6 Everyday Products with Hidden Toxins


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by: Lindsay Hutton
You know about eating organic foods, using only natural sunscreens, and avoiding certain cleaning products to avoid exposing your family to dangerous toxins and chemicals — but how much should you actually worry about your family's exposure? Are there hidden dangers that you are missing? Read this list of common household items, and find tips to avoid them. For more information on toxins in specific products, visit the Environmental Working Group's website.
Child in rain coat and rain boots holding umbrella
Vinyl Rain Coats
The culprit: Phthalates

Also found in: Air fresheners, perfumes, scented lotions, detergents, cleaning products, body washes, hair care products, backpacks, shower curtains, rain boots, vinyl school supplies such as three-ring binders, electronics, remote controls, and vinyl plastics.

What to look for on the ingredient label: phthalate, DEP, DBP, PVC, fragrance

Dangers: Phthalates can buildup on the skin or in the body, also known as bioaccumulation. Phthalates have been linked to developmental and reproductive toxicity, early puberty, asthma, cancer, and endocrine disruption, especially in pregnant and breast-feeding women.

Low level exposure to phthalates is hazardous. To avoid phthalates, read all labels and avoid any products that list the above ingredients or include the word "fragrance." Look for school supplies labeled "PVC-free," and avoid any products made from vinyl, especially flexible vinyl like rain coats and rain boots, as phthalates are used to soften them. Some products may be labeled "V" or "PVC," making them easy to avoid, but if not, contact the manufacturer to find out what type of plastic they use.

Open tin cans of canned vegetables
Liners in Aluminum Cans
The culprit: Bisphenol-A (BPA)

Also found in: Reusable water bottles and food and beverage storage containers made from polycarbonate plastics.

Dangers: BPA can cause endocrine disruption, physical and behavior problems in children, reproductive problems, and can disrupt endocrinal development in utero.

The federal government passed a law that bans BPA from being used in children's baby bottles and sippy cups. Most people are exposed to very low levels of BPA, and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) says it is safe at levels that currently occur in food and products. However, if you'd like to avoid BPA, you can do so by buying products labeled "BPA-free" and cutting back on the use of canned goods. Also, if you feed your baby infant formula, choose powdered formula instead of liquid formula in a can, which may be contaminated with BPA. Avoid putting polycarbonate plastics in the microwave or dishwasher, and use glass or stainless steel containers. Avoid any reusable water bottles that fall in the #7 category, since these are usually made of polycarbonate plastics and contain BPA. This number can be found on the water bottle, located inside the "chasing arrows" that form a triangle.

Close up of blue toothbrush and tube of toothpaste
The culprit: Triclosan

Also found in: Antibacterial cleansers, deodorants, mouthwash, dish soap, kitchen utensils such as cutting boards, mattresses, shoe insoles, baby blankets, credit cards, and trash bags.

What to look for on the ingredient label: Triclosan is commonly referred to as the trade names Microban, Amicor, UltraFresh, and BioFresh.

Dangers: The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) registers it as a pesticide. Triclosan has been found to disrupt hormones and thyroid function, can affect sexual function and fertility, and can cause birth defects, paralysis, immune suppression, heart problems, allergies, and brain hemorrhages.

According to the EWG, even low levels of triclosan can disrupt thyroid function. To avoid triclosan, read all labels. Most personal-care products are required by the FDA to list triclosan as an ingredient, so avoid anything that has it listed. Other products, such as cutting boards, might not list triclosan as an ingredient, so avoid anything labeled as "anti-bacterial."

Shampoo and conditioner bottles on top of bath towels
The culprit: Parabens

Also found in: Conditioners, lotions, facial and body cleansers and scrubs

What to look for on the ingredient label: Ethylparaben, butylparaben, methylparaben, propylparaben, other ingredients ending in —paraben

Dangers: Parabens can disrupt hormone function, and have been linked to an increased risk of breast cancer and reproductive toxicity. They have also been linked to endocrine disruption, allergies and immunotoxicity, and skin irritation, especially in pregnant women and children.

To avoid parabens, look for products labeled "paraben-free" and always read the ingredients listed on products. Look for shampoo that contains citric acid, nut oils, or seed oils for a natural way to remove dirt and oil.

Lit candle
Scented Candles
The culprit: Ethanolamine Compounds

Also found in: Soaps, shampoos, hair conditioners, hair dyes, shaving cream, lotions, paraffin and waxes, household cleaning products, eyeliners, mascara, eye shadows, blush, make-up bases, foundations, fragrances, and sunscreens

What to look for on the ingredient label: MEA, DEA, TEA(abbreviations for monoethanolamine, diethanolamine, and triethanolamine), and any words with those initials.

Dangers: Nitrosodiethanolamine (NDEA) is a listed carcinogen in the National Toxicology Program's Report on Carcinogens. DEA alters sperm structure in males, accumulates in the body and can cause organ toxicity, and some studies have found memory function and brain development in children can be affected by a mother's exposure to DEA.

To avoid ethanolamine compounds, read labels on all cosmetics and household items and avoid products with the letters MEA, DEA, or TEA in the ingredient list. Look for candles made from 100% beeswax or a vegetable-based wax. Essential oils are also nontoxic and some, such as lavender, can help reduce stress and promote relaxation.

Hands holding bottles of colored nail polish
Nail Polish
The culprit: Formaldehyde and Formaldehyde-Releasing Preservatives (FRPs)

Also found In: Hair gel, hair-smoothing products, baby shampoo, body soap, body wash, cosmetics

What to look for on the ingredient label: Formaldehyde, quaternium-15, DMDM hydantoin, imidazolidinyl urea, diazolidinyl urea, sodium hydroxymethylglycinate, 2-bromo-2-nitropropane-1,3-diol (bromopol)

Dangers: Formaldehyde is a known carcinogen. It is known to cause skin and allergic reactions in people with formaldehyde sensitivities. Daily exposure at low levels can cause a sensitivity over time, and infants are especially vulnerable.

To avoid formaldehyde and FRPs, read labels and buy products labeled formaldehyde-free or "toxic-trio-free" (formaldehyde, toluene and DBP). Don't by hair products from salons, as salons are exempt from labeling laws. Look for soaps and washes that contain coconut oil to naturally moisturize, and natural plant-based ingredients, such as aloe and chamomile, to help soothe sensitive skin.