Chemical Free Living:
The 10 Toxic Villains to Avoid for a Chemical Free Home
We think now is the perfect time to take some concrete steps towards a more toxic chemical free home. Okay, 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 VOCs, PDBEs & PFCs. Because many of the most harmful chemicals are present across multiple commonly used products, just eliminating the ones on this list will be a major 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 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.
7. VOCs (Volatile Organic Compounds)
Okay not to be a broken record, but this is another class of toxic chemicals you can help your family avoid by shifting to fragrance free products. These nasty chemicals are linked to asthma, cancer, liver and kidney damage. They are lurking in lots of commonly used household products, for example in scented, petroleum-based laundry detergents, cleaners, disinfectants, air fresheners, and even personal care products. Shockingly these are not required to be listed on labels! One study that assessed VOC presence in 25 different commonly used household and personal care products identified 133 VOCs, of which only 1 (ethanol) was listed on any ingredient label. You can help avoid a lot of these by going fragrance free across everything you use and skipping air fresheners in particular. Avoid any cleaner or deodorizer with fragrances. Instead choose a non toxic option like Force of Nature which uses salt, water & vinegar yet cleans as effectively as bleach. And inventory what’s in your cabinets to ensure you avoid these chemicals:
- Limonene, toluene, a-pinene, isoprene, methylene chloride, PERC, xylenes, methyl ethyl ketone, Trichloroethane (TCE), 1,4-dichlorobenzene, naphthalene, ethanol, formaldehyde, decane, butoxyethanol, isopentane, styrene, vinyl chloride, acetone, benzene, ethylene glycol, 1,3-butadiene, 2-butoxyethanol, heptane, butane, pentane
8. Formaldehyde & Formaldehyde-Releasing Preservatives
These are a type of VOC and 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 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 been all over the news 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 major 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.