Chemical Free Living:
The 10 Toxic Villains to Avoid for a Toxic Chemical Free Home
We think now is the perfect time to take some concrete steps towards a more toxic chemical free home. We’re busy parents too, so we know what you might be imagining…we’re not going to tell you that you have to make your own deodorant, ditch the disposable diapers, and switch all your plastic sippy cups to glass (though all those would be helpful). We’re not here to make you sweat about every product you use in your home because that’s completely overwhelming. Instead, we’ve put together the top 10 toxic chemicals most easily avoided in order to make the biggest impact on your family’s “toxic load”. We’ve chosen the steps you can easily take, instead of those important but often less feasible steps like re-painting your home and buying all new furniture to avoid PDBEs. We’ve also chosen those chemicals that you can typically avoid by reading labels. There are other toxic chemicals, for example perfluorinated compounds (PFCs or PFOA), which are used to create non-stick surfaces among other applications, but they are very hard to avoid because the modes of exposure aren’t particularly clear. For this list, we’ve covered the chemicals that are more easily avoided.
Because many of the most harmful chemicals are present across multiple commonly used products, just eliminating the ones on this list can be a great step towards creating a toxic chemical free home.
First, the “whys”. Did you know that….
- Out of some 62,000 chemicals approved for use in the US, only about 300 have been tested for safety. In fact, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention now monitors 298 environmental chemicals that have been found in humans, including many used in the products you probably use in your home every day.
- Toxic chemical regulation in the US is dramatically more lax than it is in the EU? An example is that while only 8 cosmetic ingredients have been banned in the US, the EU has banned more than 1,000!
- For many household products, manufacturers aren’t required to show their full ingredient lists on their labels?
- The single word “fragrance” on a product can actually mask a cocktail of dozens of harmful ingredients?
- Use of the word “natural” isn’t governed by any standard federal criteria, which means that natural products can be just as harmful as the conventional ones?
Now that those nuggets have your attention, here we go on the nastiest ingredients to avoid in your endeavor to create a more chemical free home.
Top 10 Chemicals to Avoid to Jumpstart Your Way to a Toxic Chemical Free Home
If you don’t have allergies or asthma in your family, you might think that fragranced products are perfectly safe. Unfortunately this is not at all the case! Fragrance chemicals can pass through the skin and enter the blood stream. They are manufactured from petroleum and coal tar and are classified as carcinogens, hormone disruptors, neurotoxins, skin and respiratory irritants. And it’s nearly impossible to know the ingredients that actually make up a fragrance, because the word “fragrance” on a label often hides a toxic cocktail of multiple ingredients. In fact that one word can actually hide more than 100 different chemicals! Plus, many “natural” fragrance ingredients are as dangerous as the synthetic ones. Unfortunately the fragrance industry is primarily self-regulated, where safety testing does not have to precede product sales and fragrance cocktails don’t even have to be reviewed by regulatory agencies. Fragrances are considered trade secrets, meaning that manufacturers aren’t required to disclose the potentially hundreds of ingredients hiding behind the one word “fragrance”.
So our #1 recommendation is to go fragrance free in all the products you use in your home. Don’t buy it if you see the words “fragrance” or “parfum” on the label. And don’t be tricked by the phrase “fragrance-free” or “unscented”. You also have to check the ingredient list, because sometimes companies use a masking fragrance to cover the chemical smell of their product. Also watch out for products labeled with “natural fragrance,” because there is no standard criteria for what these words mean. As you read more below, you’ll see that going fragrance free is one of the biggest steps you can take towards a toxic chemical free home.
These are typically in fragrances to make them last longer, so here is yet another reason to avoid fragrances! These are are not currently restricted for use despite their association with a host of health concerns including reproductive issues and developmental problems in unborn children, as well as asthma and respiratory problems. The Centers for Disease Control reported that phthalates can be found in the blood of most Americans, and the greatest quantities are in women. If you avoid products with fragrances, you’ll be avoiding these nasty ingredients too. They can also be found in some plastics, so avoid those with recycling codes 3, 6 & 7.
3. Methylisothiazolinone & Methylchloroisothiazolinone
These are toxic preservatives to watch out for because they are very common in products claiming to be “natural”. Health concerns include skin irritation, skin allergies (contact dermatitis) and even possible neurotoxicity. They are also extremely toxic to aquatic life. You’ll find these in haircare products, baby washes & lotions, body washes, liquid soaps and all-purpose cleaners. You’ll see these on several cleaners claiming to be “natural”, so be wary in particular of those. We recommend going with a preservative free, fragrance free, dye free option instead like Force of Nature. These nasty ingredients do show up on ingredients labels so avoid any product with either of these listed.
4. Sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) and sodium laureth sulfate (SLES)
These are in lots of personal care and cleaning products because they are synthetic soaps that help create the sudsy/foamy appearance that we associate with cleaning power. We say STEP AWAY FROM THE SUDS. Sodium lauryl sulfate has been linked to skin & eye irritation, organ toxicity, reproductive toxicity, neurotoxicity, endocrine disruption & ecotoxicology. The manufacturing of these also leads to a highly toxic & carcinogenic by-product called 1,4 dioxane. These do show up on ingredient labels so skip any product with these listed.
These are synthetic preservatives common in many personal care products, including many baby washes and shampoos. The CDC has detected them in almost all Americans tested. They are linked to a multitude of health risks including cancer, endocrine disruption, reproductive toxicity, neurotoxicity and skin irritation. Avoid any products with ingredients ending in -paraben.
Dyes that make a product look innocently blue, yellow, orange, green aren’t doing anything other than attempting to give you the perception that the product is effective. They don’t actually make the performance of the product any better, and in fact introduce significant health risks. It takes up to 25 synthetic chemicals to make 1 artificial dye. Many are made from coal tar and can contain arsenic and lead. If it’s not colorless, it’s likely not your safest option, so skip it.
You might recognize this one from your sunscreen label because it’s extremely common. If so, please find a different sunscreen! It’s also in skin care products like moisturizers, lip balms and lipstick. Oxybenzone has been linked with hormone disruption as well as organ system toxicity and a variety of other health concerns, including endometriosis, reduced fertility in men, To avoid it, skip products that list any of these on their labels:
(2-Hydroxy-4-methoxyphenyl)phenylmethanone; 2-Hydroxy-4-methoxybenzophenone; Benzophenone-3; Methanone, (2-hydroxy-4-methoxyphenyl)phenyl-; Oxybenzone; Benzophenone, 2-hydroxy-4-methoxy-, BP-3; Phenyl- Methanone; (2-hydroxy -4-methoxyphenyl) phenylmethanone; 2-benzoyl-5-methoxyphenol; 2-hydroxy-4-methoxybenzophenone; 4-methoxy-2-hydroxybenzophenone; advastab 45; anuvex; b3 [4, 5, 6].
8. Formaldehyde & Formaldehyde-Releasing Preservatives
These are known carcinogens that are common preservatives in products as seemingly innocent as baby shampoos. They can be added directly or released by other preservatives. They are in lots of products and removing them can be a big step towards a chemical free home. There is a long lost of chemicals that could fall within this group, so our advice is to look for the words “formaldehyde- free”. And if you instead need to check the full list, avoid these:
- Formaldehyde, quaternium-15, dimethyl-dimethyl (DMDM) hydantoin, imidazolidinyl urea, diazolidinyl urea, sodium hydroxymethylglycinate, 2-bromo-2-nitropropane-1,3-diol (most commonly known as bronopol)
9. BPA & BPS
You might already know that BPA has no place in a toxic chemical free home. In many products, Bisphenol-A has been replaced by Bisphenol-S. We suggest avoiding both. BPS has been shown to have the same endocrine-disruption problem as BPA. BPA and BPS pop up in items as innocent as baby teethers and sippy cups. In fact a study showed that 93% of Americans have BPA in their urine. No thanks!
So how to avoid these nasty chemicals:
- Avoid canned food and look for alternatives packaged in glass,
- Choose glass or the safer plastics (look for the recycling codes 1, 2, 4, or 5 and avoid those numbered 3, 6, or 7).
- Go for stainless steel water bottles instead of plastic
This one has started being removed from some products but we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention it. Triclosan is a synthetic pesticide with a bad reputation as a carcinogen & hormone disruptor. It’s also known to cause liver damage and the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. It’s still in a multitude of products like hand sanitizers, antibacterial cleaners, toothpaste and deodorant. The good news is that it’s typically listed on labels so that you can avoid it.
Now you know you can make great progress towards a toxic chemical free home by avoiding the top 10 toxic villains above. And yes you can keep your beloved non stick pans, but after you’ve eliminated the ingredients above, we’re sorry to say that it’s time for them to go too! More on that here. And remember, when it comes to cleaning and disinfecting, we’ve got you covered with Force of Nature, our mighty little appliance that uses electricity to convert just salt, water and vinegar into a multipurpose cleaner and EPA registered disinfectant. Force of Nature kills 99.9% of germs and is EPA registered for use against COVID-19 as well as for disinfecting hospitals.