Toxic Talk and Labels

10 Practical Tips to Reduce Your Exposure to Dangerous Chemicals

+ Rebecca

A recent study revealed something disturbing: the number of chemicals contributing to brain disorders in children has doubled since 2006.

Among those chemicals: lead, arsenic, methylmercury, and even toluene (used in processing gasoline and paint thinner, as well as fingernail polish). Exposure to these chemicals was associated with changes in fetal and infant development that can lead to neurological problems affecting academic performance, behavior, and even IQ.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 100,000 chemicals are used by Americans, and about 1,000 new chemicals are introduced each year. We find them in our food, personal care products, packaging, household and lawn care products, and around us, in our home, work, and living environments.

Exposure to chemicals has been linked to a number of our modern-day health concerns, from cancer to diabetes to developmental problems to autism and more. When CDC tests find that there’s widespread exposure to many chemicals in the American population, including BPA, phthalates, second-hand smoke, perfluorochemicals (PFCs), and more, it can get a little discouraging.

How are we to protect ourselves when there are chemicals everywhere, in the foods we eat, the containers that hold these foods, the cleaning products we use, the personal hygiene and cosmetic products we use, the clothes we wear, the furniture in our homes, the carpets we walk on, and even the air we breathe and the water we use?

Fortunately, it’s not hopeless. The best approach is to take steps every day that will reduce our overall exposure, raising our odds of avoiding health issues. Among those steps are the following ten practical, simple ones that anyone can do to, that make a significant difference in the amount of toxins that get on and into our bodies.

  1. Read labels. Food and personal care products are often a source of potentially toxic ingredients like phthalates, parabens, BPA, formaldehyde, toluene, benzene, 1,4-dioxane, and more. Read our Ingredients to Avoid pages in personal care products and food for guidelines on which ingredients to watch out for.
  2. Choose quality moisturizers and serums. You wash off your cleanser, but your serums and moisturizers stay on your skin where they can sink into the deeper layers and potentially even get inside you. Look for products with ingredients you can pronounce, made by companies who are conscientious about avoiding toxins. (Note: CV Skinlabs is proud to create products that are free of any ingredients tied to health conditions or skin irritations.)
  3. Rethink how you clean. Cleaning products can be particularly dangerous. One study reported that women who used a combination of certain cleaning products were 110 percent more likely to develop breast cancer than those who didn’t use them. (Air fresheners and mold-and-mildew cleaners were considered the most dangerous.) Think green when searching for cleaning products, or make your own. Find recommendations on our safe cleaning post.
  4. Limit processed foods. In general foods in bags and boxes are more processed than fresh and frozen foods. Try to avoid in particular ready-to-eat foods with chemical additives and preservatives. Eat more whole foods and organic fruits, vegetables, poultry, and grass-fed beef.
  5. Be wary of plastics. Many of them contain bisphenol-A (BPA), a chemical linked with breast and prostate cancer, childhood development problems, heart disease, and diabetes. Limit your exposure to foods in cans and plastic, and buy frozen, fresh, or glass-stored items instead. Choose stainless steel water bottles, and microwave only in glass or ceramic containers.
  6. Install water filters. Many cities use chlorine to disinfect the water supply. Chlorine can lead to dry, itchy skin, and can produce by-products called “trihalomethanes (THMs)” which have been linked in animal studies to cancer. An Environmental Working Group (EWG) study in 2010 also found measurable levels of chromium VI (classified by the EPA as a carcinogen) in the tap water of 31 out of the 34 American cities tested. A carbon tap-mounted filter or pitcher, or a reverse osmosis filter will protect your tap water, and a shower filter can help save your skin.
  7. Watch out for hair dyes. Hair dyes contain quaternium-15, which can release formaldehyde; phenylenediamine (PPD), which may be carcinogenic; and alkylphenol ethoxylates (APEs), potential hormone disruptors. Some studies have indicated that hair dyes, in high amounts, may be linked to cancer. That’s because these chemicals can be absorbed into the scalp and make their way into the body’s systems. Ask your hair stylist about ammonia-free, herbal-based, low-PPD, lead-free, toluene-free and coal-tar-free options, and try not to over-color your hair, allowing more time to pass between appointments.
  8. Learn to love houseplants. Studies by NASA and from Pennsylvania University found that many common houseplants help absorb toxins like benzene, toluene, and formaldehyde. Check out our post on houseplants for recommendations.
  9. Avoid synthetic air fresheners. A 2007 survey by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) evaluated 14 air fresheners and found phthalates in 12 of them, including those labeled as “all-natural.” A 2002 EPA test found that fresheners plugged into electrical outlets react with common indoor air pollutants to produce toxic chemicals like benzene derivatives, pinene and limonene, aldehydes, phenol, and cresol. Even the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) warns against the use of indoor air fresheners. Instead, open a window, remove sources of bad odors, simmer nice-smelling spices in a little water on the stovetop, and invest in an air purifier with carbo filtration.
  10. Go natural. Choose at least one day a week to either go without or severely limit your application personal care products. Good ones to take a break from include hair spray, body washes with sulfates, makeup with questionable ingredients, and fragrances.

What steps do you take to reduce your exposure to toxins? Please share with our readers.

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