Every day we see another article telling us that such-and-such substance causes cancer. It can be overwhelming! It’s often hard to know what’s a true threat, and implementing recommendations like “don’t ever touch any plastic again” can be impractical and unrealistic, not to mention expensive. In this post I’ll walk you through five simple and affordable (several are free!) ways to reduce toxin exposure for your entire family, making your house healthier and safer.
THE “REDUCE TOXIN EXPOSURE” SCOUTING REPORT
To reduce toxin exposure, both for ourselves and our children, we need to start one step at a time. The sheer number of chemicals that may be dangerous is outrageous, and unfortunately such substances are found in so many products we have in our homes (mattresses, couches, drinking water, food storage containers, personal care products — the list is never-ending). I’ll address some of these, like mattresses, in future posts, but to start, below are five really simple steps you can take TODAY!
1) Stop wearing your shoes indoors.
~ The problem: According to this article by the HuffPost and other similar articles, wearing shoes in the house drags in bacteria (think public restroom floor), toxins (gasoline and other car liquids for example), and dirt. Anything you step on, from lawn chemicals to the salt on the roads in winter gets dragged into the house in trace amounts. Especially if you have babies or kids who like to play on the floor, this is yucky!
~ The Solution: The fix is easy. Take off your shoes when you come in. Leave a bin by the door if it helps you remember and to keep things organized. This simple step will reduce toxin exposure by making sure all those trace amounts of gasoline and windshield fluid stay outside!
~ Committed?: If it’s been a while, have your carpets cleaned. Try to pick a company that uses an eco-friendly, safe-for-kids-and-pets method. Be very careful with extra treatments like sanitizing or stain guard — often you’d be adding more chemicals than you’re removing.
2) Pick a safe sunscreen (and use clothing/hats whenever possible)
~ The problem: Conventional, or chemical, sunscreens contain a number of ingredients that are either questionable or have been shown to be dangerous, such as retinyl palmitate and oxybenzone. On an average sunscreen shelf at the grocery store, over 90% of the bottles available contain these ingredients. Choosing a safer alternative will help your entire family reduce toxin exposure every time they apply sunscreen this summer.
~ The solution: Mineral sunscreens with either zinc oxide or titanium dioxide are much better choices. The Environmental Working Group (EWG) just came out with their 2017 list of safest sunscreens. Or see my post on safe sunscreen for more details on what to look for and where to find it!
~ Committed?: Use the EWG Skin Deep Database to switch all (or as many as possible) of your personal care products over to safe alternatives. Not sure what ingredients to avoid? Look for a green EWG score of one or two.
3) Ditch anti-bacterial soap.
~ The problem: The overuse of anti-bacterial substances like triclosan is contributing to antibiotic resistance, prompting the FDA to ban soap manufacturers from using them starting this September (hospital-grade products are exempt). This Wired.com article gives more details. Triclosan and other similar chemicals also disturb the balance of microbes found in each person, potentially opening one up to gut flora imbalances and infections. In addition, according to the National Resource Defense Council, “it’s an endocrine disruptor, meaning it interferes with important hormone functions, which can directly affect the brain [and] our immune and reproductive systems.” This article lists a host of possible resulting conditions and points out that “the impacts of prolonged exposure during fetal development, infancy, and childhood can be particularly severe, resulting in permanent damage.”
~ The solution: How do you get rid of the germs, then? According to the EWG, “the American Medical Association, a Food and Drug Administration advisory committee, and dozens of academic researchers have determined that antimicrobial soap does not work any better than plain soap and water at preventing the spread of infections or reducing bacteria on the skin.” Reduce toxin exposure by using regular soap. Bonus if it’s a brand that doesn’t use any other suspect chemicals (check the EWG Skin Deep database to be sure). We like Dr. Bronner’s liquid castile soap.
~ Committed?: Increase your awareness of antibiotics in general, and avoid them whenever possible. Antibiotics save lives, which is exactly why antibiotic resistance is so scary. However, many doctors overprescribe them, and agricultural practices in our country contribute greatly to the problem. Educating yourself is the first step to helping. This article provides a good primer.
4) Choose PJs without flame retardants.
~ The problem: Many kids’ pajamas, including almost all of the cute fuzzy ones, are treated with flame retardants. The background and reasoning behind that are detailed here. Fortunately, the original flame retardants used, which mutated DNA and were likely carcinogens, are now banned, but according to the article, the newer chemicals are still best avoided as they have been linked to hyperactivity and lowered IQ. In addition, according to this article, another type of flame retardant, “polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs), have been linked to damage to the nervous and reproductive systems and impairing thyroid function.”
~ The solution: Buy pajamas that say “for child’s safety, garments should fit snugly. These garments are not flame resistant. Loose-fitting garments are more likely to catch fire.” Or something to that effect. These are typically the cotton ones. And yes, they should fit snugly.
~ Committed?: Consider a flame-retardant-free mattresses. This is a much bigger financial commitment of course, especially since safer mattresses are more expensive than the conventional types you see at big box stores and even mattress stores. But I believe sleep-related items, such as PJs and mattresses, are key places to reduce toxin exposure, especially for kids, since they often spend 11-12 hours each night in contact with these items! Look for a post providing all the mattress details you need coming soon.
5) Switch to glass or stainless steel water bottles.
~ The problem: Toxic chemicals, like BPA, can leach into your water. “But they’re BPA free!” you say. Unfortunately, the replacement typically used for BPA in BPA-free plastics, bisphenol S (BPS), is likely to be just as harmful. According to Scientific American, “nearly 81 percent of Americans have detectable levels of BPS in their urine. And once it enters the body it can affect cells in ways that parallel BPA.” BPA is an endocrine disruptor which mimics estrogen. This is particularly dangerous for fetuses, infants, and children as the chemical is feared to harm brain and reproductive development.
For more details, background, and suggestions on how to reduce toxin exposure, I highly recommend this article by parents.com.
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“The Dirt on Anti-bacterial Soaps,” National Resource Defense Council — https://www.nrdc.org/stories/dirt-antibacterial-soaps
“2017 Guide to Sunscreens,” Environmental Working Group — http://www.ewg.org/sunscreen/
“Keep Your Family Safe From Toxic Chemicals,” Parents.com — http://www.parents.com/parenting/better-parenting/green/keep-your-family-safe-from-toxic-chemicals/
“6 Ways to Avoid Unnecessary Antibiotics and Why You Should,” Aviva Romm — https://avivaromm.com/avoid-unnecessary-antibiotics/
“Children’s Pajamas and Flame Retardants,” Pediatric Safety — http://www.pediatricsafety.net/2009/10/childrens-pajamas-and-flame-retardants/
“The Real Story Behind Flame Retardant Baby Clothes,” BabyList — https://www.babylist.com/hello-baby/flame-retardant-baby-clothes
“BPA-Free Plastic Containers May Be Just as Hazardous,” Scientific American — https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/bpa-free-plastic-containers-may-be-just-as-hazardous/
“3 Gross Reasons You Shouldn’t Wear Shoes in the House,” HuffPost — http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/why-you-shouldnt-wear-shoes-in-house_us_55a11558e4b0a47ac15caad1
“The FDA’s Antibacterial Soap Ban Is Bad News for Superbugs,” Wired.com — https://www.wired.com/2016/09/fdas-ban-antibacterial-soaps-bad-news-superbugs/
“Pesticide In Soap, Toothpaste And Breast Milk – Is It Kid-Safe?” Environmental Working Group — http://www.ewg.org/research/pesticide-soap-toothpaste-and-breast-milk-it-kid-safe
“FDA Reviews Antibacterial Hand Soap: Why Triclosan Is Bad For You And The Planet,” Medical Daily — http://www.medicaldaily.com/fda-reviews-antibacterial-hand-soap-why-triclosan-bad-you-and-planet-245474
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