We all want what's best for our family and personal health. And everyone knows the basics: Get plenty of exercise, eat a well-balanced diet, and strive for sufficient sleep. But there's another, less obvious area that also warrants attention: The home.
The best way to avoid toxins in your home? Stick to cleaning and personal care products produced with non-toxic, good-for-you ingredients. Consider growing air-cleaning houseplants, and have your tap water tested. Ventilate as often as possible by opening doors and windows. Even a healthy diet can help (since certain foods help your body detox).
And of course, nix any toxins that might already be hidden in your home! Here are the top ten chemicals and toxins to avoid in your home, plus safe, suitable alternatives:
1. BPA (Bisphenol A)
What it does: BPA is a chemical that's used to harden plastics. It has the potential to disrupt hormones, cause certain types of cancer, and—in young children especially—has been linked to cardiovascular and behavioral issues.
Where it's found: Studies have found 90% of Americans have BPA in their bodies at any given moment. That's because it's widely prevalent in packaging: It's in disposable water bottles, canned foods (often lined with BPA-containing resin), and most plastics containing a 3 or 7 recycle code on the bottom.
What to use instead: Drink beverages from glass cups, or stainless steel for little ones. Avoid heating any plastic container, as this may speed up the BPA leaching process. Look for BPA-free plastic, such as PET(E), which is what Puracy products are packaged in, plus BPA-free canned goods.
What they do: Phthalates are a group of chemicals known as plasticizers, which means they're a substance added most commonly to plastics to make them more durable. Although the exact effects on human health are unknown, certain phthalates have been shown to change hormone levels and cause birth defects in rodents.
Where they're found: Everywhere from raincoats and children's toys to cosmetic items (since diethyl phthalate, or DEP, is often used to stabilize fragrances). They are especially common in PVC plastics. Children are extra vulnerable to phthalate exposure, given their hand-to-mouth behaviors with items containing the chemicals. However, studies have actually found women of childbearing age to have the highest exposure, likely due to their cosmetics usage.
What to use instead: Look for products that label themselves as phthalate-free. Consider investing in bio-based plastics, such as disposable cups made from corn, or even alternative toys and teethers, when possible. As with BPA, phthalates are frequently found in plastic coded with 3 and 7, so go for 1, 2, or 5 instead.
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What it does: Formaldehyde is a naturally occurring VOC (volatile organic compound). It is a flammable chemical and a known human carcinogen.
Where it's found: Formaldehyde is often found around the home in pressed-wood products, wallpaper and paints, synthetic fabrics, air fresheners, and in some cosmetics like nail products. It is also a natural byproduct of cigarette smoke and fuel-burning appliances.
What to use instead: Avoid conventional air fresheners in favor of natural sprays formulated without the use of harsh chemicals. When purchasing wooden furniture, inquire about formaldehyde levels. Examine personal skin-care labels, especially in baby products.
4. Synthetic Pesticides
What they do: Synthetic pesticides have been under public scrutiny since the release of Rachel Carson's landmark 1962 book, Silent Spring. Though they are incredibly effective at eliminating crop pests, they pose direct threats to our environment and health.
Where they're found: Fruits and veggies are the most common sources of synthetic pesticides. Pesticides can also be tracked into homes via shoes, which is why some families opt for a "no-shoes" policy.
What to use instead: Buy organic produce when possible (or grow your own, using natural pest control). Pregnant women at any stage of pregnancy should avoid open exposure to pesticides. If you're expecting, avoid conventional farming areas, and use insect bait or traps instead of toxic sprays at home.
What it does: Dimethicone, or polydimethylsiloxane, is a man-made silicon oil often used to make skin-care products smoother and more easily applicable. Since it artificially coats the skin, it tends to trap everything underneath it. This process clogs the skin and can cause breakouts.
Where it's found: A wide variety of beauty and personal care items. Products range from shampoos and conditioners to BB creams, serums, and even sunscreen.
What to use instead: Natural emollients, such as Shea butter. Avoid products with ingredients that end in -cone, -siloxane, and -conol.
What they do: Parabens are a class of preservatives typically found in health and personal care products. They are known as "xenoestrogens," or agents that mimic the role of estrogen and disrupt hormone function. This, in turn, links them to an increased risk of breast cancer in women.
Where they're found: Experts estimate that parabens are in 85% of cosmetics, and 90% of typical grocery store items. Makeup, moisturizers, and shaving creams commonly contain parabens, as do some snack foods.
What to use instead: Since parabens are preservatives, avoiding them usually means investing in products with shorter shelf lives. Look for items that use essential oils, sodium benzoate, phenoxyethanol, or ethylhexylglycerin as alternative preservatives to parabens.
Any product whose label lists an ingredient ending in -paraben (e.g., methylparaben, butylparaben) contains parabens.
7. Glycol Ethers
What they do: Glycol ethers are a group of solvents. The EPA states that short-term exposure to high levels of them causes "narcosis, pulmonary edema, and severe liver and kidney damage." Chronic exposure often leads to "fatigue, nausea, tremor, and anemia."
Where they're found: The solvents are used in a variety of cleaning compounds, most typically in glass, carpet, floor, and oven cleaners.
What to use instead: The surest way to avoid glycol ethers is by investing in products that list every ingredient. That's why at Puracy we provide a full explanation of every ingredient for every product we sell. (This is not a given since household cleaners aren't regulated by the FDA). Alternatively, you can make your own natural cleaning products at home.
What it does: Ammonia is a highly pungent gas that, when dissolved in water, produces an alkaline solution. Although it is a naturally occurring substance, it can be extremely irritable. Exposure to ammonia in high concentrations may cause reactions as extreme as burning of the eyes, nose, and throat, and even blindness or lung damage. Very high exposure can be fatal.
Where it's found: Ammonia is often used in fertilizers and industrial-strength cleaners. At the household level, it's typically found in oven cleaners, glass and window cleaners, and toilet bowl cleaners.
What to use instead: Vinegar, baking soda, and borax are all effective, natural alternatives to ammonia for cleaning.
What it does: Triclosan is an antibacterial and antifungal agent that has been proven to alter hormone regulation in animals. Research shows it may also be harmful to the human immune system and, ironically, contribute to the development of antibiotic-resistant germs.
Where it's found: Since it's an antibacterial agent, triclosan is most commonly found in antibacterial hand soaps, body washes, and fluoride toothpaste.
10. PFOS and PFOA
What they do: Perfluorooctanoic Acid (PFOA), and Perfluorooctanesulfonic Acid (PFOS) are man-made chemicals. Lab studies on animals have revealed damaging health effects, including reduced birth size and infant mortality.
Where they're found: PFOS and PFOA are used to make consumer goods waterproof, stain-resistant, or nonstick. As such, they're found in items ranging from nonstick cookware to stain-resistant carpet and even microwaveable popcorn. Both are also sometimes found in groundwater.
What to use instead: When cooking, opt for cast-iron skillets, stainless steel, and even glass (like Pyrex, which can be used in the oven). Look for water filters that regulate for both chemicals.
Remember, most of these chemicals are safe at low-level exposure—but chronic use may cause adverse health effects. Read labels thoroughly, get to know the brands you patronize, and stick with natural, non-toxic products for your home.