Toxin-Free is in the eye of the beholder

Toxin-Free is in the eye of the beholder

The catchphrase of the industry at the moment is ‘toxin free’, but what does it actually mean?

Toxin-Free and 100% Natural do not mean the same thing.

Many treat the two terms as equals, but they are not interchangeable. What’s toxic to one person can be perfectly safe for someone else, so it is important to understand from the start that calling anything ‘toxin-free’ is an ambiguous statement that will mean different things to different people, and also differs depending on the dose.

Dr Natasha Campbell-McBride, author of the GAPS dietary books uses the quote “One man’s meat is another man’s poison.” In this quote, the term ‘meat’ can be substituted for any food, any skin care product, cleaning product or anything you come in to contact with. Her 2014 blog on the subject is a fascinating read and explains the principle of what we’re talking about today very well. Natasha’s blog talks about food and the GAPS protocol, but the general idea applies to products you apply topically or inhale as well. I know only too well, living with Multiple Chemical Sensitivities, that people can react to naturally derived ingredients and on the flip side, be ok with a lab derived ingredient. Sometimes a lab derived chemical ingredient IS the toxin-free choice.

What is a toxin?

While many are adopting the definition of a toxin to be anything that is not 100% natural (ie: something that’s lab derived or chemically based), this is actually not the case. By dictionary definition, a toxin is actually a poison produced by an organism, which literally means the word toxin should be used for living organisms only (animals, plants, fungus etc) and technically does not apply to anything that’s lab derived.

Stepping aside from the strict definition of the word, a toxin, out in the real world, most people define as something that causes you harm or can poison you. Here’s four quick facts that explain why we don’t think toxin-free and 100% natural mean the same thing and why 100% natural is NOT our only guide for what is safe.

  1. Not all naturally derived ingredients are safe
  2. Not all lab derived ingredients are toxic
  3. Toxicity changes with dose
  4. Toxicity changes person to person

Here’s a sample of some natural things that are toxic at the wrong dose or used the wrong way

  • Water
    Yes. You can literally kill yourself by drinking too much water. The vital salts and electrolytes in the body are diluted to such a point that it can cause death. Is 2 litres of water a day toxic? No. Is 10 litres, quite possibly yes. You may not live to tell the tale of that one.
  • Any fat soluble vitamin
    Vitamins B & C are water soluble, meaning you can excrete them in your urine. The rest of the vitamins are fat soluble and while they are absolutely vital to life, have too much Vitamin A in your body for example and it’s toxic to the point of creating hair loss, confusion, liver damage and the loss of bone density.
  • Bi-carb soda
    This is a known skin irritant for some people. If you decide to sprinkle it on your carpet as a deodoriser (it’s great for that too),  inhaling the powder will cause serious breathing issues. It’s completely natural too.
  • Cinnamon
    The Cinnamon Challenge was one of those stupid internet crazes where people were challenged to eat a teaspoon of cinnamon in 60 seconds. Some people took it too far and a boy chocked to death after ingesting a whole container. In sensible doses, it is a popular cooking ingredient and contains antioxidants, anti-inflammatory properties and can help regulate blood sugar (please seek medical advice on this topic).
  • Essential oils
    Essential oils are highly diluted, potent and powerful. Diffuse them, dilute in a carrier oil and put on the skin and they can be safe and effective product. Start putting them on  your skin undiluted or put them in water and drink them and you can burn yourself, cause skin sensitivity issues or harm your throat.
  • Mushrooms
    You can go in to the forest and go mushroom picking and either make a delightful meal or poison yourself depending on what you pick up.

Different things are toxic to different people

Those with intolerances and allergies, including anaphylaxis, have completely different reactions than people who don’t, so what’s toxic to one person may not be toxic to someone else. I can eat overly processed junk white bread every day and after a few weeks, my eyes and skin get itchy and I sneeze. Long term it brings up an allergic reaction in me. I could eat good quality wholemeal sourdough made with organic flour and the same thing happens. A coeliac will have crippling pain from a small amount and someone with no issues can eat bread every day without it causing an issue.
Is wheat toxic? To some people, yes. To others, no.

The bi-carb soda found in several natural deodorant products in store is completely natural and provides great protection against body odour. For some, over time, they build up a sensitivity and develop red rashes on the skin. For others it happens immediately. For many, it never happens.
Is bi-carb soda toxic? To some people, yes. To others,  no.

My warehouse manager has an allergy to rhubarb. If she eats it, look out. If she touches it, she ends up with a rash. Once, she put on a pair of pure wool red knitted gloves that were dyed only using natural ingredients. One of them, yep, rhubarb. Her hands were red and itchy and sore for days. Completely 100% natural, but toxic to her.
Side note: Rhubarb leaves are toxic to everyone. Do not eat them under any circumstances.
Are rhubarb stalks toxic? To some people, yes. To others, no.

Lab Derived ingredients that have been tested to be safe

We have recently had some questions about one of the brands in our natural skin care section, Andalou Naturals because of some formulation changes they have made. Andalou Naturals set their ingredients standards not only by their own choices, but by two leading American guides, the ingredients policy of the Wholefoods chain, one of their largest customers, and the EWG’s Skin Deep Cosmetic Database, which, like us here at Shop Naturally, consider the potential toxicity of an ingredient on what it does and not whether it’s naturally derived or lab derived. Here at Shop Naturally, we use the EWG’s Skin Deep Database as a guide along with The Chemical Maze which you can download as an app and have on your phone while you’re shopping.

There are three lab derived ingredients clearly marked on the Andalou Naturals official website that are now in some of their range, DMAE, Polymide-1 and VP/VA Copolymer. All three ingredients are lab derived and all 3 ingredients have been given the highest safety rating by the EWG’s Skin Deep Cosmetic Database. While other stores have called these ‘offending ingredients’ and refuse to sell them, we do not ban perfectly safe lab derived ingredients here at Shop Naturally when they make up a small part of an overall natural formula. As we know and understand here, toxin free and 100% natural do NOT mean the same thing.

Choosing 100% natural products is always a perfectly valid choice

People choose 100% natural for many reasons, and our store has a vast array of products that are just that. The amount of products on our shelves with a small amount of a safe lab derived ingredient or a trace amount of chemical preservative is minimal and we have a full disclosure policy here at Shop Naturally. We are always happy to steer you away from something that’s not suitable for you, even if means you don’t buy anything.

If you have allergies or ethical issues with any lab derived ingredient, please ask for advice before making your purchase and we will tell you which handful of products to avoid.

Choosing natural products with a small amount of a safe lab derived ingredient is a perfectly valid choice too

Quite often, a lab derived ingredient is the ethical choice, for vegans in particular. They can also be a valid choice for price point, product performance and for allergy issues with some naturally derived ingredients. I know people who’s throats will swell up if they get anywhere near Lavender. To them, Lavender is toxic. To the rest of us, it is not. Sometimes, a lab derived ingredient IS the safe and toxin-free choice, and for this reason, we have a small selection of such products in our store.

Having a lab derived ingredient in an otherwise natural skin care formula does not make it unsafe.

In the case of natural nail polish, the 7-free and 10-free formulas are not 100% natural, but the ingredients in the polish are needed for performance and even the strictest online beauty stores still allow these chemicals in their store in their nail polish. Without these ingredients in the natural nail polish, you end up with the water based polish in our kids makeup category that stays on ok for a day and washes off with a bit of Dr Bronner’s and some water.

Just today, I heard about a breathable, water based nail polish with no smell that uses propylene glycol at less than 1% as a humectant so it doesn’t dry up 7 days after you open it. 7-free and 10-free formulas still smell, and as a person with Multiple Chemical Sensitivities, I have an issue with their smell. If the water based breathable doesn’t cause me a problem, in this instance, the formula with the propylene glycol would be my toxin-free option and the overall hazard listed on the EWG database is 3 out of 10. In something that doesn’t soak in to the skin, propylene glycol gives me an option at least.

We know our customers are well informed and savvy shoppers

We know our customers don’t want to be lectured or preached to on topics like this. It is our role to provide accurate information, free from marketing spin or scare mongering and let our customers make up their own minds about what is right for them.

Some customers are just dipping their toes in to the natural products lifestyle, others are veterans. Some have severe sensitivities. Others have none. You all have different needs, but the one thing you all have in common is the ability to make up your own minds and choose what’s right for you.

You have my guarantee that my staff will provide you unbiased information and simply lay your options out in front of you when you need help choosing a product. Zero pressure. 100% honesty. Safe choices. No-one gets paid commission to make a sale. Ask away. We are always here to help.


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