The Dirty Dozen: Everyday Toxins & How to Avoid Them
Ready for a cold dose of reality? Last year, researchers reported that 1 in 8 of the most commonly used ingredients in personal care products are considered industrial-level chemicals, including carcinogens, pesticides, reproductive toxins, and hormone disruptors. Just think about how these chemicals can affect your skin – not to mention the environment!
It’s not only our so-called “beauty products” that contain harmful ingredients, but many of our everyday products include chemicals like plasticizers (used to keep concrete soft), degreasers (used to get grime off auto parts), and surfactants (used to reduce surface tension in water, like in paint and inks) all of which are human-made chemicals linked to rising rates in cancer, autism, diabetes, obesity and more!
It’s a scary and sobering reality that we are surrounded by toxic chemicals in our everyday lives. In fact, over 80,000 are in use in the United States today. Overwhelming? Yes. Unavoidable? No! Cleaning up some of these yucky chemicals in your life is an actionable, and totally doable step if you are aware of the risks, where to find these pesky chemicals, and how to get rid of them in the products you buy. We recommend doing a thorough inventory of all the products you use in the house, and make sure you keep this post handy so you can flag any items containing chemicals on this list!
Here are the top 12 toxic ingredients (commonly referred to as the “dirty dozen”) you should avoid and why, along with where you’re most likely to find them. We also added some healthy, sustainable alternatives to choose instead!
1. Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLES) and Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS)
What they are: These are very commonly used chemical agents found in everything from floor cleaner to shampoo, because essentially, they give soaps that “frothy” factor.
Negative effects: Sodium Laureth Sulfates (SLES) have been known to disrupt the endocrine system (which controls and regulates the body’s hormone functions). Similarly, Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS) has also been known to cause irritation, allergic reactions and more.
How to avoid: Check your personal cleaning products like face washes, shampoos, and soaps for these harsh sulfates. SLES and SLS are very common in shampoos, especially. Opt for a better option like HiBAR products – with no sulfates, parabens, phthalates and zero plastic packaging, they are a great choice!
What they are: These are most frequently used to give #3 plastics (like PVC or vinyl) their flexibility. Another gross fact: PVC products actually leach phthalates into the air and environment when they get hot or worn down. Phthalates are also found in personal care products and laundry detergents, under the very deceptive label of “fragrance.”
Negative effects: Phthalates are endocrine-disrupting chemicals that can also damage human liver, kidneys, lungs, and reproductive systems.
How to avoid: Store food in glass or metal containers like silicone Stasher bags, beeswax wraps, or stainless steel lunchboxes. NEVER microwave plastic containers! Stay away from vinyl flooring, shower curtains, and PVC pipes. Also, when reading over ingredient labels, watch out for Dibutyl phthalate. It’s one of the most commonly used phthalates.
What it is: Bisphenol A (BPA) is found in reusable polycarbonates (#7 plastics), the linings of food and beverage cans, and even on receipts and money!
Negative effects: Research has linked this toxin to breast cancer, miscarriage, erectile dysfunction and heart disease. Yikes!
How to avoid: Never microwave or heat plastic containers, and make sure any plastics you do use are BPA-free. If you can, avoid canned foods. Bulk or fresh is always best! It’s also a good idea to wash your hands after handling receipts or money – definitely if it’s a regular part of your job!
What it is: Chlorine is really toxic – even at low concentrations – and is used as a disinfectant in most municipal water systems. This means you risk exposure through showering, drinking unfiltered tap water and more.
Negative effects: Research links chlorine exposure to a higher risk of heart disease, allergic reactions, miscarriages, as well as some cancers.
How to avoid: Use a filter on your kitchen tap for drinking water, and purchase a chlorine-filtering showerhead. You should also avoid swimming in chlorinated water – saltwater is best!
What it is: Radon is radioactive gas that seeps from the ground into homes and the atmosphere. Yep, you read that right.
Negative effects: It is the second-leading cause of lung cancer in the U.S (and the leading cause for nonsmokers). The good news is that it can be detected with a test kit!
How to avoid: Test for radon levels with an at-home kit, and consult with a radon remediation contractor if your local levels are too high. These levels are very much dependent on where you live/work.
6. Triclocarban/ Triclosan They are both very similar, one is typically used in bar soaps (Triclocarban) and one for liquids (Triclosan).
What it is: These two chemicals are very similar in both name and function. Both are used as antimicrobial agents, so they are found in most cleaning products like face/body washes and hand soaps. Triclocarban is typically used in bar soaps and Triclosan in liquid soaps.
Negative effects: Research shows that it is really harmful to the female reproductive system, marine life and more.
How to avoid: Avoid this wherever possible – and read your labels thoroughly! For some sustainable and nontoxic options – we love Dr. Bronners soap for ALL purposes, and this exfoliating hand wash for eco-friendly – (and human friendly) – hand scrubbing.
What they are: PFCs (perfluorochemicals) are organic pollutants that are very common. How do they show up? PFCs are sprayed on stain-resistant textiles, food wrappers, cooking pans, and the inside of pet food bags, just to name a few everyday products. For reference, Teflon, Scotchgard, Stainmaster and Gore-Tex are ALL PFCs.
Negative effects: The risks? PFCs have been associated with abnormal thyroid hormone levels, liver inflammation, reduced immune function and more!
How to avoid: Try to avoid anything labeled “stain or water-resistant” and if you can’t you should THOROUGHLY wash before wearing! Avoid nonstick pans (cast iron is better!), and always read the labels of personal care products to ensure they do not contain PFC’s. They are referred to most commonly as PTFE and perfluoro in the ingredients section of labels.
What it is: Lead is a neurotoxin and a naturally occurring element found in small amounts in the earth’s crust. It can be found in the air, the soil, the water – even inside our homes!
Negative effects: Lead is known to cause headaches, joint pain, reproductive and memory problems. It’s also linked to impairments in children’s brain development, among other things.
How to avoid: Luckily, this is a pretty easy one to avoid because it is most commonly found in paint manufactured before 1980 or in old plumbing. Old or peeling paint should be repainted with non-toxic options and if you suspect high lead levels in your home you can contact professionals for lead testing to be sure.
What they are: A pesticide is, in essence, any chemical substance used to kill, repel, or control plant or animal life that are considered to be pests. They are commonly used in modern farming and gardening on both a small-scale and industrial level.
Negative effects: The most commonly used pesticides are known carcinogens. Glyphosate is an especially gnarly one. Just think about it this way: if this stuff kills insects, it’s probably not great for you, either – especially not on your food!
How to avoid: Plain and simple…just don’t use them! If you garden, opt for natural insect repellents or use biodynamic or regenerative methods in your garden or yard. ALWAYS buy organic produce and wash all fruits or veggies that come into the house – no matter where they came from!
What it is: Formaldehyde is a flammable, nasty-smelling compound found in building materials, pressed-wood products, hard plastics, dishes, cigarette smoke and a preservative in nail polish.
Negative effects: It is an irritant to the eyes, throat and mucus membranes, a hormone-disruptor, and has been linked to brain cancer and leukemia. It’s a big “no-no.”
How to avoid: ALWAYS look for “exterior-grade” pressed-wood products to limit levels of formaldehyde in your home by way of furniture. Also, do your research when purchasing pressed-wood products (plywood, paneling, particleboard, fiberboard, etc.,) – this can be a sneaky chemical!
What they are: Parabens are everywhere in the pharmaceutical and cosmetics industries. While awareness of parabens has increased greatly over the past ten years or so, they still sneakily show up if you don’t know what to look for!
Negative effects: Propylparaben, methylparaben and Iosbutylparaben are some particulars to pay attention to in your products at home – from cleaning products to cosmetics – as they have been linked to cancer and other harmful effects in humans and animals.
How to avoid: Anything ending in “-paraben” is a definite no. You won’t find parabens in any of the brands we work with, and luckily, there are many products on the market these days that are clearly labeled “paraben-free.”
12. PBDEs & PBBs
What they are: These toxins are known commonly as flame retardants that can be found in building materials, electronics, cushions, and textiles.
Negative effects: Exposure has been linked to inhibiting brain development in children as well as learning and behavior problems, and to negatively affect reproduction in women.
How to avoid: This is a tough one and requires vigilance. But you can make sure to always cover or replace cushions/car seats etc, when the foam pads become exposed, avoid exposure to styrofoam insulation, and generally stay away from synthetic textiles. Choose linen, cotton, hemp or other sustainably manufactured fabrics if possible!
We know it can be overwhelming and downright difficult to do the research and find the right products for you, your family and your home. This is why we are committed to making the process easier. In our Kindhumans marketplace, we only feature products that pass our rigorous evaluation process and meet our obsessively high standards. You and the planet deserve the best and we’re committed to helping make that happen.
Check out our “No Thank You” list for a comprehensive list of chemicals we avoid in our marketplace, see this blog post to learn about our vetting process for all products, or see the resources below for further reading!
SOURCES (AND FURTHER READING):