Written by Stacey Kelleher. Reviewed by Sean Busch.
Because of Covid-19, we understandably retreated to the safety and sanctuary of our homes. We explored new ways of learning and working from home, tackled long-overdue household projects, and enjoyed the beauty of our own backyards.
Since we spend more time at home than ever before, it makes sense to consider the products and chemicals we bring into it. What could be lurking in your cabinets and under sinks?
Potentially Hazardous Chemicals Hiding in Your Home
Our homes often contain potentially hazardous chemicals, especially when it comes to the cleaning and personal care products we use every day.
While many of the substances contained in these materials and products are approved for consumer use by government agencies – like the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) – that doesn’t necessarily mean you want to risk exposure.
1. Bisphenol A (BPA)
Bisphenol A (commonly known as BPA) has been around since the 1960s. Used to produce different types of resins and plastics, this chemical has a wide range of industrial uses. But as useful as BPA is, this controversial substance comes with significant potential health risks.
BPA in plastics can leach into the food and liquids they contain and be ingested by humans. This is especially true when BPA-containing items are heated. Research on the health risks of BPA show a link between exposure and endocrine disorders, infertility, and certain types of cancers.
Where BPA Is Found
BPA is found in all types of items. This includes medical devices, the lining of canned food and drinks, and in plastic containers used to store food and drinks.
Which Plastics Are BPA-Free?
Fortunately, many BPA-free alternatives are widely-available and easy to find. Avoid items with the “recycle number” 7, which may contain bisphenol A. Instead, choose safe plastics numbered 1, 2, 4 or 5. If you’re unsure of the type, try to avoid plastics whenever possible and opt for safe, reusable items made from glass, stainless steel, and wood.
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When it comes to #7, it has more than one type of material. In our case, we use a combination of BPA-free plastic and vinyl for our refill pouches. While it isn't as easy to recycle, it is still possible with certain municipalities. Contact your local government office to learn more.
Phthalates are a group of synthetic chemicals primarily used to make plastics more flexible and tougher to break. Phthalates are also used as dissolving agents for other chemicals, especially in synthetic fragrances (where they aren’t legally required to be labeled).
When it comes to cosmetics, products containing phthalates are fairly easy to identify. Look for the following acronyms that identity their chemical structure:
- DBP: dibutyl phthalate
- DEP: diethyl phthalate
- DMP: dimethyl phthalate
Are Phthalates Bad for You?
Much is still unknown about how phthalates affect the human body. Certain phthalates, however, have been linked to altered hormone levels and cause birth defects in rodents.
What Products Are Phthalates Found?
Phthalates are used in hundreds of different consumer goods including:
- Cosmetics and personal care products (like soaps, lotions, and shampoos)
- Household cleaners
- Food wraps and containers
- Children’s toys
- Medical devices
- Vinyl wall and floor coverings
How to Find Phthalate Free Products
Manufacturers aren’t required to disclose ingredients in a product’s “fragrance.” Phthalates may be hiding in some products (like cups, bottles, and food storage containers). To be safe, look for labels that say “phthalate-free” or use this handy chart to identify safe plastics by number:
Phthalate-free soaps, shampoos, conditioners, lotions are now widely available. From our body care to natural cleaning products, Puracy is committed to producing only phthalate free products, and our fragrances are sourced from organic essential oils.
Formaldehyde is a highly-flammable, colorless chemical used in a wide range of household products.
What Formaldehyde Does to the Body
Humans come into contact with formaldehyde by inhaling fumes, absorbing it through the skin, or through ingesting foods and drinks that contain it. In 2011, the US government classified formaldehyde as a carcinogen.
Research on workers exposed to formaldehyde on a regular basis showed a clear link between exposure and a host of health problems including:
- Eye, nose, and upper respiratory irritation
- Nerve palsy
- Cancers including leukemia and
- Decreased white blood cell counts
Where Formaldehyde Is Found
Formaldehyde is used to make different home building materials like cabinets, furniture, and paneling. When used as antibacterial agent and preservative, formaldehyde can make products last longer, so it can be found in nail polishes, soaps, shampoos, deodorants, and body lotions.
Tobacco smoke also contains this substance, posing a risk to smokers and secondhand smokers alike. The human body also naturally produces small (but safe) amounts of formaldehyde as well.
How to Reduce Your Exposure to Formaldehyde
Choose wood products that are CARB-compliant (either phase 1 or 2), or made with ULEF (ultra-low-emitting-formaldehyde) or NAF (no-added-formaldehyde).
If exposure is unavoidable, increase ventilation by opening windows and running fans. Humidifiers and air conditioning units should also be used to reduce humidity and maintain cooler temps, as heat increases emissions from formaldehyde-containing materials.
For products that touch your body, choose natural personal care brands that utilize plant-based ingredients that extend shelf lives (like cocos nucifera oil).
4. Synthetic Pesticides
Pesticides are a group of compounds used to kill or repel unwanted insects (and other organisms) that are considered to be harmful to cultivated animals and/or plants. In some cases, organic, naturally-derived substances work well to remove fungus, bugs, and rodents. When those aren’t effective, synthetic chemical pesticides are introduced.
What Are Synthetic Pesticides Made from?
Synthetic pesticides were first used in the United States back in the 1930s. Once farmers realized how much larger their crop yield could be, chemical pesticides became the most commonly used method to reduce pests.
The most common types of synthetic pesticides are:
- Carbamates: made from carbamic acid
- Organochlorines: contain chlorinated aromatic molecules
- Organophosphates: produced by the reaction of alcohols and phosphoric acid
- Pyrethroids: manmade pesticides that mimic botanical pyrethrins derived from flowers
Are Synthetic Pesticides Harmful?
Toxicity to humans depends on the specific synthetic pesticides used and the exposure level. However, certain common pesticides have been linked to serious, chronic health problems including:
- Alzheimer’s Disease
- Birth defects in pregnant women
- Leukemia (and other cancers)
- Parkinson’s Disease
Synthetic Pesticides Are Commonly Found on Produce
Fruits and veggies are the most common sources of synthetic pesticides. To reduce exposure to pesticides, buy local and organically grown produce whenever possible. Always wash fruits and vegetables before eating, especially the “dirty dozen.” These include apples, strawberries, grapes, and other foods that contain high levels of pesticide residue.
Pro tip: Our Disinfecting Surface Cleaner has been approved for use as a fruit and vegetable wash in commercial kitchens. Spray raw, fresh fruits, vegetables, herbs, or spices with a liberal amount of this product, let stand for one minute, and rinse (optional).
How to Avoid Synthetic Pesticides
Besides making sure your produce is pesticide-free, consider growing your own by using natural pest control. If you’re trying to control pests in the home, opt for insect bait or traps. Need to use pesticides outside of your home? Use a pump and wand sprayer on a windless day. Cut down on unwanted pests entering your home by focusing on the base/corners of exterior doors and windows to keep these chemicals outside.
Research shows weed killers and other pesticides applied to grass and gardens can be tracked in on our shoes. It’s a good idea to leave your shoes at the door.
Dimethicone is a man-made silicone oil that makes products smoother and more spreadable. It adds moisture without feeling heavy, and gives many beauty and hair care products that “soft-to-the-touch” feeling.
Is Dimethicone Safe?
Currently, there is no research suggesting that dimethicone is unsafe for topical use, and it’s FDA-approved for use as intended (in certain concentrations).
However, there are environmental concerns about dimethicone use, especially because it isn’t biodegradable. The National Center for Biotechnology recommends reducing the use of dimethicone and other low molecular weight silicones.
Which Products Use Dimethicone?
Dimethicone can be found in a variety of cosmetic products such as
- Bath oils and soaps
- BB creams
- Hair dyes
- Anti-aging creams
Look for products that contain biodegradable ingredients like jojoba oil, shea butter, and aloe vera that nourish and smooth skin naturally.
One of the greatest challenges we faced in reformulating our Natural Shampoo was finding dimethicone and silicone alternatives that did a similar job. LexFeel N5 is an innovative, plant-based ingredient that enhances hair texture and shine while being completely biodegradable.
Parabens are typically used as preservative agents in various beauty products. Cheap and effective, they help prevent the growth of mold and other organisms, thus extending the shelf life of personal care products.
Which Products Use Parabens?
You can find parabens in a wide variety of products, including:
- Hair care products
- Shaving creams
- Skin cleansers
- Preserved foods
To help identify parabens, look for the four most common ones on product labels:
Are Parabens Safe?
Recent research has found potential links between paraben exposure and multiple health issues. Male rats exposed to high levels of parabens showed reproductive complications. Pregnant women who used paraben-containing personal products increased their chance of giving birth to female infants with a higher body mass index.
There have also been concerns about the potential connection between parabens and breast tissue tumors. At the time of writing, however, there were no definitive links between the two.
How to Choose Paraben-Free Products
Avoiding parabens doesn’t have to mean buying products with shorter shelf lives. Puracy home and body products (including our paraben and phthalate free body wash) contain the following plant-based preservatives:
- caprylyl glycol: a coconut-based preservative
- gluconolactone: a food-grade preservative
- propanediol: a plant-based preservative
7. Glycol Ethers
Glycol ethers are a group of solvents or substances that dissolve other substances to form a solution. Both colorless and flammable, glycol ethers are used as colorants, plasticizers, and lubricants.
Are Glycol Ethers Safe?
There are certain glycol ether exposure risks in home and beauty products. According to the EPA, glycol exposure can cause both acute and chronic health problems, including:
- Liver and kidney damage
- Pulmonary edema
Where Glycol Ethers Are Found
Glycol ethers are used as solvents in a variety of products including paints, lacquers, dyes, perfumes, liquid soaps, and cosmetics.
The most commonly used glycol ethers are:
8. PFOS and PFOA
Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) are two widely-used perfluorinated chemicals (PFCs). PFCs are synthetic flurocarbon-based acids used in coatings to resist grease, oil, water, and stains.
Products That Contain PFOA and PFOS
Many waterproof, stain-resistant, or nonstick items around your home use PFOS and PFOA. From baking pans and pizza boxes to stain-resistant carpeting and waterproof clothing, chances are they contain at least one of these substances
Are PFOS and PFOA Safe?
Humans can be exposed to PFOA and PFOS through ingestion of food and water which contain these chemicals, as well as inhalation of soil and dust containing PFCs. The EPA has issued health advisories alerting consumers to the possible risks. In lab animals, these man made chemicals have been shown to cause liver damage as well as impact growth, development, and reproduction.
How to Avoid PFOA and PFOS
Until more research is done to determine their exact effects on human health, it’s wise to avoid PFCs whenever you can. When cooking, opt for cast iron skillets and copper, ceramic, stainless steel, and glass dishes, pans, and pots.
Filtering your water is another way to reduce exposure to PFCs. Try a convenient water pitcher with a replaceable filter or invest in an under-the-sink reverse osmosis water filtration system that continuously monitors your water quality.
Ammonia (ammonium hydroxide) is a colorless gas with a distinct, pungent odor. It is corrosive and – when compressed – forms a clear liquid.
Which Products Use Ammonia
Most ammonia is produced specifically for fertilizers, but it can also be used in plastics, textiles, and dyes. In the home, it's typically found in oven cleaners, glass and window cleaners, and toilet bowl cleaners.
Potential Effects of Ammonia Exposure
Although ammonia is a naturally occurring substance, in high concentrations, exposure to ammonia can result in:
- Burning of the nose, throat, and respiratory tract (when inhaled)
- Corrosive damage to the mouth, throat, and stomach (if ingested)
- Skin and eye irritation (upon contact)
Additionally, mixing ammonia with other substances can be highly dangerous. For example, when ammonia and bleach are combined, chlorine gas is formed. At high levels of exposure, a person could suffer respiratory system damage – even death.
What Are Common Ammonia Alternatives?
There are plenty of “green” alternatives to ammonia. For a gentle but effective cleaner that’s safe for every non-porous surface, try Puracy Multi-Purpose Cleaner. This 99.96% natural cleaning spray makes quick work of dirt and grime in every room of the house.
A hydrogen peroxide disinfecting spray can also be used to kill more than 99.9% of germs on surfaces, including tubs, toilets, and sinks – without caustics. However, make sure it’s safe for the surface you’re cleaning.
Triclosan is an antibacterial and antifungal agent added to many different consumer products like body washes, toothpastes, cosmetics, dishwashing liquids, as well as some clothing, toys, and furniture.
In recent years, the most common triclosan-containing products have been antibacterial hand soaps and hand sanitizers.
Effects of Triclosan Exposure
Triclosan is generally absorbed in small amounts through the mouth or skin. Short-term animal studies show that symptoms of triclosan exposure include altered hormone regulation and immune system disruption. It was also determined to aid in the creation of antibiotic-resistant germs.
In 2017, the FDA determined that triclosan was not generally shown to be safe or effective for the antiseptic products used in hospitals and other health care settings. The agency went a step further to ban antiseptic washes, lotions, and gels containing triclosan from being marketed to consumers, though these products can still be found on the market.
Washing hands with soap and water is an effective way to kill germs. When soap and water aren’t available, using hand sanitizer correctly kills more than 99.9% of germs while you’re on the go.
Choose Effective, Plant-Based Cleaners & Body Products
You don’t need to spend hours scrutinizing ingredient lists: You’ll never find these 10 chemicals in Puracy cleaning, baby, pet, or personal care products. That’s the Puracy promise.