September 16, 2012

Did I Shave My Pits for This? ~ Trista Hendren

Rethinking hair…

Many of the beauty products we use are slowly killing us, without our knowledge or explicit consent. While I identify as a feminist, it is still hard to part with the privilege of being considered “pretty.” As I grow older, I am beginning to calculate what pretty costs.

I have been in a bit of a funk lately; I feel happy about the overall condition of my life and relationships, but I have been short-fused, with no real explanation. I came across this list on AuthenticDiscovery.com.au about raising your vibration:

Photo: [AuthenticDiscovery.com.au]I did fine so far as getting rid of toxic relationships, junk food and hard alcohol. But where I am still lowering my vibration is by using toxic personal care products.

I got married this summer and dyed my hair for what I promised myself would be the last time. I have stopped a few times before only to start up again, like a junkie. I am 37 and “prematurely” grey. While men have reacted positively, it is usually my female friends who have been critical. The most common response is, “You will look 10 years older!”

Well, what’s wrong with that, really?

A simple Google search on hair dye (after you weed through all the ads for hair dye) is illuminating:

Apparently, hair dye chemicals have been shown to have a variety of harmful effects in scientific experiments. Their use has been linked to allergic reactions, respiratory disorders and cancer. One of the main chemicals in most hair dyes was once banned in several European countries.

Phenylenediamine (PPD), the most toxic chemical in hair dyes, is present in over two thirds of them and is known to be toxic to the immune system, skin, nervous system, respiratory system, liver and kidneys. The European Union classifies it as a toxin and irritant that is dangerous to the environment. In Canada, its use in cosmetics is restricted and at one time it was banned in France, Germany and Sweden.

The strongest evidence that hair dyes can cause cancer in humans comes from studies of cancer rates in hairstylists. One study found that if a hairstylist had used hair dyes at work for five years or more, she had a three times higher risk of developing breast cancer. Other studies have consistently found that hair colorists have an increased risk of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, multiple myeloma and leukemia.

Dark-colored hair dyes carry the highest risks. 

“Additionally, there is ongoing debate over more serious health consequences of hair color usage, including lead poisoning.” ~ Wikipedia

And then we digress to the issue of body hair; I won’t go into pubic hair because that seems to be discussed everywhere lately. Underarm hair seems to carry even more of a taboo, likely because it is more visible. For years, I have maintained the ritual shaving and putting on deodorant each morning, knowing that it’s not good for me. I have tried the natural versions, but they just feel wet and sticky all day. Several weeks ago, my six year old daughter stopped me while I was putting on my usual brand and asked when she would start to wear deodorant.

I told her, “Hopefully never, it’s poison.”

She asked, “Then why do you wear it, Mommy?”

I promised her I would stop. She looked me dead in the eye and demanded to know, “When?”

I couldn’t promise her anything right then, but I have been thinking about it ever since. Apparently I waited too long because last time she came home from Grandma’s, she brought her own tube of (natural) deodorant. She is convinced she stinks.

The indoctrination begins early; it starts with those of us who are mothers. Our daughters watch our every move, how we treat ourselves. I realize now I have failed my daughter in some ways, by going along with a system that I didn’t even believe in. Why is how other people perceive us more important than how we feel? Is looking and smelling “good” more important than that?

Another online search yielded some harrowing facts. Deodorants combined with antiperspirant agents are classified as drugs by tge FDA:

“Aluminum, present most often in antiperspirants, has been established as a neurotoxin. At high doses, aluminum itself adversely affects the blood-brain barrier, is capable of causing DNA damage, and has adverse epigenetic effects. Research has shown that high doses of the aluminum salts used in antiperspirants have detrimental effects to a number of species such as non-human primates, mice and dogs. Such studies prompt concern that long term usage of aluminum chloride products may contribute to increases in blood concentrations potentially adverse to human health.” ~ wikipedia.org

According to controlyourimpact.com, studies have found that aluminum absorbs better through the skin than orally. When using antiperspirants, one only applies very little aluminum to the skin. However, daily use results in chronic exposure. One study has asserted that the use of aluminum based antiperspirants increases the risk of Alzheimer’s disease by 60 percent. When the FDA makes a GRAS claim about for example antiperspirants, it does not mean that the product has proven to be safe. It merely means that according to the FDA, the product is not harmful enough to prevent it from being sold.

Also found on wikipedia.org, a study published in 2003 by the European Journal of Cancer Prevention found a correlation between earlier diagnosis of breast cancer and antiperspirants/deodorant use. A 2003 study indicated “underarm shaving with antiperspirants/deodorant use may play a role in breast cancer.”  And interestingly enough, shaving underarm hair also makes odor worse:

Underarm hair wicks the moisture away from the skin and aids in keeping the skin dry enough to prevent or diminish bacterial colonization. The hair is less susceptible to bacterial growth and therefore is ideal for preventing the bacterial odor.

So, the very thing most women do to be “acceptable” is actually what causes them “stink” and “need” deodorant.

For most of my life, armpit hair just didn’t seem “pretty.” However, watching my grandmother die at 73 was not pretty either. It was shocking to see what cancer did to an extremely healthy woman who lived her entire life as a gorgeous goddess of perfection.

I don’t want my daughter to watch me die that way.

Perhaps I will just try it “a day at a time” as I learned in Al-Anon. But what is so revolutionary about taking care of myself? It’s surprising how much culture still grips someone who does not even watch TV or read women’s magazines anymore. Perhaps I need to rethink my priorities. Am I really spending all this time trying to eat healthy, organic food only to ingest toxins through my personal care products?

The same toxins that we are absorbing into our bodies are often made in poor countries, bringing disastrous consequences for the local environment as well as the individual health of millions of inhabitants. Here are some disturbing facts about the aluminum contained in most antiperspirants:

“Aluminum is too radioactive to exist naturally as a standalone metal in nature and is therefore found combined in a variety of ores the most common of which is Bauxite.” ~ answers.askkids.com

Bauxite is mined out of the ground in large geological formations found in Ghana, Indonesia, Jamaica, Russia and Surinam. The exact effects of bauxite mining are quite specific to the site. It nearly always involves some habitat destruction, soil erosion, loss of biodiversity, or water pollution.

Since some of the countries with the most bauxite are also those countries with the greatest biodiversity in tropical forests there can be a substantial tradeoff between immediate economic gain and good sustainable practices. Unsurprisingly most countries opt for the immediate economic gain of extracting the bauxite as quickly as possible.

“Just how destructive bauxite mining will be depends a great deal on the location and how responsible the company concerned is.  In the worst cases it can wreck the environment and the lives of local people…This of course doesn’t take into full account the environmental cost of refining the ore to turn it into aluminium, which can be equally, if not more, devastating.” ~ helium.com

It was difficult to find information on the toxic hair dye ingredient Phenylenediamine (PPD). It appears to come primarily from China, and you can bet that the consequences for the population there are not healthy.

If there is an increased risk of cancer in hairdressers who work with hair dyes containing this ingredient, imagine the risk for those who produce and manufacture Phenylenediamine.

The reason toxic care products lower our vibration is because of karma. You can’t do something to yourself that simultaneously hurts another being without an additional adverse effect. So why do we continue to buy into a system that hurts women everywhere?

We adapt to what we see; my perception of beauty has changed dramatically since I stopped watching TV. It has changed even more since we moved out of the Suburbs. I am realizing that grey hair—and underarm hair—can be pretty, even sexy. It’s a matter of what you surround yourself with. Nothing is more beautiful to me than vibrant, confident women who are at ease with their natural selves.

And here is one more thing to consider: in a world where we don’t think our choices matter, they can. Consider the cost of grooming your hair:

According to Chacha.com, the average American woman spends $700 a year on her hair. How many American women die completely broke? (The answer is more than half of us!) Over the course of 50 years, that same $700 expenditure amounts to $35,000, and that does not include interest. With a conservative eight percent return, you would have $503,457.04 in the bank at the end of your life.

The way we groom our hair is probably not a life-changing event for most of us, but that small everyday choice can have an economic impact on our net worth. It can also change what we can afford to contribute to the world at large. If we donated just half of what we spend on our hair every year, we would make a substantial difference in the life of at least one woman and her surrounding community. For instance, a monthly $30 donation to Women for Women provides school fees for children, regular access to food, water and start-up funds to help a woman open a small business.

“Women represent 70 percent of the 1.3 billion people in our world who live in absolute poverty. Consequently, as Joan Holmes, president of the Hunger Project, points out, any realistic efforts to change patterns of chronic hunger and poverty require changing traditions of discrimination against women.” ~ Riane Eisler, The Real Wealth of Nations

I don’t want to continue to support a system where women are sliced and diced on Photoshop and still only make 77 cents on the dollar. Whether or not we shave our pits or dye our hair, we can’t win. As Audre Lorde so poignantly reminded us at the beginning of her 14-year battle with cancer, “We were never meant to survive.”

As women, we can not afford to support beauty expectations that harm us both collectively and individually. Perhaps if enough of us stop shaving our pits, the wealthy men who profit from this system will finally be disgusted enough to change it.



Trista Hendren is a Certified Coach with Imagine a Woman International and author of The Girl God.  She is fond of Kundalini Yoga, multiple orgasms and Velomobiles. Trista prefers to be sitting in the sun surrounded by several books, a picnic basket and her children. She lives between Portland, Oregon with her kids and Bergen, Norway with her husband. You can read more about her project with Elisabeth Slettnes at www.thegirlgod.com.


Editor: Jennifer Townsend

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