most toxic products in
and safer alternatives
You buy organic vegetables, choose free-range eggs, and avoid any chemical sweeteners or colors. But is your home as clean as your diet? From candles and deodorants, to air fresheners and toothpaste, every room in your house probably contains some kind of toxin. Clean house now, with this easy home makeover that swaps harmful products with safe, natural alternatives.
Water. Whatever your source, it probably contains toxins. Tap water is usually laced with fluoride and chlorine, and may contain lead, aluminum, arsenic, pharmaceutical residues, and other toxins. You’re not necessarily better off with bottled water: some are simply packaged tap water, not spring water. Hard water bottles—the kind you refill at the grocery store or from a water supply company—are generally made of polycarbonate, which contains BPA (bisphenol-A), a type of endocrine disruptor that interferes with the normal functioning of the endocrine system and can increase the risk of certain cancers. And flexible plastic bottles contain endocrine disruptors as well. Clean house: Invest in a high-quality water filter to install at the source; you’ll also find filters to attach to shower heads, to purify your bathing water.
Candles. Most are made with paraffin, which is derived from petroleum, and scented with artificial perfumes. But a recent study found that paraffin-based candles emitted toxic chemicals, including toluene, a solvent that affects the central nervous system, and benzene, a known carcinogen. Over time, said study researchers, burning paraffin candles can aggravate asthma, cause allergy-like symptoms, or irritate the respiratory tract. Gel candles are even worse: they’re made from mineral oil and polymer resin, a type of liquid plastic. Clean house: Beeswax and soy candles, scented with pure essential oils, are a healthier choice. Or choose lotion candles, made out of plant oils, which can be applied to the skin after melting. Look for 100 percent beeswax or soy; because the term “pure” means a product must contain only 51 percent of a stated ingredient, a candle labeled “pure beeswax” or “pure soy” may have 49 percent paraffin.
Cleaners. If you use conventional cleaning products, you’re essentially spreading a thin film of toxic chemicals on your counters and floors. Toilet bowl cleaners and oven cleaners contain lye and strong acids that can burn the skin and irritate the eyes and respiratory system. Ammonia, found in glass cleaners and other products, irritates the eyes and lungs, and can cause headaches. Formaldehyde, used as a preservative in soaps and other cleaners, is a suspected carcinogen. And most conventional household cleaning products are scented with synthetic fragrances that contain phthlates. Clean house: Look for window and counter cleaners, toilet bowl cleaners, and other household cleaners that are made with plant oils and waxes, and scented with pure essential oils.
Lipstick. Would you believe a product you apply directly to your mouth contains toxic heavy metals? In a recent study published in Environmental Health Perspectives, researchers tested a variety of conventional lipsticks and lip glosses, and found detectable levels of lead—a harmful neurotoxin—as well as cadmium, chromium, aluminum, and five other metals. Another study by the FDA found lead in 400 lipsticks tested. Other toxins in lipstick include petrochemical bases and harmful colorants. Clean house: Choose lipsticks, lip glosses, and lip balms made with beeswax and plant oils like olive, jojoba, and coconut oil; colors should be made from natural stains or minerals.
Personal care products. Conventional lotions, creams, shampoos, conditioners, deodorants, and other personal care products usually contain phthalates from synthetic fragrances, as well as other toxins. Parabens, used as preservatives, are endocrine disruptors that have been linked with cancer and reproductive disorders. Retinyl palmitate, a synthetic form of vitamin A, may be toxic to pregnant women and is loosely associated with increased risk of cancer and reproductive harm. Lotions, creams, and makeup are of particular concern because they stay in contact with the skin for hours. Clean house: Avoid anything with parabens or petrochemicals, and look for personal care products made with saponified coconut oil, plant ingredients, and pure essential oils as fragrances.
Toothpaste. It’s shocking how many toxins are in toothpastes, mouthwashes, and other products that go in your mouth. Most toothpastes contain fluoride, linked with neurological damage and, in one study, lower IQ in children. Many also contain propylene glycol—an industrial solvent that’s used in antifreeze—as well as artificial sweeteners and colors. Conventional mouthwashes also contain artificial flavors, colors, and preservatives, as well as alcohol, which can be hard on mouth tissues. Dental floss may also contain artificial flavors, and is usually coated with petroleum-based waxes. Clean house: Look for fluoride-free toothpastes and alcohol-free mouthwashes, sweetened with xylitol to strengthen teeth and prevent cavities, and tea tree oil to gently control bacterial growth. For mouthwash, choose alcohol-free versions flavored with pure essential oils, and use floss made with beeswax or plant wax.
Hand sanitizers and other antibacterial products like soaps and household cleaners sound like a good idea—but they may contain triclosan, a toxic compound that has been shown to upset thyroid balance and increase cancer risk. Additionally, some experts worry that the widespread use of triclosan is contributing to the increase in antibiotic-resistant bacteria (“superbugs”). Even though it’s in widespread use, triclosan has not been found to be effective by the FDA, who note that triclosan has no benefit over washing with regular soap and water. Most hand sanitizers also contain parabens and some contain synthetic fragrances, adding more toxins. Clean house: Choose hand sanitizers, soaps, and cleaners that are free of triclosan, and use natural antibacterial essential oils like thyme oil instead; alcohol-free versions with aloe are also gentler on skin.
Air fresheners. Room sprays may contain phthalates, a class of chemicals known as plasticizers. In scented products, diethyl phthalate (DEP) is used as a base for synthetic fragrances in air fresheners, room sprays, dryer sheets, perfumes, and other scented products. Studies have linked phthalates to abnormal sexual development (especially in boys), male infertility, premature breast development, cancer, miscarriage, and premature birth. Inhaling synthetic fragrances can also trigger asthma symptoms. Clean house: Look for non-aerosol room sprays or solid air fresheners made with pure essential oils like grapefruit or orange; be sure your soaps, shampoos, conditioners, dryer sheets, or anything else that’s scented are made only with essential oils.
Lisa Turner is a food writer and holistic nutritionist based in Boulder, Colo.