Thank God for Environmental Working Group (EWG) which has been pushing to remove formaldehyde and formaldehyde-releasing chemicals from the products we use everyday. This family of chemicals is added to products to help prevent bacteria and mold from growing in them — so we can keep them on our shelves for ever and ever.
These compounds are not only irritants to many people’s skin, they are also known carcinogens (cancer-causing agents). Unfortunately, in the US, they are not listed on the labels of many products that contain them.
They are hidden in lotions, cosmetics, soaps and cleaning supplies, building materials, fabrics, medical ointments, vaccines, and all sorts of places you wouldn’t expect (including some meat and milk preservatives). I’ve memorized a list of more than 40 chemical names to watch for, but many product labels don’t bother to list their components.
Three years ago, I developed a severe contact allergy to formaldehyde. As it turns out, the ointments I’d been given to treat a tick bite contained formaldehyde. Applying these medications caused me to break out head to toe. It took until this past February to identify the source of the problem. My dermatologist didn’t even mention the availability of patch tests (that could be used to determine the underlying causes of my itchy rash) until I asked.
These compounds are not only irritants to many people’s skin, they are also known to be cancer-causing.
It seems that health care providers in the US are trained to treat symptoms by prescribing pharmaceuticals rather than to ferret out the source of a patient’s trouble. How I wish we’d re-conceptualize health care as a public service rather than a prescription-writing industry. Isn’t it time, America?
I should have realized sooner that environmental toxins were to blame. They are a focus of a book I’ve been discussing for years with my students.
I highly recommend reading Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things. It’s written by an architect and a chemist. It’s a definite paradigm-shifter that will hold your attention to the end. (My architecture students at Hampton University and educational planning students the College of William and Mary frequently assert that everyone should read it.) You can buy a copy for under $12.
I’m so glad that EWG and the authors of Cradle to Cradle have been researching environmental toxins and lobbying companies to make healthier products. EWG has now convinced Johnson & Johnson to remove formaldehyde from its offerings in the coming years. Maybe other companies will follow suit and ditch carcinogens and skin irritants from their products.
Here’s to hoping that the products I encounter in Ireland are better designed than the ones we use in the States!