Could your choice of shampoo or cookware be harming your health?
A growing body of research suggests that chemicals in everyday products may put us at risk for health problems – from infertility and birth defects to certain types of cancer. While it’s impossible to avoid exposure to all environmental chemicals, there are ways to limit your exposure to potential toxins, and you can start by avoiding, tossing or replacing these:
Plastic Food Containers
Ever wonder why clear plastic containers turn cloudy after running through the dishwasher a few times? Plastic breaks down over time, and this breakdown can release dangerous chemicals into your food. Many plastic containers are made from chemicals including phthalates, which act as endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs). Switch to glass containers.
Prepared Foods in Plastic Containers
You don’t necessarily have to toss these, but don’t heat them up in the plastic. Heating plastic can release chemicals that seep into your food. It’s well worth the few extra seconds it takes to transfer prepared foods into a glass container before heating them in the microwave.
Many nonstick pans contain trace amounts of a chemical called perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), which has been shown to cause cancer in laboratory animals. The pans’ nonstick lining can scratch or chip off into your food. Instead, use cast-iron or stainless steel cookware, and natural, nonstick sprays such as olive oil.
I never allow artificial air fresheners in my home. Anything you breathe in eventually ends up in your bloodstream. Plug-in scents or synthetically scented candles may contain phthalates, which have been linked to reproductive problems. Instead, choose candles made with essential oils and fresh flowers to scent your home. Also, try using baking soda and white vinegar as odor absorbers.
The one-word ingredient “perfume” can translate to a product containing upward of 300 chemical ingredients. (Perfume companies won’t release lists of exact ingredients for fear of divulging secrets to their competitors.) Avoid perfumes and colognes or switch to products that are scented with natural oils.
Fabric and Upholstery Protection Sprays
Stain blockers essentially create an invisible plastic barrier over your furniture. This plastic will eventually wear off and be released into your home environment. Instead, simply clean stains as necessary rather than trying to prevent them.
Check the labels of cleaning products for chemical ingredients such as phthalates and chemical surfactants. Natural products such as baking soda, Borax, soap powder, vinegar, lemon and hot water work just as well without coating your home in toxins.
From shampoo to lipstick, the average American woman applies up to 12 personal care items to her skin, and the average man up to six, each day. That adds up to roughly 126 unique ingredients, according to the Environmental Working Group, a public health advocacy organization. Opt for cosmetics with mineral-based pigments and natural oils. Choose soaps and shampoos that are free of synthetic fragrances and chemicals such as triclosan, which has been found in animal studies to alter hormone regulation.
Many antiperspirants use aluminum-based compounds and other chemicals, which are absorbed into the sweat glands. While there are ongoing studies on the possible health impacts of antiperspirants, I advise avoiding any chemicals that are absorbed into the body for nonmedical purposes. You can find aluminum-free antiperspirants, and there are many chemical-free brands of natural deodorant sticks and sprays that don’t contain parabens or any potentially carcinogenic ingredients with “PEG” in their name (such as PEG-8 and PEG-40 hydrogenated castor oil).
Sunscreens with Oxybenzone
Research on animals suggests that chemicals in some sunscreens, including oxybenzone, may cause health problems when they penetrate the skin. The safest sunscreens are made from minerals such as zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, but they can be very expensive. In general, avoid aerosol spray sunscreens, which you can accidentally inhale, as well as sunscreens containing chemical ingredients such as oxybenzone, octinoxate, retinyl palmitate (a form of vitamin A) and fragrances.
Sidenote: Beware of “Natural” Ingredients
When you’re looking for safer products, keep in mind that the term “natural” means almost nothing in the food and cosmetics industry, as it’s not regulated by the FDA. Instead, look for products labeled as organic, because organic ingredients are federally monitored, and the designation really means something in the food and cosmetics world.
A good start in finding safer products for yourself and your home is to avoid items containing parabens or sulfates (such as sodium lauryl sulfate or sodium laureate sulfate) or items labeled “fragrance” or “parfum.”Of course, it may not be practical for you to toss all of these items at once. Instead, try swapping out one product at a time with a safer version. Even small steps to minimize your chemical exposures can create a healthier and safer home.
Source: This article, written by Dr. Cohen, was originally published by Everyday Health
About Aly Cohen, MD
Dr. Aly Cohen is a board-certified rheumatologist and integrative medicine specialist, as well as an environmental health expert. She has collaborated with the Environmental Working Group and is the author of the textbook “Integrative Environmental Medicine” for the Weil/Oxford University Press series.
In 2015, she created TheSmartHuman.com to share environmental health and prevention information with the public.
Dr. Cohen is working to educate and empower the ‘next generation’ to make safer, smarter lifestyle choices through environmental health and prevention curriculum. She will be speaking at TEDxCapeMay on “Innovating High School Health Education“ in October 2019. Her consumer book, “Non-Toxic: Guide to Living Healthy in A Chemical World,” is scheduled for a 2020 release.