Friday, March 30, 2018

Our Family’s Switch to Safer

The last week of March is hard for our family. As I stared at the pages of my planner this week, I’ve felt such a heavy weight - a brick sitting on my chest making it hard to catch my breath. I’m reminded of spring break three years ago. Corey had just left for a work happy hour. I’d dropped him off on my way to pick up dinner for myself at one of my favorite restaurants. It was a beautiful, sunshiny warm day. I was off work for the week for spring break and had no responsibilities. The days were getting longer and it was the perfect evening for a crisp glass of white wine on our patio.

I was standing in my driveway, having just stepped out of my car, holding my to-go bag for dinner. I felt so at peace. Something about that time of year. Then, my phone rang. It was my husband and he’d just received the news that a cherry-sized tumor had shown up on my father-in-law’s MRI.

All of a sudden our life went down a totally different path and bad news only got worse. His cancer was a glioblastoma, the absolute most aggressive form of brain cancer. It’s occurrence is currently on the rise and few patients will survive longer than twelve to eighteen months. In our case, we lost him just eight short weeks later.

When I learned I was pregnant with Madeline, I thought of that moment a lot. I felt very responsible for keeping her safe after our family had been through something so terrible. In the few days between when I learned I was pregnant and I had my doctor’s appointment, I felt this deep cystic acne spot starting to form and I reached for my favorite powerful face wash. The back of the tube caught my eye. “Consult your doctor before use if you are pregnant.”

I quickly learned that pretty much every product I was using was a no-no during pregnancy. No benzoyl peroxide. No retinol. No hydroquinone. So, I switched my skincare to Belly, a brand specifically formulated for pregnant women until I weaned from nursing over a year later. And then, I didn’t think one bit about it again for quite a while later.

After Madeline was born, we lost another close family member to cancer, marking our family’s third loss in just three years. This happened in the midst of me trying to lose baby and nursing weight and I became so fascinated with health.

I’d previously only thought of health as a balance between calorie input and output and hadn’t really felt the need to go any deeper. We decided to make the commitment to eat organic as often as possible. This is a great list that helped with that and shows the incidence of pesticides in types of foods. It was super informative and really taught me what should be a non-negotiable in our home for buying organic (dairy and strawberries, for example) and what isn’t as important - like onions. We also got a lot more intentional about reading labels to cut out artificial ingredients, added sugar and other fillers and trying to eat “cleaner” by minimizing processed foods. For us, this was an important swap after reading the link between pesticides and hormonal disruption and cancers, specifically the rise in early onset breast and colon cancers in recent years. 1 in 8 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer today - just 40 years ago that was 1 in 20. As a woman, that is terrifying to me.

If you’re looking for more organic options without breaking your grocery budget, I highly suggest checking out Aldi if you have one close by. I am also obsessed with Thrive Market for convenience items like jarred pasta sauce with only clean ingredients and no added sugars and the prices are very reasonable.

My next step in “cleaning up” around our house was to swap out our personal care products for safer alternatives. You see, after that initial swap while I was pregnant I went right back to my old skin care, assuming it was safe when I was no longer pregnant. And I never gave one bit of thought to my makeup regimen. But, there hasn't been a major law passed regulating beauty and personal care items since 1938 and of the 80,000 chemicals on the market for use in our products, many have been introduced since then and never been evaluated for safety. Many of them (over 1,200) are banned in Europe and other parts of the world and have been linked to endocrine distinction and thyroid issues, unexplained infertility (all of which are on the rise in our country), or are known carcinogens. With healthy, clean eating, we follow the 80/20 rule so last year I started trying that with personal care and beauty products too, with the goal of working towards replacing 80% of my products with safer alternatives.

I posted recently about how much I love Beautycounter. I feel like the products perform very highly, I love their transparency, and I love the “Never List” because they’ve don’t the research on safety for me and I know any product I order will be safe. There are other products and brands I love for personal care, too, though and I do check everything I buy on the Think Dirty or EWG apps now. I try not to buy anything I will use daily with a rating of over a 5. There are a few exceptions - sunless tanner, for example, falls into my 20% because I haven’t found a safer one that performs well for me.

Right now, we are working on making the switch to safer cleaning products. Admittedly, this was a hard swap for me just because it put me so far out of my comfort zone. It was easy for me to associate harmful chemicals with being “bad” in my food and skincare but more difficult for cleaning. I think we naturally think of chemicals as being good with cleaning products, or at least I do. Yet, a lot of them contain known carcinogens and have been linked to poor lung health. I really like the Mrs. Meyer and Seventh Generation products. They’re available at Target, Whole Foods, and several other local stores but also for a great discount on my beloved Thrive Market  I just ordered a new batch from Grove, too, so we will see how I like their service. 

It’s been just over two years since we started trying to be more intentional with what we put in and on our bodies and chemicals in our home. Do I feel like if my father in law, my aunt, or Corey’s aunt had had the information we have now that it would have made a difference? What a loaded question. And my answer is not necessarily.

I think sometimes we simply just draw the short straw in these things in life and there’s nothing we could do. But, the incidence of chronic disease is high in our country right now and it is just getting higher. If you don’t agree that this is at least in part environmental, I really urge you to look more closely. 
For our family, we are raising a little girl who only gets one life to live and it is precious. There is little to no regulation about what is available to us to feed her or slather on her sweet little body every day so it is totally up to Corey and I to research. And with pediatric cancers and disease on the rise today, we are doing our very best to do just that - research and then make healthy, informed choices for her while she is still too young to make them for herself.

Is safer living something you’ve given thought to? (It’s ok if you haven’t yet!) If so, I would love all your favorite tips, tricks, and clean products below. 


  1. I’m so sorry for your family’s losses. For me becoming pregnant made me think about chemicals too, and I remember switching all of our cleaning supplies too and starting to eat organic more. Aldi has been so helpful for that! I’ll have to check out Thrive. I hadn’t heard of them. Thank you for this post!

  2. I know this post must have been hard, but such good information. We are trying to do the same thing since we had E. We never thought about food until i was feeding it to my baby. Now we try to feed her organize and free range, and everything better even if it costs a little more, we also know its a more humane way to animals and to farm. Thanks for the links to so many good places to check and good information. I am always at a loss for what to buy and what not to.

  3. Sorry to hear, we are also slowly making the switch since having our daughter. Small things that we just assumed were safe are now on our no list. Thank you for sharing!


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