Cleaning ingredients vary in the type of health hazard they pose. Some cause acute, or immediate, hazards such as skin or respiratory irritation, watery eyes, or chemical burns, while others are associated with chronic, or long-term, effects such as cancer.
The most acutely dangerous cleaning products are corrosive drain cleaners, oven cleaners, and acidic toilet bowl cleaners. Corrosive chemicals can cause severe burns on eyes, skin and, if ingested, on the throat and esophagus. Ingredients with high acute toxicity include chlorine bleach and ammonia, which produce fumes that are highly irritating to eyes, nose, throat and lungs, and should not be used by people with asthma or lung or heart problems. These two chemicals pose an added threat in that they can react with each other or other chemicals to form lung-damaging gases.
There are various levels of toxicity when it comes to personal care and cleaning products but the toxins that I avoid above all else (and that you should memorize) are:
- Parabens. You’ll find these mainly in shampoos. They mimic estrogen and can lead to cancer. Parabens are usually preceded by the prefixes methyl-, ethyl-, butyl-, or propyl.
- Fragrance. Fragrances are found in practically EVERYTHING, unfortunately. The FDA requires that ingredients are listed on their products, however ‘fragrance’ is a general clumping of any one of 4,000 chemicals (mostly synthetic) used to scent products. This unknown fragrance mixture can contain potentially hundreds of toxic volatile organic compounds, some of which have been shown to cause cancer. The US Environmental Protection Agency found that 100% of perfumes contain toluene, which can cause liver, kidney and brain damage as well as damage to a developing fetus. Other symptoms when exposed to fragrances include: headaches, dizziness, rashes, skin discoloration, coughing, vomiting and allergic skin reactions. Fragrances also can affect the central nervous system, causing depression, irritability and other behavioral changes.
- Sodium Lauryl Sulfate. A lathering agent found in shampoos and body washes and soaps. It’s a skin irritant that also enhances the allergic response to other toxins and allergens. It also reacts with other ingredients to form cancer-causing particles.
- Nanoparticles. Found in lotions, moisturizers, make-up and sunscreen. These ingredients have not been tested but can penetrate the cell wall and are highly reactive. Many scientists are concerned about their potential health effects.
- Formaldehyde. Commonly found in nail polish, aerosol products, and bath products. This chemical is a known carcinogen that also damages DNA. It’s also a skin sensitizer with the potential to cause cancer.
- Phthalates. Often found in “fragrances” in a variety of products for men, women, and children. These are hormone disruptors that have been linked to genital abnormalities, liver and kidney lesions and higher rates of childhood asthma and allergies.
- Petroleum by-products such as: mineral oil, petrolatum, liquid paraffin, toluene, and xylene. These products are in many products but especially in shampoos and soaps. The main concern is that they are often contaminated with cancer-causing impurities.
- Lead. Found in lipstick and hair-coloring kids. It’s a neurotoxin leading to brain damage.
- Mercury. Found in cosmetics like mascara. It’s a neurotoxin which can severely damage human health.
Make sure you AVOID these ingredients when you’re shopping. You can find product safety ratings at the CosmeticDatabase.org (I use this to look up any new product before I buy) and if you’re unsure what an ingredient is look it up at Toxipedia.org.
Alternatively, you can easily make your own cleaning products and reduce your toxic exposure, protecting yourself and your family! They are also cheaper and require only a few key ingredients on hand.
General All-Purpose Cleaner:
1/2 cup vinegar and 1/2 cup baking soda in 2 liters of water
1 part water to 1/2 part vinegar (optional: add a couple drops of lemon or tea tree essential oil)
Spray on the mirror and wipe with newspaper or paper towels.
- 1/2 cup borax and 1/2 cup vinegar
Pour above ingredients into toilet, let sit at least 1 hour before scrubbing. The more they sit the more stain and odors it removes.
1 cup white vinegar and 1/2 cup baking soda.
Wipe on, but note that vinegar can break up tile grouts, so use sparingly.
Mold and Mildew Cleaner
1 part 3% hydrogen peroxide to 2 parts purified water
2 teaspoons tea tree oil and 2 cups water
Combine in spray bottle and spray on problem areas.
1 part borax to 1 part baking soda
Use 2 tablespoons per load. If you have hard water, double the amount of baking soda in the mixture. For either mixture, use white vinegar in the rinse cycle.
I’ve noticed that many people do NOT think comprehensively. They eat organic and live a healthy lifestyle but then they pollute their bodies and their homes based on the personal care and cleaning products that they buy. Take charge of your health and eliminate these harmful products/ingredients from your life!
Erin Schumacher is a Certified Natural Health and Holistic Nutrition Practitioner (CNHP; CHNP) She specializes in detoxification programs, internal cleanses, and helping clients build strong immune systems. She also travels internationally to do raw food workshops, yoga retreats, and personal coaching. In addition, Erin is a Certified Power Yoga Instructor and a Certified Raw Food Chef from the SunKitchen. She currently lives in Vilcabamba, Ecuador. For more information, visit ErinSchumacher.net.
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