Do This, Not That: 3 Ways To Avoid Toxic “Natural” Products

chemical free products

If you feel like making the right choices when it comes to toxic chemical free products is overwhelming and confusing, you’re not alone. It’s bad enough that we have to battle seriously toxic substances in cleaning products that are linked with all kinds of health issues like reproductive toxicity, cancer, asthma, allergies, burns & poisonings. Even worse? Many supposedly natural products, even personal care products & cosmetics, actually aren’t so safe once you look at the ingredients. We’re here to help you sift out the truth when it comes to buying toxic chemical free products. When you’re done with this post, you’ll be wise to the most common greenwashing ploys.

Do This: Avoid Products With Fragrances.

Fragrances are considered trade secrets, meaning manufacturers are not required to disclose what’s in their formulas.  When manufacturers list “fragrance” on their labels, that term often hides a cocktail of multiple toxic ingredients. This applies to cleaning products, baby shampoos, cosmetics – you name it. Why should you be concerned? Fragrance chemicals can pass through the skin and enter the blood stream. They are classified as carcinogens, hormone disruptors, neurotoxins, skin and respiratory irritants. Heard of phthalates? These are common fragrance ingredients used to make scents last longer. Studies have shown that more than 75% of products with fragrances contain these nasty hormone disruptors, but you won’t find them listed on labels. One glance at the health risks of phthalates will probably cause you to go fragrance-free right away.  The Centers for Disease Control reported that phthalates can be found in the blood of most Americans, and the greatest quantities are in women.

Even worse, labelling terms you may be using to avoid fragrance or allergens can be be very deceiving. The term “unscented” is not clearly defined by the FDA. An unscented product may contain fragrance ingredients and that the term “hypoallergenic” is defined as “whatever a particular company wants it to mean.” Yikes.

Not That: Assume Natural Ingredients And Fragrances Are Safe.

Just because a product has a green leaf in its logo or uses a natural botanical ingredient does not mean it is safe. Neither the FDA nor EPA set criteria for products labelled as “natural”.  That means products calling themselves “natural” can contain phthalates, as well as a host of other toxic chemicals.

For example, thymol, or Common Thyme Oil, is a widely used natural antibacterial agent that’s also a known allergen that’s harmful to our health and our oceans. Citrus and pine oil cleaners emit chemicals called terpenes that can form formaldehyde when they react with ozone in the air. Or some essential oils contain substances like eugenol and limonene  can trigger allergic reactions. You might also be surprised to learn that natural fragrances can trigger the same allergic reactions as synthetic ones.  When it comes to cleaning products, many cleaners labeled as “natural” score just as badly as conventional cleaners due to dangerous fragrances, dyes, preservatives, allergens & irritants.

Do This: Demand Specificity.

Like with “fragrance,” manufacturers can use vague terms to hide all sorts of toxic ingredients, and it makes it hard to research on your own. An example is methylisothiazolinone, which is often just labelled as “preservative”.  It’s as scary as it is unpronounceable, given its association with lung toxicity, allergies, and possible neurotoxicity.  It’s in a wide range of products from body wash to cleaners to laundry detergents. Another group of preservatives to watch out for are parabens. These are synthetic preservatives common in everything from skin care to baby 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.  

Another watch out – surfactants. These give products their sudsing or foaming properties to give consumers the perception that they are cleaning better.  Sodium lauryl sulfate is an example that’s used in everything from hand soap to toothpaste to laundry detergent & cleaning products. It has been linked to health risks including skin, eye & lung irritation, organ toxicity, reproductive toxicity, endocrine disruption & ecotoxicology. 

When you see these vague terms, you’ll know the manufacturer isn’t being 100% transparent so you should dig further or choose a safer product: “fragrance”, “surfactants“, “cleaning agents” and “preservatives.”

Not That: Assume The Label Tells The Whole Story.

Like most informed consumers, you’re comfortable walking right up to a shelf and flipping a product over so you can know for sure what you’re signing up for when you buy it and use it around your family. Right? Wrong.

The personal care and cleaning product industries are famously unregulated. In fact, manufacturers are not even required to disclose their products’ ingredients on packaging labels.  Out of some 85,000 chemicals approved for use in the US, only about 200 have actually been tested for safety.  Only 5 chemicals, not including asbestos, have been banned or restricted under US law! That means the onus is really on you to do your own research. The good news is that an excellent resource for researching product health and environmental safety is the Environmental Working Group, which has a searchable database of products.

Do This: Choose Truly Toxic Chemical Free Products.

Even the best researchers and most committed “green” consumers out there can be fooled by poor regulation and manufacturer loopholes. When it comes to cleaning products, instead of trying to  decipher ingredient labels, try Force of Nature, which turns just salt, water & vinegar into a cleaner and deodorizer as effective as bleach – but with no harmful chemicals.  No dyes, fragrances, preservatives, surfactants, no mysterious ingredient list.  And it powers through grease, grime, soap scum & odors as effectively as top conventional brands, but without the nasty chemicals you don’t want around your children & pets. It’s even safe on skin, so it’s safe around all the little hands in your home, no rinsing needed.  For personal care products, we think the biggest 1st step you can take is to avoid fragrances. You can also enlist the helps of an app like Think Dirty to dial up your ingredient sleuthing so that you can sniff out toxic preservatives, surfactants & dyes by product. 

Not That: Assume a “Natural” Product is Toxin-free.

“Natural” is a completely meaningless term in personal care products and one that has amazingly avoided definition by the FDA.  It’s hard to believe, but there are also no federal regulations that dictate standards for cleaning products labeled as “natural”. So while you may think “natural” means no dangerous chemicals, that’s actually not at all the case. While many natural products might be somewhat safer than conventional brands, the reality is that many products labeled as “natural” are actually not toxic chemical free products at all.

Manufacturers certainly don’t make it easy to get the real safety scoop on their products, but we’re here to help! We have tips for choosing all sorts of chemical free products here. And if you’re ready to learn more about our chemical-free cleaning system, hop on over here.

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