Many of us know how important it is to detoxify our bodies by abandoning things like bad foods, alcohol, and drugs. If you’ve taken steps to get rid of any or all of these things, you’re moving in the right direction. But if you’re like most people - even those who are otherwise health conscious - you might be forgetting one of the most important steps toward holistic wellness: detoxifying your surroundings.
Your surroundings or environment includes the air around you, the surface of your hair and skin, and any other thing you come in contact with externally that might be affecting your internal health.
Why is this so important? It’s simple: what surrounds you ends up affecting what’s inside you, whether you realize it or not. For example, many of us use lotions or perfumes on the surface of our skin which contain a slew of hazardous chemicals. Your skin absorbs about 80% of what it comes into contact with. So, if you wouldn’t eat your lotion (or if you know you’d feel sick swallowing a spoonful of it), then why would you put it on your skin?
In the industrialized world, these synthetic chemicals are extremely common. In the past 30 years, more than 100,000 chemicals have been approved for use in the United States alone. And since most of these substances have not been thoroughly tested for potential health effects, we do not know what kind of damage they could be causing our bodies. But experts suspect that various combinations of these toxicants could be contributing to all kinds of issues ranging from depression to developmental disorders to cancer and even Alzheimer’s.
The good news is, more and more companies are making efforts to offer products free from these substances. Better yet, in the Indigenous world, we have access to a wide range of entirely natural plant-based solutions that are totally healthy and safe.
There are three main areas that mainstream health advocates usually consider while cleaning up an individual’s environment: the kitchen, the bathroom, and general household. I would also add a critical fourth step to that which westernized experts tend to forget: your energy. Here’s my guide to a comprehensive Indigenized environmental detoxification.
1- The Kitchen. To clean up your kitchen, start with what your food. Eliminate most things that are packaged and preservative-filled, especially canned food. Canned items are bad for a million reasons, one being that the cans themselves are often coated with BPA (short for “bisphenol,” a chemical which causes hormone disruption). Next: what are you cooking with? You should try to use cast-iron, ceramic, or glass cookware rather than teflon-coated pans, which are carcinogenic. Also, avoid the microwave at all costs: the convenience of the microwave does not outweigh the risks of radiation. Finally, never put hot foods in plastic, and and try to stop using plastic water bottles. Even those labeled BPA-free contain replacement chemicals that are just as harmful as BPA.
2 - The Bathroom. For lotions, skincare and soaps, you might try homemade, food-based formulas. This method is inexpensive, easy, kind of fun, and definitely safe. Some common ingredients for homemade beauty products that you can find at the grocery store include coconut oil, avocado, lemon, and apple cider vinegar. Google away - you’ll find a world of free recipes and ideas out there. My next suggestion is to talk to your parents/grandparents/or other folks who are familiar with plant-based concoctions that are local to your area. These are the best possible ingredients to use for our hair and skin. If our ancestors used it, it’s safe to say it works. The next best option is to purchase an Indigenous-made natural beauty product from a Native-owned operation. If you don’t know any personally, you can take a look at the list ICTMN put together here. Finally, you can also try a natural grocery store or even a mainstream cosmetics store like Sephora. An increasing number of USDA-organic personal care products are available every day. While shopping for the safest products, avoid the following ingredients:
"Fragrance" and "Parfum"
Aluminum chlorohydrate (deodorant/ antiperspirant)
DEA compounds (found in moisturizers and sunscreen)
Tricoslan and triclocarban (often in antibacterial hand soaps and some toothpastes)
Formaldehyde and formalin (nail polish and nail polish remover)
3 - General Household. Let’s face it - humans aren’t made to spend as much time indoors as we do now. 100 years ago, seasonal allergies were practically nonexistent. Today, nearly 50% of Americans deal with them. As Dr. Charles Eastman (Santee Dakota) once said, “I go into a farmhouse, I immediately begin to sneeze and cough… but the wind goes through the teepee and up the smoke hole.”
All of this is a result of our immune systems having trouble dealing with improper ventilation; dust buildup; chemicals in cleaning products; and countless other toxicants in our paint, our plastics, our furniture and even our beds. I’m not expecting anybody to move into a tipi (though it doesn’t hurt to camp in a tipi or sleep outside from time to time!), but I am suggesting that you clean up the surfaces and air in your household, because you shouldn’t be inhaling or eating chemicals.
You can start by keeping the windows and doors open and the air conditioner off as often as possible. Lots of times the weather doesn’t allow that, so be sure to change your air-conditioning and heating filters every 3-6 months. Avoid things like plug-in air fresheners and room deodorizers. Make sure that you’re not walking around in your house with your shoes on (especially if you live in an urban area!). Keep as many plants in your house as possible - these are natural air purifiers. Make sure it’s a plant that likes the indoors (not all plants will be happy inside but some will enjoy it). Finally, adjust your cleaning products and methods. You can use all-natural solutions like vinegar and citrus fruits, or you can purchase cleaning products from trusted brands with minimal ingredients. You won’t get that bleachy smell that you might associate with cleanliness, but you’ll be saving yourself from illness and will be cleaning just as well. As long as you’re keeping surfaces clean with products that are not labeled “hazardous if ingested,” you’ll be alright.
4 - Your Energy. Smudge, smudge, smudge. Smudging with sacred medicines is one of the oldest and most universal indigenous practices out there. Smudging will clean the air and your senses from bad energy and will raise your consciousness. If you don’t already know, ask an elder or a spiritual person about the best way to smudge yourself, your home and your vehicle and make this a regular practice.
FINAL NOTE: Remember, these are just guidelines - a brief and simple way to get you going on your detox. This is not inclusive of every single step or product you might need to detoxify your environment, but it is a start. If you have any further suggestions or recommendations for other Indigenous cosmetics companies, feel free to shoot me an email or comment.