We nominated Toxin Toxout: Getting Harmful Chemicals Out of Our Bodies and Our World as the first book in our Beautycounter book club for good reason: It’s a fascinating account of how toxic chemicals get into our bodies—and how we can get them out. We asked author Rick Smith to answer some of our most pressing questions.
Q: For your first book, Slow Death By Rubber Duck, you and your co-author Bruce Lourie exposed yourselves to numerous chemicals found in everyday items, but in greater amounts of concentrations for purposes of your study. What were some of the chemicals and products you surrounded yourself with?
A: The experiments we designed mimicked everyday life. Toxic chemicals can really only enter the body through what we eat, breathe, and absorb through our skin. So we did a multi-day experiment focused on phthalates and triclosan, showing how quickly and dramatically levels of these hormone-disrupting chemicals can increase in the body after using certain brands of personal care products. We looked at how significantly body levels of BPA increase after using certain types of containers in the kitchen and eating canned food, and how levels of mercury went through the roof after eating certain types of fish. We wanted to convey this complicated issue of toxic chemicals in consumer products in an engaging way for our readers, and that’s where the idea of making ourselves into giant human guinea pigs came from.
Q: You guys wrote your follow-up book, Toxin Toxout, because you wanted to see if changing purchasing behaviors and going through detox regimes could reduce a person’s toxic chemical load. What did you find?
A: In Toxin Toxout we found that making relatively simple changes in our lives achieved dramatic reductions in toxic chemicals in the body. We directly experimented on ourselves and other intrepid volunteers to show that eating organic food significantly lowers body levels of cancer-causing pesticides, using cleaner brands (like Beautycounter!) of personal care products cuts levels of hormone-disrupting phthalates and parabens, and buying less off-gassing brands of household goods reduces levels of chemicals like benzene and formaldehyde. In terms of detox, we found that good old-fashioned exercise accelerates the flushing of chemicals, and sweating turns out to be an underrated but critical way to get toxins out of our bodies.
Q: The big take-home point of your books is that there is no separation between the environment and human health. At what point did that become crystal clear for you, and outside of writing books, how do you best explain this to people (like when you only have a couple of sentences)?
A: Every family in America has been touched by breast cancer. By prostate cancer. We all know kids who have severe allergies or asthma. At some gut level people know that increasing rates of these illnesses must be driven by the toxic byproducts of our society. So we’ve found that with very little explanation most people intuitively get this environment/health connection.
Q: Which cosmetic chemical concerns you the most and why?
A: Phthalates. I’ve got two little boys and the link between this hormonally active chemical and abnormalities in the reproductive system of little boys is very clear.
Q: In the book you use three figures that show decreasing DDT, lead and dioxin levels in people’s bodies as a result of governments regulating these chemicals. There seems to be clear evidence that regulation can help reduce our toxic load. Why do you think law makers are slow to regulate the “newer” toxins we have in our bodies?
A: Because the chemical industry has been a successful, relentless, lobbying machine—stymieing progress—since the end of the Second World War. And the extent of our exposure and pollution with toxins in consumer products has only really become clear since more sensitive scientific testing techniques became broadly available in the early 2000s.
Q: If people can only change three things about the way that they are buying/using/consuming food, drinks, cosmetics and household goods, what should those changes be?
A: Eating more organic food is guaranteed to lower your body’s levels of pesticides. Only using personal care products that are labeled as NOT containing parabens and phthalates will dramatically cut levels of these toxins in your body within a matter of hours. And getting up off your couch, getting some exercise, and breaking a good sweat every now and again is the best kind of detox there is!
We’re hosting our very first live Book Club Webinar. Join us for an exclusive one-on-one with renowned author Rick Smith and his new book, Toxin Toxout. Hear from Rick about the impact that toxic chemicals can have on our health.