Hairspray, aftershave and autoimmunity

Hairspray, aftershave and autoimmunity

The Paleo Way isn’t just about food. It’s a lifestyle. So when we’re talking about things that influence our health, while a lot comes down to food, it’s essential that we look at other factors influencing our wellbeing. This is particularly important when addressing autoimmune diseases.

The Paleo Way isn’t just about food. It’s a lifestyle. So when we’re talking about things that influence our health, while a lot comes down to food, it’s essential that […]

“…according to Fred Miller, director of the Environmental Autoimmunity Group at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, autoimmune diseases are now recognised as among the leading causes of death among young and middle-aged women in the United States. What’s more, prevalence rates for some of these illnesses are rising for what Miller says must largely be environmental reasons.”

Autoimmune diseases are certainly on the rise, and it’s not just due to better diagnostics, or genetics. Our genes just simply don’t change very fast, certainly not as fast as the rises we are seeing in prevalence of autoimmune diseases.

There is no doubt that autoimmune diseases are on the rise and our increasing environmental exposure to toxins and chemicals is fueling the risk. The research is sound. The conclusions, unassailable. – Dr. Douglas Kerr, M.D., Ph.D., Johns Hopkins School of Medicine

One of many factors that is being enthusiastically researched of late is the contribution of environmental toxin exposure and the onset of autoimmunity. This is a very difficult topic to research as very rarely is any human exposed to just one, two or three particular toxins in high degrees or chronically, making it hard to pinpoint certain chemical associations. A notable exception to this is exposure to certain pharmaceutical drugs. For example we know that procainamide, a treatment for cardiac arrhythmia, and hydralazine, used for high blood pressure both cause the autoimmune disease SLE (systemic lupus ) in some patients (Pollard et al). When the drugs are stopped the symptoms go away. It is this induction of autoimmunity from pharmaceuticals that has made way for the acceptance of the theory of chronic or repeated chemical exposure as a trigger of autoimmunity.

We currently have over 80,000 chemicals approved for industrial use. For many of these chemicals, the health effects have not been studied. According to the Environmental Working Group, in the USA only around 550 of these chemicals have been studied for safety. Even rarer is the study of synergistic effects of chemicals combined (largely due to the difficulty in creating such a study). Much of the information we have epidemiological – i.e. population studies. For example looking at the prevalence of certain disease states within a geographical area, or within a mining population, or in an agricultural area where chronic and repeated exposure to the same group of chemicals by a large number of people helps to draw correlations.

How do toxins trigger autoimmunity

Toxins can trigger autoimmunity via a number of mechanisms:

  • The can trigger the production of inflammatory molecules, which then affects cell function
  • epigenetic control of genes: substances that enter a cell can alter the expression of a gene, switching on something that should not be expressed, or suppressing something that should be expressed.
  • Disruption of gut microbiota. Through recent research it is now becoming ever more clear the key role that gut flora plays in regulating our immune function.
  • Increasing intestinal permeability. Increased gut permeability means that substances that normally would not be able to cross into the blood stream can make their way through. This can
  • Immuno-modulation – molecular mimicry is a situation that occurs when a foreign substances is mistaken or has a similar action to a substances naturally occurring in the body, like hormones mimicking chemicals for example.

Sources of toxins which appear to be associated with onset of autoimmune conditions include household cleaning products, body care products, building materials and furnishings (not just an issue for builders – have you done renovations? Work in a new office?), pesticides, herbicides and fungicides, moulds, paints and automotive chemicals, flame retardants (think children’s clothes etc), paints, heavy metals, dental amalgams and some medications, including injections which use aluminium as an adjuvant.

Aside from foods sprayed with pesticides, the most ubiquitous exposure to toxins tends to occur in our own homes. The Environmental Working Group states that there is 10,500 unique chemical ingredients used in personal care products. A survey of 2300 people concluded that 25% of women used 15 or more personal care products a day. It’s quite easy to do – shampoo, conditioner, soap, facial cleanser, toner, moisturiser, deodorant, body lotion, lip balm, lip stick, foundation, sun cream, maybe a splash of perfume (aftershave for men)…. The list goes on. Just think – each of those products is likely to have a dozen or so ingredients. Several of these ingredients already have establish carcinogenic, immunotoxic and hormone disrupting effects. Hormone disruption, especially an increase in oestrogens, is associated with increased risk of autoimmune disease. It is believed to be a major reason as to why women suffer autoimmunity more commonly than men. Many of the hormone disrupting chemicals in personal care products are oestrogen mimicking chemicals, potentiating oestrogen effects in the body. As such they are not only linked with autoimmune diseases but also many endocrine diseases like endometriosis (also autoimmune), poly cystic ovarian syndrome and infertility and hormone dependant cancers like breast cancer.

Some chemicals linked with autoimmunity:

  • Phthalates (in plastics, fragrances, “parfum”)(Lim and Ghosh)
  • Xeno-oestrogens (plastics, fragrances, pesticides, detergents, surfactants, medications e.g. OCP) Chighizola & Meroni)
  • PCB’s – found in plastics, paints, electronics,
  • Dioxins – by products of pesticide production, waste incineration, chlorine bleaching of paper, sanitary pads and tampons and nappies.
  • Metallo-oestrogens (heavy metals) (Chighizola & Meroni)
  • Bisphenol-A, Bisphenol-S, Bisphemol-F – out of the three, BPA has gained the most awareness, however BP-S and BP-F have the same if not more potent hormone disrupting effects. Food and beverages accounts for the majority of human exposure – largely as a result of plastic packaging (containers, wraps, bottles, lining of cans for tinned food, coffee cup lids etc). Commonly found in breast milk.
  • chlordecone – an insecticide. Production of this was halted in 1976.
  • Organochlorine pesticides (Wang et al)
  • Mercury (mercury amalgam fillings, some vaccines, industrial exposure, contaminated foods e.g. large fish)
  • Aluminium adjvunctsg. as preservatives used in injections (tomljenovic & Shaw)
  • Silica Dust – from building sites and mining sites
  • Organic solvent chemicals (Barragan-Martinez et al)- Common uses are: dry cleaning (e.g., tetrachloroethylene), paint thinner (e.g., toluene, turpentine), nail polish removers and glue solvents (acetone, methyl acetate, ethyl acetate), spot removers (e.g., hexane, petrol ether), detergents (citrus turpenes), perfumes (ethanol), nail polish and chemical synthesis
  • Hair dyes (SLE and Primary Billiary Sclerosis) (Smyk et al)
  • Cigarette smoke (bodin et al)
  • Arsenic (Bodin et al) – found in a lot of rice and rice products, pesticides, herbicides, and wood preserving agents (e.g. playgrounds etc).
  • Triclosan (Bodin et al) – found in toothpastes, anti-bacterial hand washes, soaps and detergents, lots of cosmetic and personal care products, antibacterial materials in clothing and fabrics. Triclosan is currently undergoing safety testing in the US and Canada.
  • Perfluorinated Alkyl Substances (PFAS) – used in fire-fighting foam, textiles, kitchen ware, and food packaging materials. (bodin et al)
  • Polybrominated Diphenyl Ethers (PDBE) -bioaccumulating persistent chemicals used as flame retardants in building materials, textiles, furnishings, and electronics. Exposure to humans is mainly via ingestion of food and by inhalation of indoor air. Endocrine disruptors. (Bodin et al)
  • Organotin Compounds – used as stabilizers in the production of polyvinyl chloride, and used as antifungal agents (bodin et al)
  • N-Nitroso Compounds – present in processed food but can also be formed in the gastrointestinal tract when nitrates from food or water are converted to nitrites
  • Air Pollution – Exposure to particulate matter (PM) induces formation of reactive oxygen species in human lung endothelial cells and circulating monocytes, leading to DNA damage and inflammation
  • Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAHs)- found in fossil fuels and tar deposits and are produced during incomplete combustion of organic matter and thus are abundant in air pollution.
  • Mineral oils (Yel et al). Probably the largest contaminant by weight in the human body, mineral oil is a petroleum by-product and is found in most sin care ranges, including baby oil.

So what to do?

It can seem, with a list like that, that we all need to live in a bubble. But keep in mind, the most common place for exposure to harmful checmicals is actually in your own home. The choices you make with your food, your skin care, make up and body care products, and your household cleaning products are likely to have the greatest impact because they are substances you spend the most time with, in close, quarters, often in closed rooms and in the case of skin care – direct application.

Your skin is your largest organ. Adults carry around about 22 square feet of it. It’s a selectively permeable barrier, guarding the body from heat, water and sunlight. When we apply products to our skin, the substances are generally absorbed very readily, and get quickly in the blood stream. Unlike ingesting a food, which once broken down gets absorbed through our small intestine and then sent straight to the liver for processing f=before it makes it’s way around the body, substances that get absorbed through the skin can do the rounds of your body before it gets to your liver. That means if you’ve applied a toxic chemical to your skin, it can potentially do more damage to more parts of your body than ingesting it would. That’s why the motto “good enough to eat” should apply to what you put on your skin. Choose low tox, ideally organic skin care. Be aware of a lot of false claims and marketing. If something claims to be organic or, even more vaguely “natural” be sure to look deeper and make sure that it is. Certified organic or biodynamic products give you assurance if you are not otherwise confident about a product.

You can downlowd the Environmental Working Group’s “Skin Deep” app which lists all the chemicals used in beauty products so you can check out what’s in yours.

In Australia, good sources for natural skin and house care products include:


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Rochester, Johanna Ruth, and Ashley Louise Bolden. ‘Bisphenol S And F: A Systematic Review And Comparison Of The Hormonal Activity Of Bisphenol A Substitutes’. Environ Health Perspect(2015): n. pag. Web. 21 July 2015.

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ScienceDaily,. ‘Arthritis: Environmental Exposure To Hairspray, Lipstick, Pollution, Can Trigger Autoimmune Diseases’. N.p., 2015. Web. 19 July 2015.

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SK, Lim. ‘Autoreactive Responses To An Environmental Factor: 1. Phthalate Induces Antibodies Exhibiting Anti-DNA Specificity. – Pubmed – NCBI’. Ncbi.nlm.nih.gov. N.p., 2015. Web. 19 July 2015.

Smyk, Daniel et al. ‘Hair Dyes As A Risk For Autoimmunity: From Systemic Lupus Erythematosus To Primary Biliary Cirrhosis’. Autoimmunity Highlights 4.1 (2012): 1-9. Web. 19 July 2015.

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Environmental Factors that PROTECT vs Autoimmunity:

Sunlight exposure

Omega 3 – protection vs type 1 diabetes

Vitamin D


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