Q&A with Expert Toxicologist: The Health Effects of Toxic Chemicals
At Primally Pure, we're passionate about all things non-toxic living and are excited to dive even deeper into this topic with an expert Toxicologist, Dr. Yvonne Burkart. If this term is new to you, a Toxicologist is a scientist who investigates the adverse effects of chemicals on the health of humans, animals and the environment. We can't wait to share this exclusive interview with you to keep unpacking the power of clean products and how chemicals are actually impacting our health more than you might realize.
Please introduce yourself and tell us what inspired you to become a Toxicologist.
"I’m a Board-Certified PhD Toxicologist with nearly 22 years of experience studying the health effects of toxic chemicals, particularly on hormones, fertility, and reproductive cancers.
I was drawn to study Toxicology because it wasn’t something I’d ever learned about, and I knew that I could contribute to society in a meaningful way and make an impact with this work. At first, I was a laboratory researcher conducting studies to understand how antioxidants protect our reproductive organs from environmental toxicity. Then I was a Toxicologist in the flavor and fragrance chemical industry, but realized my passion is to help consumers protect their health, especially their children, by avoiding toxic chemicals in everyday products."
What are some common, misleading greenwashing claims on personal care products?
"The personal care and beauty industry lack stringent government regulations that truly protect human and environmental health. As a result, the industry is responsible for ensuring product safety. Unfortunately, that doesn’t always end up being the case which is evident from the abundance of products on store shelves that still contain harmful ingredients. Furthermore, the lax regulations allow companies to market their products using unsubstantiated terms such as, “green” or “natural,” which is confusing for consumers.
When reading ingredient labels, it’s important to look for simple ingredient names that you can recognize. It’s even better if a product contains mainly organic ingredients, especially at the beginning of the ingredient list."
Why is it important to make the switch to non-toxic products?
"There is a misconception that personal care products don’t actually contribute to our toxic burden, which could not be further from the truth. Several studies have shown that switching to products without endocrine disruptors can reduce the body burden of these chemicals in just a few days.
A brand new study published in March 2023 found that personal care products that contain phthalates and parabens can activate breast cancer genes and increase the risk of breast cancer. Taken together, this clearly demonstrates that personal care products and environmental toxins, in general, negatively impact our health and increase our risk for disease."
What qualifies a product as "non-toxic" or "safe" in your eyes?"In my professional opinion, the safest products contain mainly organic, wholesome, and minimally processed ingredients, and are packaged in as little plastic as possible. This not only ensures that consumers are protected, but occupational workers manufacturing these products and the environment are also protected from pollution."
Why is using organic or biodynamic products important?
"Organic products are important for several reasons such as minimizing our exposure to pesticides and helping us avoid synthetic ingredients that come with toxic and environmental concerns."
What are the top personal care ingredients you'd recommend avoiding?
"Polyethylene glycols (PEGs), Sodium laureth sulfate, Methylisothiazolinone, Formaldehyde releasers like DMDM hydantoin, Parabens, “Fragrance/Parfum” and Fluorinated PFAS ingredients."
If something is "natural" does that mean it's non-toxic?
"There is no federal definition of “natural” when it comes to personal care product ingredients, so manufacturers can use this term freely even when their product contains synthetic ingredients. Furthermore, just because an ingredient originated from a natural source does not make it safer or less toxic. After all, botulism (found in botox) is natural, but also deadly."
What resources do you recommend for those who are looking to transition to a less toxic lifestyle?
"If you’re looking to switch to a low toxic lifestyle, I recommend utilizing free resources such as the EWG Clean Fifteen and Dirty Dozen lists to help guide the quality of produce and products you're purchasing. Another way to reduce your toxic load is to do your best to use products that contain mainly organic ingredients. If a product doesn’t carry the USDA Organic seal, then you can check the ingredients list and see which ingredients are organic. Most companies will mark these with an asterisk or other symbol to indicate the ingredient is organic.
Swapping the products you use every single day can have a significant impact on your toxic load as the risk of toxicity increases with how frequently you’re using a product. I recommend starting with the products you use in sensitive areas of your body, like deodorant and body lotion, since they're applied to larger areas of your body."
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