Two of the most fundamental questions about health are “Why are we the sickest country in the world?” and “What is necessary to get and stay well?”
The answers are obviously complex. However, eliminating or minimizing toxins we’re exposed to can go a long way toward staying well and vital. This article focuses on the top six products that every women should avoid, as well as some of the alternatives to those toxic items.
1. Feminine Hygiene Products
A disturbing array of toxic chemicals can be found in conventional tampons, menstrual pads, wipes, douches, and similar items. These chemicals – which include pesticide residue, dioxin, unknown fragrance chemicals and adhesives – have been linked to cancer, endocrine disruption, allergic rash, and reproductive harm. They raise alarms because vaginal tissue is particularly porous, which means that chemicals put into the vagina are easily and effectively distributed throughout the body, according to Women’s Voices for the Earth in its comprehensive report “Chem Fatale.”
Safer Alternative: Skip products marketed as “vaginal cleansers.” (The vagina is designed to self-clean; douching and excess washing, in fact, can lead to infections, says WomensHealth.gov.) Choose unscented tampons, as well as chlorine-free, bleached or unbleached cotton tampons and pads. Reusable, washable menstrual pads and underwear are also available, as are washablemenstrual cups, which collect rather than absorb menstrual flow.
Mercury – a potent neurotoxin that can cause kidney damage and potentially disrupt fetal brain development – is sometimes used in mascara as a preservative and germ killer. Stacy Malkan, co-founder of the advocacy groupCampaign for Safe Cosmetics, says there is no reason “a known neurotoxin should be allowed,” as safer alternatives exist. Unfortunately, there’s no way to know if your mascara contains mercury, because companies are not required to list it on their product labels!
Safer Alternative: To be safe, search online for “mercury-free mascara” or shop at natural foods stores. Aubrey Organics is among the safest alternatives for make-up.
A Food and Drug Administration (FDA) analysis found that 400 shades of lipstick contained measurable lead levels. The FDA believes that the amount of lead present doesn’t pose a safety risk, but continues to study the issue. However, the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics takes the position that almost any exposure to lead is unsafe and should be avoided. Lead exposure has been linked to learning, language and behavioral problems; reduced fertility in both men and women; hormonal changes and menstrual irregularities; as well as delayed onset of puberty in girls and development of testes in boys. “Lead builds in the body over time, and lead-containing lipstick applied several times a day, every day, can add up to significant exposure levels,” says Mark Mitchell, co-chairman of the Environmental Health Task Force for the National Medical Association.
Safer Alternative: Lead occurs naturally in the mineral additives that give lipstick their color, so it is hard to find lipsticks or lip glosses that do not contain trace amounts of lead. Look for products that derive their colors from fruits rather than minerals, keep lips moisturized with non-petroleum based lip balm, and use less rather than more lipstick overall.
4. Hand Sanitizer
Triclosan is an “anti-microbial agent” that is added to a wide variety of personal care products, such as hand sanitizers, soaps, and toothpaste, to fight germs. However, many public health advocates worry that frequent use of this chemical is actually contributing to antibiotic-resistant bacteria and reducing our ability to fight disease , and it’s also thought to have a negative impact on our hormone systems. Further, triclosan also washes down our drains and builds up in streams, lakes and rivers, where it can wreak havoc on the biological systems of the flora and fauna. Finally, antibacterial ingredients don’t kill viruses, which cause the vast majority of minor illnesses, like colds, flu, and stomach bugs, according to WebMD.
Safer Alternative: Choose products free of triclosan, triclocarbon, and other antibacterial agents. Wash your hands thoroughly and frequently. It’s not the type of soap that prevents the spread of bacteria and viruses, it’s how you wash your hands. Lather up and rub hands together vigorously for 20 seconds, rinse well, and dry with a clean towel. Disinfect home surfaces using a solution of hot water, white vinegar, and borax. doTERRA Essential Oils can be used to make your own water or water-less hand sanitizers.
5. Cleaning Products
The dirt in our homes consists mostly of simple grease and grime, dust, food and drink spills. But most cleaning products contain chemicals so powerful they could clean up a toxic waste site. Instead, they make our eyes itch, our noses run, trigger asthma, irritate our skin, and come with warnings like “do not inhale” or “use with caution.”
Safer Alternative: Choose plant-based cleansers, or make your own. A paste of baking soda, a little fragrance-free plant-based liquid dish soap, and warm water cleans counters, walls, tile or linoleum floors and even the toilet bowl and ring around the bathtub. Use a spray of vinegar and water to wash windows and mirrors, and a stronger vinegar solution to tackle mold or mildew. A dab of olive oil on a cotton towel will bring back the shine to stainless steel appliances. Microfiber cloths which attract and grab dust work better for clearning furniture than sprays.
6. Air Fresheners
Phthalates help disperse fragrances in air fresheners into the air, where you may inhale or absorb them through your skin. Once these chemicals enter the blood stream, they can alter hormone levels or cause symptoms like headache, runny nose, and itchy eyes. The State of California notes that five types of phthalates are “known to cause birth defects or reproductive harm,” reports the Natural Resources Defense Council. Exposure to phthalates in air fresheners has also been associated with increasing the risk of asthma.
Safer Alternative: First and foremost, root out what is making your home smell bad. Then open the windows and let fresh air circulate. Keep bathroom floors and the base of the toilet clean, use fans to move moist air out of bathrooms so mildew doesn’t develop, and don’t leave old food on kitchen counters or in an uncovered trash can, where it smells as it decomposes. To add a pleasant fragrance to your home naturally, simmer cloves, orange peel, and apple cider or pieces of apple on your stove, and enjoy fragrant cut flowers like roses and lilies. I great newer alternative is using a diffuser with a doTERRA Essential Oil to provide a pleasant fragrance. Diffusing essential oils can also provide health benefits, such as eliminating germs (e.g., doTERRA’s “OnGuard” blend) or reducing snoring (e.g., doTERRA’s “Breathe”).