There is sensitive skin, and then there is skin with multiple chemical sensitivity (MCS). Sensitive skin is a skin type that is irritated by a certain ingredient or ingredients. For some, those ingredients are chemical, but for others, they can be natural ingredients. While sensitive skin can be bothersome and uncomfortable, the cause of the sensitivity can usually be pinpointed and then avoided. MCS, on the other hand, is a severe sensitivity to a variety of ingredients and pollutants–Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs), environmental or microbial toxins, solvents, synthetic fragrance, and petro-chemicals–and can occur in any skin type. For individuals with MCS, exposure to even the lowest levels of these contaminants leads to a variety of symptoms, from headache, fatigue, dizziness, and difficulty concentrating, to more specific symptoms like itching, muscle pain, or skin rashes.
While MCS does produce an allergic-type reaction, the cause is usually widespread and cannot be pinpointed, making treatment challenging. Many times, eliminating just one ingredient is not enough. It would be like trying to bail water from the sinking Titanic. It is a good idea, but there is just too much water coming in for it to make any difference. In other words, MCS sufferers are so extremely sensitive that they experience symptoms even with minute exposures. Thus, complete avoidance of toxicants is the primary course of action. Unfortunately, for those affected, it is not possible to live in modern-day America without exposure to some harmful chemicals. But, thanks to companies, like Earthview®, it is at least possible to keep that exposure to a minimum.
As a company, Earthview® is as unique as its products. It is founded upon the principles of delivering the best, safest, least reactive, and environmentally friendly products to its customers and is also a company focused on the specialized needs of those customers—environmentally harmed, chemically sensitive individuals.
The chemically sensitive population is a group that has been marginalized by the medical and commercial product communities for quite some time. Medically, most doctors still do not recognize chemical sensitivity as an actual diagnosis, even though the physical symptoms of those affected are real and show otherwise.
Commercially, as consumers, the chemically sensitive are second-class citizens, because most products either are filled with ingredients that cause harm to their bodies, or products that do not cause reactions, but are completely ineffective. While there are many products making claims referring to “all-natural ingredients,” or touting ingredients that are “suitable for sensitive skin,” and made with “organic and non-GMO ingredients,” few actually deliver a fragrance-free, gentle product that can be safely used. The other side of the coin that I mentioned is the availability of sound products that do not cause reactions, but that may not be enjoyable to use or that simply do not work well.
Have any of you had this experience? I know I certainly have. A safe dishwashing detergent that doesn’t actually clean my dishes. A safe soap that doesn’t remove visible dirt or create suds. I could go on.
The products I have struggled most to find, now that I am chemically sensitive, are personal care and body products. They are out there, but get ready to have limp, greasy, or dry and brittle hair, or to not really feel clean or moisturized after a shower. As I mentioned in my previous post, I really enjoy using great shampoos, conditioners, body washes, and lotions. Not being able to use all of my old products that made me feel clean, perfume-y, and put together was a huge let down for me when my body revolted against them. (If you missed that post and want to get into the nitty-gritty of multiple chemical sensitivity, HERE it is.)
This is why I was so excited to try the Earthview® products. Their personal care products were recommended to me by my trusted friends at the American Environmental Health Foundation (AEHF) and are not the norm in the “chemically-sensitive” category. The Earthview products are featured on the AEHF website and online marketplace, because of their ingredient integrity and efficacy. (AEHF is a nonprofit organization established to provide research and education on chemical sensitivity. All proceeds from sales go towards furthering patient resources, studies, education, and research.) An added bonus is the fact that they are actually designed to be enjoyable to use, so that you don’t feel as if you are giving up the things you love to use them. Made with plant-based, fragrance-free ingredients, each product has been tested and vetted for performance and to do no harm to those that use it. As a result, my family now uses the Earthview Shampoo/Body Wash, Conditioner, Liquid Hand Soap, and Body Lotion–the Body Lotion is my personal favorite.
The Earthview® website describes it best:
“We want our hair, and skin to look and feel great and our clothes, dishes and household surfaces to come out fresh and clean. We believe that you will enjoy Earthview® products’ performance as much or better than any products made by anyone, anywhere— safe, effective and friendly to the earth downstream.”
As you can see from the quote, the company has focused their product lines to offer hair care, skin care, dish cleaning, laundry, and surface cleaning products. ALL products are fragrance free. The hair care line consists of a shampoo/body wash combination product and a moisturizing conditioner. The skin care line is a liquid hand soap/facial cleanser, self-foaming hand soap, moisturizing lotion, and moisturizing shave cream. For laundry, they offer a liquid laundry detergent and liquid fabric softener. For dishes, there is a liquid dishwasher detergent and a liquid dish soap. For general cleaning, they have a multi-surface cleaning spray and a glass-specific cleaning spray. Basically, whatever category of product you need to clean your home or to take care of your body, Earthview® has you covered.
Starting and running a business for the chemically-sensitive has its own set of challenges, though—as I am sure you can imagine. From sourcing and testing ingredients to getting the word about your products to the people you are trying to serve, there are many barriers and hurdles. Nevertheless, Joe Gammon, the founder of Earthview® was so passionate about the need for better options in the cleaning and personal care space that he had to at least try to make it happen. Lucky for folks like me who desperately NEED these products, Joe has done his due diligence in every aspect of the business and has been very successful.
I had a chance to speak with Joe in depth about Earthview®, and he was graciously willing to answer some product- and company-specific questions. He also has his own compelling personal story of chemical sensitivity and environmental illness. What follows is our exchange. I hope you find it answers some questions you may have about the products as well.
Me: What were you using as cleaning, body and self-care products prior to creating the Earthview® line?
Joe: The creation of the Earthview® line began with a dramatic life event that changed everything in our lifestyle. On July 4, 2002, our house flooded causing a toxic mold exposure with serious medical consequences. Although I had a very good corporate job with a large retailer, when our immune systems were shattered by this exposure, I had to take a 1-year medical leave of absence just to restore my health. My wife and one daughter also had serious medical impacts, but with different symptoms to our common underlying toxic exposure. Some had respiratory issues, some skin sensitivities and others general fatigue, headaches and neurological symptoms that often progressed to disabling levels.
As we learned more about medically-diagnosed multiple chemical exposures, we found a common denominator that affected us all. Exposure to low levels of volatile chemicals, combustion exhaust fumes and fragrances that never caused problems before would now quickly cause long-lasting medical symptoms and had to be strictly avoided. As consumers, we had used conventional, mainstream personal care products, but now we had to make a change. Our bodies’ toxic loads had reached their limits and could no longer deal with just the slightest additional insult from typical consumer products. We tried many different brands and types of fragrance-free products but found many inconsistencies in our tolerance to different products within the same brand. The performance of some of these products also left much to be desired. This is what generated the idea for Earthview®. We wanted a brand where every item would be fragrance-free and designed to be safe for those, like us, with hypersensitivities to fragrances and chemicals.
Me: When you created the products, which need did you address first? Was it the body products or the dish, laundry and cleaning?
Joe: We started cautiously with just a few products, because we were not sure how large the demand would be. We knew we needed them and loved them, but how would others respond? So, we started with the highest volume items to test the water- shampoo, conditioner, lotion and laundry. We were very pleased with the response from customers across the country in practically every state. So, we eventually expanded to a full line of personal care and household cleaners.
An underlying reason for the success of Earthview® is the continuing dramatic growth in those suffering with MCS. Just this week, a new study appeared in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, where Professor Anne Steinemann of the University of Melbourne (Australia) conducted a follow up survey to determine the prevalence of MCS. She found that in the United States there has been a 300% increase in those with MCS, with one in four Americans reporting these symptoms. This is a good background awareness article for those seeking to understand MCS and its impact on friends and family members. (Note: To read the full article, click HERE).
Me: In my experience, it seems that there is more competition in the laundry and cleaning categories with chemical-free products. Did you find this category harder to break into? Do you find it harder to convince folks to use cleaning products when many revert to using vinegar, baking soda, etc. when they have chemical sensitivities? What do you tell them about these products to make them stand out and fill that need?
Joe: The key challenge in finding replacement products is “efficacy”- how well do these products work? There are some home ingredients without fragrance and chemicals that can be used for cleaning but designing products with clean ingredients that also work great is quite a bit more challenging. That has been one of our key goals.
Laundry and cleaning categories are very competitive, since they are everyday basics everyone uses. However, in mainstream commercial products claims are often made on fragrance-free versions of a popular brand, but many toxic ingredients remain in those formulas. In the natural channel, well-known brands struggle to make products that are both clean and work well. A particular brand I am thinking of has even reintroduced ingredients that were once forbidden due to well-known skin sensitivities but are now once again “allowable” since they lower the cost of the product. We are trying to accomplish both goals- clean ingredients and products that work great.
Me: How quickly did the chemical sensitivity follow the mold exposure for you and your family? Are the issues associated? Has the chemical sensitivity abated since you got out of the mold?
Joe: Our chemical sensitivities began relatively quickly, in tandem with the growth of unseen mycotoxins in our indoor air environment. There was a one-to-one correlation with our mold exposure and the beginning of medical symptoms. Nearly everyone in the family suddenly began having similar, bizarre symptoms at the same time that we had never before experienced- very confusing to try to figure out what was going on! Our health has improved dramatically from those initial years after much effort to detoxify, avoid additional exposures and improve our immune systems. However, exposures outside the home which cannot be avoided still trigger serious symptoms. But it seems that maybe recovery time is quicker, since we can now retreat to our clean air environment at home.
Me: What have you learned about toxins and ingredient selection for the products?
Joe: We spent the first 5 years in our business experimenting with formulas and ingredients. We learned that many companies have “partially clean” ingredients, so they can make a claim that is popular to make at the time. Other companies have a mixture of clean and toxic ingredients. Still others have all clean products that don’t work particularly well. We want our shampoo to be a clean formula, but not at the expense of frizzy hair.
Me: I love the shampoo and conditioner. Those are two of my favorite products! What are the main components that these products need to both work and be enjoyable to use?
Joe: The key to products both working well and being enjoyable to use is expert green chemistry. Each and every ingredient is clean, safe and non-toxic on its own merits, confirmed by years of ingredient research. In combination as a formula, they work together in tandem as gentle soaps, detergents, conditioners and moisturizers for the safe chemical reaction that removes oils, dirt, and soils while remaining safe and even nourishing to the skin.
Me: What kind of customer feedback are you getting?
Joe: Our customers are the most hypersensitive of sensitive consumers. The selection of cleaning products is a matter of health or illness for many. The most common comment is that we provide the “safety net” of products designed and vetted for those with extreme sensitivities, but without having to give up products that are enjoyable to use. They recognize we have succeeded in creating safe, premium products that they can always trust to be fragrance-free. I think this is why we continue to grow more customers from every major metropolitan area in the U.S. and from coast to coast.
Me: How did you connect with the American Environmental Health Foundation? When did they start selling your products? How important is it to you to have their stamp of approval for the Earthview products?
Joe: When we first became ill with MCS, we were fortunate to get a referral to see Dr. William Rea of the Environmental Health Center in Dallas, Texas. As we learned about the need to avoid toxins and chemicals in our nutrition and indoor environment, the American Environmental Health Foundation was a great resource and source of products for us. When we launched the Earthview® brand, they were eager to carry our products, since they were designed specifically for MCS patients who are a big part of their clientele. Because of our clean ingredients and enjoyable products, we are one of their featured product lines.
Me: What is a life “hack” you could offer for other chemically sensitive people out there? In other words, is there something you do to make your life easier as far as chemical sensitivity that others could also do?
Joe: Multiple chemical sensitivities is a difficult condition to cope with- often with physical, financial, and emotional components. Sometimes the freedom to go wherever you want with whomever you wish are lost. The Journal of OEM article mentioned above states that days of work and even jobs are lost each year creating financial hardships. Sometimes to avoid environmental exposures, we form a “bunker mentality” that can isolate us from the friends and family we need the most at this time. Feeling all the seeming losses can be discouraging. My advice is to focus on enjoying life and compensating in new ways. Discover new talents, learn to create new things, and develop new friendships. Share with and educate others on how they can help you cope with your situation- they really have no idea what you are going through, but true friends will try to help. What you have is far greater than anything you may have lost. Reach down deep within yourself and develop a greater love for life and the people around you. These are just medical symptoms. Enjoy your life!
Me: Is there a cool use for one of your products that you have found that is not exactly what it was originally designed for?
Joe: Sometimes when travelling, it’s a bit bulky to pack a pantry full of cleaning products in addition to your personal care ones. We discovered that, although a bit expense for long-term use, our shampoo formula in the short-term will actually work quite well as a laundry detergent and as an automatic dishwasher detergent. Also, the shampoo diluted 50% with water makes an excellent dog shampoo. And the hair conditioner, likewise, gets the tangles out and the shine back in our furry friends.
Me: What great tips! Are there any “new” products that you plan release in the future?
Joe: We are trying to create a sustainable base of operations for our products by opening our own manufacturing facility in NW Arkansas in the pristine Ozarks. Once we complete this transition over the next few months, this will open the possibility for a number of new items. Maybe your readers could vote on what they would like to see, that’s hard to find and we’ll go to work on those!
Me: What a wonderful idea! I am onboard for that. I’ll be your first vote. I would love to see hairspray or a men’s styling gel product. Those are two products my family struggles to find.
What do you all think?
I hope you enjoyed learning about these products. What would you like to see Earthview® create? Comment here or on the Facebook page. I will make sure Joe gets all of your votes.