Baby Steps to Limiting Personal and Household Toxins
Let me start by confessing here that I am in no way suggesting that my earnest attempts at limiting my family's exposure to toxins means I excel at doing so across the board. I mean my husband and I straight up inhaled an entire box of oreo-style cookies in two sittings and then turned around and bought TWO more boxes, which we have since gone to town on. I cook my food in non-stick skillets and store said food in plastic tupperware with aluminum foil on top. We lather our hands in hand sanitizer every time we exit the gym and, speaking of lathering, you can occasionally find purple shampoo in my shower because it's cheaper than going to the hair salon.
Each day we are faced with decisions on what to put in and on our bodies and I will start by agreeing with you that it is pretty much impossible to altogether avoid exposing yourself to harmful toxins. Therefore, it's really easy to write off or justify bad consumer habits. I know I'm guilty of it. Consider what you put on your body every day, the food that goes in it, what that food has been exposed to (or eaten), the air you breathe, the water you drink....toxins are in all of it. However, and that's a BIG however, there are endless choices we can make each day to take control over what harmful substances our bodies are subjected to.
Sugar, alcohol, BPA, synthetics, sodium lauryl sulfate, parabens, aluminum...the list goes on. We've all heard a thing or two about something on this list and how it can be harming our body. I don't dare attempt to address all I'd like to say about toxin exposure here in one post but I want to start by chipping away at some of the more common ingredients that we, as consumers, may not even realize are harmful to us. Either that or we do realize it and aren't quite sure what to do about it or, honestly speaking, we're just lazy about finding alternatives. In this post I am going to address body care products and a few household items that contain some ingredients that we should all be doing a better job avoiding.
Quick note before I dig into the nitty gritty, though. This subject can spiral out of control very easily and get lost in translation to most, including myself. I am not here to be an alarmist or fearmonger, to tell you what to do with your life or even suggest that I know what is best for you. I simply have a strong interest in knowing what I am consuming and how that may or may not be impacting the proper functioning of my body and my family's bodies. My hope is that this will trigger your interest as well and encourage you to start learning more and taking steps towards limiting you and your family's (and pets!) exposure to harmful substances :)
Let's start with a basic list of common ingredients that you should add to your RED FLAG list when looking at body care labels (which you should always read!):
1. Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS) & Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLES)
1. SLS and SLES are emulsifiers (keeps ingredients mixed) and surfactants (helps clean and create lather). They are derived from either palm, coconut or petroleum oils. The difference is that SLES undergoes a chemical treatment called ethoxylation to make it less harsh. These ingredients can be found in most hygiene products like shampoo, conditioner, body wash, toothpaste, and soaps. It is also used heavily in cleaning agents such as dish soap and laundry detergent. They are both known as skin, eye and respiratory tract irritants and common allergens. The additional concern with SLES is that during the ethoxylation process, the ingredient may be contaminated with measurable amounts of known carcinogens 1,4-dioxane and ethylene oxide. Ethylene oxide can damage the nervous system, has been linked to breast cancer and the California Environmental Protection Agency has found evidence that it may interfere with human development and cause male and female reproductive toxicity. Although both ingredients are banned in other countries and ethylene oxide alone is banned in the EU, the US has yet to set regulations on these ingredients. To avoid these toxins and others that undergo ethoxylation, look for sodium lauryl sulfate, sodium lauryth sulfate, sodium laureate sulfate, PPG, PEG, polysorbate and ingredients ending in -eth.
2. Phenoxyethanol is an antimicrobial preservative and stabilizer used in cosmetics, soaps, sunscreens, detergents, toothpaste, baby products, body care products, hair care products and more. This ingredient is a skin and eye irritant, common allergen and can cause eczema and hives. It has been classified as toxic or harmful by the EU in products used around the mouth or on the lips. If you or anyone in your family has sensitive skin, this is an ingredient to avoid.
3. "Fragrance" should be a bad word in your vocabulary! When you see it, RUN. "Fragrance" is not a single ingredient but the sum of many other chemical ingredients (over 3,000 chemicals can hide behind the word), some of which have been linked to cancer, reproductive and developmental toxicity, allergies and sensitivities. Fragrance can be found in any body care product, soaps, makeup, household cleaners, candles, sunscreens, perfume and air fresheners. Due to trade secret protections, the chemical makeup of a parfum or fragrance is not required to be disclosed on ingredient labels. Common chemical components of fragrance (ex: benzophenone, acetaldehyde, formaldehyde, 1,4 dioxane...to name a small few) have been positively identified as causing endocrine (hormone) disruption, cancer, birth defects, eye, respiratory and skin irritation, organ system toxicity, and reproductive and developmental toxicity. If you suffer from asthma, fragrance is listed in the top 5 known allergen to trigger an asthma attack. I don't think I need to beat a dead horse here...
4. Parabens are synthetic preservatives added to personal care products and as a food additive that discourage the growth of microbes. You can find parabens in shampoo, conditioner, lotions, toothpaste, makeup, deodorant - to name a few. Parabens are known endocrine disruptors, an effect that is linked to increased risk of breast cancer and reproductive toxicity. Parabens have the ability to mimic estrogen in the body. Research has shown that the perceived influx of estrogen beyond normal levels can in some cases trigger reactions such as increasing breast cell division and the growth of tumors. Parabens are regulated by the FDA, however the safe limit is set per product and the concern for health hazards comes into play when considering the cumulative effect of using multiple paraben products. Estrogenic chemicals such as parabens may potentially influence the development of malignant melanoma (skin cancer). Some parabens are linked to lowering sperm count, blocking testosterone, and causing anxiety and behavioral changes in offspring when exposed during gestation. It is important to note that endocrine disruptors are known to impact the reproductive potential in women. Ingredients that include the prefix ethyl, butyl, methyl, and propyl—even if they don’t specifically use paraben by name—may alert you to its presence. (Worth the read: https://www.fairhavenhealth.com/parabens-harmful-effects-prenatal).
5. Phthalates (pronounced THAL-ates....I was happy to learn that, too) are endocrine-disrupting chemicals used as an additive in many body care products as a plasticizer, additive to help maintain scents or to help lotion absorb into the skin. Phthalates do not bind to other ingredients, allowing them to leach out into air, food and liquid. Phthalates are known carcinogens and have been positively linked to reproductive toxicity, thyroid irregularities and birth defects in the reproductive system of boys. Phthalates cross the placenta and have been detected in breast milk, making young children extra vulnerable to phthalate exposure. There has also been evidence linking phthalate exposure to infertility problems in both men and women. Phthalates are one of the thousands of ingredients that can be hidden behind the word "fragance" so always look for "phthalate-free", "fragrance-free", or avoid the following additives: fragrance, parfum, perfume, DEP, DBP, or DEHP.
I know that was A LOT of information. I linked evidence-based articles and research studies throughout, so I recommend going back over time and reading through the various articles and doing your own additional research! Now, for some good news. I am going to list a few great brands and products below that are safer alternatives to everyday items. I recommend downloading the ThinkDirty App and searching the products you use. The app is amazing for learning about the ingredients in your body care products and they are rated on a toxicity scale of 1-10. It also suggest safer alternatives to the products you currently use. The EWG also has a program called Skin Deep where you can research products and ingredients to find safer alternatives and learn why your current product may be harmful to you!
For Body Care:
Schmidt's Deodorant is the most effective deodorant for men and women I have tried and I've tried A LOT!
Dr. Bronner's Baby Unscented Soap (for body soap and shampoo)
Wool Dryer Balls (add your favorite essential oil for safely fragranced laundry!)
There are also endless non-toxic personal and household care options when using your own essential oils. More blog posts to come on making your own body care and household cleaning products!!
I could go on forever but I think I've already surpassed the acceptably amount of information to fit within the description "baby steps" (not sorry!). Hopefully this gives you a helpful start in determining where you can begin making a difference in your home. Consider it a lifestyle change and don't try to do it all at once. Choosing to switch out a product here and there will be a step in the right direction. I linked a few more helpful sites below that are great resources. Thank you so much for reading this post and learning alongside me. Look out for more posts on toxic products, their ingredients and safer alternatives!