Quick Question: WTF Is A Toxin?


Hello, and I'm sorry. I feel like you've had such a good week, and here I am, about to pop your complacency bubble with a scimitar by telling you that mac and cheese is deadly. So are gel manicures and makeup products. Please let your dog know that his or her life is about to be dramatically reduced by eating the food you buy them. It's the insidious work of toxins, which are vague and everywhere. Your best defense involves donating your belongings to the local furnace and preparing the bunker as World War Toxin looms. While you’re gathering provisions, quick question: What are toxins? I keep hearing all about them, but nobody will tell me what they are?

According to the dictionary, toxins are poisons that come from plants and animals. They're antigenic, meaning they cause an immune reaction in the body, and they're categorically all-natural. Venom, for example, is a 100% organic byproduct of saw-scaled vipers, and it is also a great example of a toxin. Parabens, on the other hand, are not. In fact, if parabens were toxic to the body (the evidence here is inconclusive, please don't @ me, please @ a chemist instead) they wouldn’t be toxins, they would be called toxicants, because they’re man-made. Why aren’t people talking about toxicants?

The toxin talk tends to come from certain corners of the wellness internet—but is it all true? And while we're at it, which is more toxic to a person: the vague implication that we are poisoning our bodies, or Oreos? Just asking!

To this day, I have not encountered somebody who has been fatally poisoned by a drugstore moisturizer, nor have I experienced the promised hell of enjoying a burger from McDonald’s. My doctor has yet to tell me that my drugstore shampoo is eroding my brain function, but maybe he's just being polite? I love doctors—many of them are smart, while some of them are hot and smart—and their opinion has been the final word for me whenever my body is not firing on all cylinders. But now there's so much information surrounding what we should and should not be snacking on, breathing in, and masking with, that I'm a little scared and a lot confused.

Would it be deranged to...not worry? Am I on the downtown express train headed for an early grave, and then, shortly after, hell, because I did not heed the words of wellness influencers? Maybe! Only time will tell. I think I'm taking my parabens with me—I'm not quite ready to give up on my SK-II Facial Treatment Essence yet, but will let you know if and when it's up for grabs.

In the meantime, please tell me what a toxin is, if you know. It feels like I am straddling the thin line between being perfectly healthy and poisoned irreparably, and my groin is starting to hurt.

—Brennan Kilbane

Photo via ITG.