *
(1) Women Put an Average of 168 Chemicals on Their Bodies Daily, http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2015/05/13/toxic-chemicals-cosmetics.aspx
(2) The Deadly Chemicals in Cotton, http://ejfoundation.org/sites/default/files/public/the_deadly_chemicals_in_cotton.pdf, p.8
(3) For more, see p.6-16, The Deadly Chemicals in Cotton, http://ejfoundation.org/sites/default/files/public/the_deadly_chemicals_in_cotton.pdf
About the Author: Lucy Lawes is an advocate for mindful living.