The science behind healthy living with Fruitful Flora

Fruitful Flora is a UK health and lifestyle platform dedicated to women who want to understand the science behindhealthy living. Flora aims to help women find internal balance hormonally, physically, and mentally. We sat down with Flora, the Founder of Fruitful Flora, to discuss the effects of chemicals within personal care products on fertility and hormonal imbalance.

Midori: Hi Flora, please tell us about yourself!

Flora: My name is Flora, and I'm 23 years old. I grew up in rural Wales on a farm, where I spent my childhood surrounded by mother nature. At the age of 18, I moved to London to study Medical Physiology at university, where I spent three years with my head in books or the laboratory learning about how the body works. I developed a new found respect for my body after learning all the amazing things it does forus daily. It is always silently working in the background to keep us alive and doing the things we love.

Since then, I have developed Fruitful Flora, a platform dedicated to helping women find internal balance; physically, mentally and hormonally. During my studies, I was undertaking in-depth research on women and children's health. I began to realise that although there was new scientific research emerging every day in the world of health, this information wasn't making its way to the general public and was instead remaining hidden in complicated scientific papers. Through Fruitful Flora, I aim to translate this complex information into easy to follow articles, where women around the world can learn and therefore make more informed decisions regarding their health and wellbeing.

Midori: Why did you decide tocreate your own community? Tell us about your journey! 

Flora:I decided to create Fruitful Flora to help women worldwide find internal balance - physically, mentally, and hormonally. I haven't always been as strong and healthy as I am today; I've confronted disordered eating, hypothalamic amenorrhea, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and body dysmorphia. As a result of my struggles, I have become passionate about finding natural solutions to hormonal imbalances, period problems, gut issues and much more.

Many women, including myself, turn to social media and blogs for health advice. Celebrities and influencers use their platforms to endorse products, diets or give their own wellness advice. However, often the advice provided is from individuals personal experience and not backed by scientific research. I know from personal experience how easy it is to fall for these health claims. When I was younger and less clued up onhealth, I began to take diet pills or follow a juice cleanse just because someone on social media who I admired at the time promoted them.

Whilst I can't undo the damage this did to my mentality and health, I want to prevent other women from going through what I did. That's why both on Fruitful Flora's social media accounts and website, all the information and advice provided is backed by scientific evidence. I love what I do because I learn new things every day, which I implement into my healthy routine. One of my most significant discoveries I made recently was learning about the harmful effects certain environmental toxins can have on our health.

"Did you know that the average woman in the USA applies 168 chemicals to their face and body every day? It’s crazy!"

Will you go back into education?

Flora: Yes, absolutely. This September, I will begin my master's degree in women and children's health. I will be learning about women's health during preconception, pregnancy and postnatal, as well as the baby's health during pregnancy and childhood. I am so excited to be right back in the middle of the research. Additionally, I will be beginning a diploma in integrative health and nutrition coaching to start helping women worldwide find their internal balance via one-to-one coaching sessions.

Midori: What are your thoughts on skincare products and their effect on our health?

Flora: Until recently, I had never stopped toconsider whether my skincare was influencing my long-term health. I think we often forget that the products we put on our skin are absorbed into the body. Instead, we usually focus on the skin-deep effects.

Many of these chemicals remain untested, and their effect on our health unknown. Those chemicals that have been tested often come back with some scary health concerns.

I've always believed that investing in good quality skincare is a must if you can afford to. Therefore, where possible, I've always invested in expensive creams and lotions, thinking that they were superior to others on the market. However, because these products came with a hefty price tag and a good reputation, I'd never considered that they could be using ingredients that could be detrimental to my health.

During my research last year, where I lookedat how to improve women's menstrual health, I came across some scientific papers linking toxins in certain skincare products to reproductive issues. I was shocked. At the time, I was suffering from secondary amenorrhea. I was making numerous changes to my lifestyle and diet to regain my period and balance out my hormones. However, I'd never considered that my skincare products could be playing a role in my hormonal imbalance. So after analyzing these articles, I immediately ran to the bathroom and picked up a handful of my skincare products to read their ingredient lists.

I soon realized that most of the products I was using daily were laced with harmful toxins, including parabens and triclosan. So I quickly overhauled my skincare products and replaced them with sustainably sourced, toxin-free alternatives.

I began to wonder how many other women were unknowingly exposing themselves to hundreds of harmful toxins every day. That's when I decided to write my article "The invisible toxins hiding in your home" in an attempt to make women more aware of the potential health risks associated with these toxins, including an increased risk of infertility, pregnancy complications, cancer and much more.

According to you, what is the main problem/issue with skincare products found on the market today?

Flora: The main problem with skincare products today is the lack of clarity when it comes to their ingredients. There is no obligation for skincare brands to provide a list of ingredients on their website. Even when it comes to buying products in physical stores, there are significant loopholes through which companies can hide these harmful chemicals. Take synthetic fragrance, for example. If you read the ingredientlist of popular skincare brands, you are bound to find "fragrance" or"perfume" somewhere on the ingredients list. The "fragrance" isn't just one ingredient that makes the product smell nice; it is often an umbrella term for hundreds of chemicals that the brand doesn't have to disclose, including toxins like phthalates, which have been linked to infertility. Many companies brand themselves as natural, even when they are not, by listing in bold natural skincare products at the front of the box. It's all just an attempt to remarket their products tointrigue more buyers. But I'm no longer falling for it, with my new rule being- read the complete ingredient list. That's why I loved it when I came across Midori because suddenly shopping for toxin-free skincare became so much easier as they'd do all the work for you, checking whether your products contain toxins or not. Ingenious!

Midori: Why do you think large cosmetic manufacturers are not focusing on the health impact of some of the chemicals they use? What's missing about the solutions they offer?

Flora: Good question. My best guess is that they don't want to overhaul their ingredient lists unless they are forced to do so. Large cosmetic manufacturers focus most of their attention on their products' effect on the skin, and the safety checks on our health are just a necessity toget their product on the market. Cult favourite brands have concocted unique blends of ingredients that women love because of their beneficial effects on the skin, whether anti-ageing, blemish fighting, or the like. They are concerned that if they begin altering the formula to remove certain chemicals, they may reduce the positive effects the products have on the skin.

What's more, natural ingredients are expensive, and as we know, companies love to cut corners to save a few bucks. So some companies have taken advantage of the new hype around toxin-free products and created new lines of "green" products, which usually come with a hefty price tag.

I think companies should have to disclose all the ingredients used in their products which could risk the consumer's health. Additionally, regulatory boards like the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) should be stricter about banning more of these harmful chemicals. These days, the banning of chemicals takes numerous years. Even when a toxic ingredient isbanned, manufacturers develop chemicals with a very similar chemical composition to replace them, and the cycle begins again. The truth of the matter is, more people need to speak out about the dangers these toxins are having on our health so that people can begin looking at a long term solution.

Currently, if you want to minimise your toxin exposure it usually requires spending a lot of money; buying things like organic vegetables, toxin-free skin care, and glass bottled water or filter systems are costly and unachievable to most people. We shouldn't have to empt your pockets to keep ourselves safe. Instead, companies and regulatory boards should take measures to protect our health better and be willing to take on the financial burden, rather than putting it on their consumers.

Midori: Can you tell us about some insights you discovered through your studies and research on the impact ofcertain chemicals on fertility and the development of babies?

Flora: This is one of my favourite research areas, and scientists are learning more about the mother-baby connection during pregnancy every day. There is strong evidence to suggest that adverse environmental factors, such as smoking, alcohol and certain environmental toxins, during pregnancy can increase the chances that a baby will develop chronic diseases in later life. This includes increasing the baby's chance of developing obesity, type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Many women are aware that smoking and drinking during pregnancy is wrong, but fewer are aware of the impact certain environmental toxins can have on pregnancy health. Most people are exposed to hundreds of environmental toxins every day, whether it be heavy metals in your fish, pesticides in your vegetables or endocrine disruptors chemicals (EDCs) like phthalate in your skincare and beauty products. It's impossible to eliminate our exposure to these harmful toxins because they are ubiquitous in our environment, but there are ways in which we can minimise them. I recently wrote an in-depth article on this, so if you'd like to find out more about how you can protect yourself from thesetoxins, be sure to give it a read.

In pregnancy, each part of the baby's bodyforms at a specific time. During these times, the body can be susceptible to damage caused by medications, alcohol orother harmful exposures. We call this particular time the "critical periodof development" for that body part. Emerging evidence demonstrates that some environmental toxins may increase the risk of low birth weight, pretermbirth, and congenital disabilities. In addition, they may interfere with the child's normal development, including possible effects on the child's behaviour and ability to learn.

When it comes to fertility, toxins can have several debilitating effects:
         •     They can change a woman's hormone balance andaffect the menstrual cycle
         •     They can accelerate the ageing of eggs
         •     Environmental toxinscan affect sperm numbers or quality
         •     During early pregnancy, they can increase the risk of miscarriage or congenital disabilities
         •      Later in pregnancy,they can affect the growth of the fetus

Next month, I will be releasing a series of articles looking at the impact toxins have on fertility and pregnancy in more detail, so be sure to keep your eyes peeled!

What's the main advice you would give tosomeone who struggles with sensitive skin issues?

Flora: I struggle with sensitive skin myself, so I know how difficult it can be to find skincare that isn't irritating to the skin.

My main advice would be to use as few productsat a time as possible with as few ingredients as possible. The cleaner and simpler your skincare routine is the fewer chances that you'll react to somethingin your skincare routine. I tend to stick to a gentle cleanser, moisturiser and sunscreen during the day and then a gentle cleanser, moisturiser, eye cream and serum in the evening. Another vital tip is to identify and avoid the ingredients that trigger your sensitive skin. A few of the most common irritants include fragrances, dyes, and preservatives such as parabens. This is why reading the ingredients list is so important. Even if you don't have sensitive skin, I'd recommend everyone to use toxin-free products that onlycontain bare-bones ingredients because it is a lot safer for your health.

Midori: Do you know what the long-term hazards of using products with toxic compounds are? 

Flora: New evidence is emerging all the time on the long-term hazards of using products with toxic compounds. Many of these dangerous chemicals are endocrine disruptor chemicals (EDCs), which mimic our natural hormones, like estrogen, to cause hormonal imbalances in the body. Studies have linked exposure to EDCs with numerous health conditions. These include breast cancer, endometriosis, polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), infertility, obesity, and reduced sperm countand quality. Is it just a coincidence that rates of infertility have simultaneously increased with rising EDC use over the last 60 years? Or are the increasing levels of EDCs in our environment to blame?

Midori: What do you look for when you shop for skin care and personal care products?

Flora: There are many excellent, safe and natural personal care products available today. But beware, many brands are jumping onthe natural and non-toxic bandwagon and marketing their products to be more eco-friendly and non-toxic than they are.

I look for products that contain bare-bone ingredients. Reading through the ingredients list allows me to identify whether there are any nasty chemicals ina product. Remember, brands usually use words like natural, organic, non-toxicor clean on the front of their packages, but this doesn't necessarily mean theyare safe. These products might only contain a few organic or non-toxic chemicals, continuing to sneak those harmful chemicals into their products. The best thing is to check the ingredients list for toxic chemicals like parabensor fragrance and avoid them like the plague. Another great tip is to check whether a product is certified by a third party, like the USDA organic ornatural products association, as these products would've gone through more rigorous back checks. There are many great apps and websites to help you do athorough background check on the product, including Midori, my favourite shopping tool.

Midori: What is the first thing you look for on labels that you want to avoid? 

Flora: I try to avoid any product containing harmful toxic chemicals, including:
            •           Fragrance andcolourants
            •           Dyes
            •           Alcohol (drying)
            •           Triclosan
            •           Sodium-Lauryl-Sulphate(SLS)
            •           Parabens
            •           Phthalates
            •           Talcum powder 

These ingredients are absorbed directly into your blood stream and will most likely cause health issues, hormone imbalances and allergies in the long term. The list of harmful toxins is constantly changing, so it's best to use third-party websites like the Skin Deep Database, Midori, or Think Dirty to see whether the product is safe.

Midori: Do you think brands should be more transparentin the way they formulate their products? 

Flora: Yes, I do. I discussed this a little earlier, but I believe it is vital that brands are more transparent about the ingredients they use. Right now, many people are buying products that they think are good for them, but that might be doing some serious damage to their health in the long run. Brands need to be more upfront about using things like parabens or phthalates to allow people to make more educated decisions on whether to buy their product or not.

Midori: What do you thinkmakes a consumer trust a brand? 

Flora: Transparency, quality and dependability.

Midori: How is Midori useful for people? 

Flora: Midori  is super helpful. It flags up and informs you of chemicals in cosmetics and other personal care products when shopping on a website like Sephora or Amazon. As mentioned previously, brands do not need to disclose their entire ingredients list of products sold on the internet. Therefore, if you are shopping without using Midori, it can take a lot of googling to find a complete ingredient list. Midori works in the background whilst you are shopping informing you whether there are any harmful toxins in the products you put in your virtual basket. This means you don't have to use a separate app or website and instead can spend more time shopping! 

You can follow Flora on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.