The Health Hazards of Commonly Used
Personal and Household Products
Research shows that we are exposed to at least 60 toxic household chemicals daily. The average woman uses 12 toxin-containing products daily, exposing herself to about 168 unique chemicals per day. Many of these stay in the environment and our tissues and bioaccumulate so exposure over time increases our risk. Children, because of their small size are particularly vulnerable.
The EPA estimates that because of our energy efficient houses, the air inside is 2-5 times more polluted than outside. “Green products”, although a step in the right direction, may not be as safe as we think. Additionally, there are currently more than 84,000 chemicals being used that have not been safety tested. So, where do these chemicals come from and what does this mean for our health and wellness?
INGREDIENTS OF CONCERN
As can be seen in the picture below, phthalates are ubiquitous in our everyday life. They are used as adhesives, lubricants, and to soften plastics during the manufacturing process and are often used in fragrances.
• Exposure is through inhalation or direct skin exposure. Plastics that are heated can leach these substances. They are known endocrine disruptors, reduce sperm count and associated with developmental toxicity. They have been found in breast tissue and linked to breast cancer.
BOTTOM LINE: If an ingredient is ‘fragrance’ it has phthalates
These chemicals are used to make plastic hard and to line cans to avoid metal leaching. Most common is Bisphenol A ( BPA) , others include BPS, BPC, etc. Bisphenol is an endocrine disruptor, which means it mimics or partly mimics naturally occurring hormones in the body like estrogens, androgens, and thyroid hormones, potentially producing overstimulation. They bind to a receptor within a cell and block the normal hormone from binding. These can be found in such things as plastic storage containers, plastic water, shampoo, conditioner, lotion bottles, baby toys, dental fillings and sealants, food cans and bags and eyeglass lenses.
BOTTOM LINE: Although BPA has been removed from many items, the replacements are just as harmful
This is added to reduce or prevent bacterial contamination of a host of products including, shower curtains, toothpaste, dish soaps, toys, cookware and personal care products. You often don’t see it listed as an ingredient. It is absorbed through skin or mouth and can disrupt thyroid function and causes liver and respiratory toxicity. Although it was banned in US antibacterial soaps in 2017, foreign manufacturers can still include it and it is still used in many commonly used products.
BOTTOM LINE: Unless specified, assume your toothpaste has it
4. Perfluoroalkyl Chemicals( i.e. PFOA, PFC)
These provide water and fire resistance. They are found in many commonly used products like:
• Teflon and other nonstick pans
• Scotch Guard furniture and rugs
• Polartec and Gore-Tex clothes
• Microwave popcorn bags
• Fast Food wrappers
They are easily absorbed and poorly eliminated. The main health effects include small birthweight, elevate cholesterol, abnormal thyroid hormone levels, liver inflammation, and weaken immune system.
BOTTOM LINE: Found in nearly all human blood (&babies)
5. PERCHLOROETHYLENE ( PERCS)
A colorless liquid that gives off that ‘dry cleaning smell; also used in grease removing liquids. This is found in:
• Dry cleaned clothes- high in wool, polyester and cotton
• Rug cleaners
• Stain removers
These can be absorbed through inhalation. Known to be a neurotoxin, possible carcinogen, skin irritant, & exacerbate asthma.
BOTTOM LINE: There is no EPA limit on how much can be used.
6. FOOD DYES
These are used to increase the appeal of processed foods and make-up. They are found in:
• Cereals, macaroni & cheese, ice cream, ice pops, candy and other processed foods
• Make-up, including kids’ make-up
• Ibuprofen & other liquid gels
They can cause allergic reactions, affect some children’s behavior and caramel colors contain tumor-causing contaminants.
BOTTOM LINE: Buyer Beware
7. NITRATES & NITRITES
These are used as preservatives in many cured meats. They are found in:
• Bacon, hot dogs, sausages
• Cold Cuts
They react with the proteins in the meats to form cancer-causing nitrosamines. Research has indicated a 50% increase of stomach and colon cancer with high intake.
BOTTOM LINE: Nitrites in spinach or celery DO NOT form nitrosamines and can be used as preservatives
Let’s look at some commonly found products & what they contain.
Household Cleaning Products & Air Freshener
We all use these to reduce mold and bacterial contamination, and to give our homes and cars a nice smell. Research shows that 53% contain ingredients harmful to lungs and 22% have products that can induce asthma in otherwise normal individuals. Manufacturers are not obligated to list all the ingredients. Free & Clear Products NOT green- use chemicals to hide the fragrance. Even ‘green’ products are not as safe as you think. The main products of concern:
• Any health, beauty, cleaning aerosol sprays
• Air fresheners
• Chlorine bleach
• Dish washing and dishwasher detergents
• Furniture polish
• Dry cleaning and rug cleaners
Some Harmful Ingredients Include:
• Sodium Laurel (Laureth) Sulfate (SLS): skin and eye irritation, neurotoxicity, cancer
• 1,4 Dioxane: from manufacture of SLS: cancer
• Nonylphenol Ethoxylate (NPE): endocrine disruptor
• Phosphates: skin irritation/pollute waterways
• Fragrances: skin irritation, chemical sensitivity, cancer, endocrine disruptor
• Dyes give no added cleaning power: rashes, cancer, endocrine disruptors
• Propylene Glycol- used in antifreeze- endocrine disruptor
• Sodium Hydroxide: cancer
ALL OF THESE STAY IN ENVIRONMENT AND ENTER OUR WATER SUPPLY
These include everything from bar soaps, shower soaps to those we use to wash dishes. These include several concerning
• Phthalates- lotions
• Triclosan- antibacterial soaps
• Parabens- soap, shampoo, conditioner
• Propylene glycol- soaps
• Sulfates( SLS)- body wash, soap, shampoo, toothpaste
These are all absorbed through the skin and can be found in urine, hair and breast milk.
THEY CAN BE FOUND IN THE ENVIRONMENT & CAN END UP IN OUR WATER SUPPLY
Most women put on make-up daily not thinking what is in it. We may even buy mineral make-up thinking it is better or buy our kids or grandkids ‘pretend’ makeup. But what is behind the colors we put on our face, lips and nails or that ‘beauty parlor’ smell? Turns out a lot of unwanted chemicals such as:
• Acrylates: artificial (acrylic) nails
o Possible human carcinogen
o Developmental, Neurotoxicity
o Skin, eye, lung irritant
• Benzophenones: lip balm, nail polish foundation, hair spray, moisturizers
o Endocrine disruptor
o Organ, reproductive, developmental toxicity
• Carbon Black: mascara, eye liner, eye shadow, lipstick, blush, brow liner, foundation ,nail polish
o Skin and other cancer
• Toluene: Nail polish, nail treatment, hair dyes
o Headaches, skin irritant
o Developmental, organ toxicity
o Formaldehyde: nail polish, nail glue, eyelash glue, hair gel, hair-smoothing products, baby shampoo, body soap, body
wash, color cosmetics
o Coal Tar: Shampoos and scalp treatments, soaps, hair dyes, and lotions
o Mineral oils (untreated and mildly treated)
o Ethylene oxide
o Heavy Metals: Lip products, whitening toothpaste, eyeliner, nail color, foundations, sunscreens, eye shadows, blush, concealer, moisturizers, eye drops
o Cadmium and its compounds
OF THE 113 KNOWN HUMAN CARCINOGEN, 11 ARE FOUND IN COSMETICS
We have heard for years that the best way to prevent skin cancer is to use sunscreen early and often. Companies have gone out of their way to make it waterproof and up the SPF to 100. We all enjoy the outdoors, so protecting ourselves as we golf, ride or sit at the beach is part of the routine.
Have you ever thought about the effects the ingredients in sunscreen has on your body? The biggest issue with sunscreen is that it is applied and absorbed over large areas using chemical penetrants. These are irritants and can be inhaled if sprayed and ingested when applied to lips.
The following are the most concerning:
The three above are chemical filters that help the sunscreen penetrate your skin Methylisothiazolinone-preservative that
causes skin allergy.
THE FDA GRANDFATHERED INGREDIENTS WITHOUT REVIEWING SAFETY
How Well We Detoxify Will Determine Our Risk
Optimal detoxification requires the following:
• Regular bowel movements
• Healthy functioning liver and kidneys
• Good digestion
• Antioxidant diet
• Proper methylation
The following contribute to poor detoxification:
• Dysbiosis of the bowel – imbalance in microflora leading to leaky gut
• Inadequate diet and/ or poor assimilation of nutrients
• Depletion of nutrients by medications
• Liver stress by medications. Chronic folate deficiency due to genetic mutation
• “Hidden”/undiagnosed infections
The best way to detoxify is to work with the body’s own systems.
• Build liver function nutritionally.
• Assist the body to remove toxins from the storage depots.
• Support the intracellular processes methylation, ATP production, free radical quenching, membrane fluidity
This phase is cutting edge and there are supplements to help cellular health and healing but you need to work with a knowledgeable practitioner.
HOW DO I CHOOSE WISELY?
Unfortunately, unless we live on a remote desert island we can’t avoid being exposed to toxic chemical. The goal is to reduce that exposure to minimize our risk and to do what we can to improve our ability to detoxify when exposed.
For household cleaning products choose the following:
• Green Certified
• Fewer ingredients is better
• Try Soapnuts
Avoid these names:
• Myreth,” “oleth,” “laureth,” “ceteareth,” any other “eth”
• “Polyethylene,” “polyethylene glycol,” or “polyoxyethylene”
• Look for plant- and animal-based ingredients
For soaps choose:
• ‘SLS’ Free
• “Paraben ‘ Free
• ‘Fragrance’ Free
• Organic, Plant Based
For cosmetics avoid the following:
UREA (ANY TYPE)
When buying sunscreens look for the following:
• Zinc Oxide
• Titanium dioxide
• Check other ingredients
• No sunscreen under 6 months old
• Sun Protective Clothes-UVA/UVB
• Sunscreen 15-50 SPF UVA/UVB
Look for these seals on any products and go to their websites to get more information:
MINIMIZING YOUR EXPOSURE TO TOXIC CHEMICALS WILL PUT YOU ON YOUR WAY TO WELLNESS!
This article was written by Donna Bacchi, MD, MPH. She has over 30 years of clinical experience improving patient health and wellbeing using a broad- based approach that focuses on the four pillars of wellness- nutrition, physical activity, stress reduction and mindfulness. Learn more about Dr. Bacchi here.