Each day we touch dozens of products-whether it’s in our homes, workplaces, or schools. Women in particular, with the array of cosmetics and beauty products we use on a daily basis, are exposed to many chemicals that are both natural and synthetic, and found in items easily purchased in any store.
Many people assume that items purchased in stores have been through rigorous safety testing and approval by the FDA. Sadly, this is not the case. There is very little oversight in the development of commercial products, with the FDA relying on consumer reports to find items that are toxic or have harmful side affects.
Trying to figure out what products to avoid and what chemicals to be on the lookout for can be exhausting, not to mention the difficulty in attempting to finding alternative products that are actually effective! However, since there is not much regulation in America you’ll find many harmful and toxic products on the market, meaning we must be on the lookout for ingredients that may harm us due to overexposure.
A good place to start is by seeking out products that do not use any of the over 1300 substances banned from use in cosmetics in the European Union (by contrast, there are only 11 banned substances in the US). The Environmental Working Group (or EWG) has an indispensable database of products that lists potentially dangerous ingredients in many common products, as well as any health concerns that have been linked to such substances.
Unfortunately we cannot assume that potentially harmful ingredients are not in our products. To make safer choices every day look for items that state they specifically exclude common toxic ingredients. Simply calling a product natural is not enough, as “natural” products are not regulated as such.
Below we’ve rounded up some personally tested products or natural alternatives to common products that have toxicity concerns.
Being a candle maker’s blog, you had to know this would rank high on the list. Candles are such wonderful items to have in your home- they bring warmth, heat, and fragrance to your space, and create an ambiance that cannot be easily duplicated.
We’ve all bought that large heavily fragranced candle from Yankee or the department store (I was a sucker for Yankee Candle’s fall fragrances), never even thinking that something as innocuous as a candle could cause any type of harm. The problem is that many mass produced candles are made out of paraffin wax. Paraffin is a petroleum byproduct and releases toxins that are known carcinogens when burned- directly into the air you, your family, and your pets breathe! It’s okay though, non toxic candles are out there, you just need to know what you’re looking for.
What to Look For
Candles don’t typically come with a list of ingredients, but you can spot a potentially toxic one by how it’s labeled or advertised. Unless a label states that the candle is made with soy, coconut, beeswax, or other vegetable wax it can be assumed it is made with paraffin.
Additionally, a concern in many candles is the wick as well- look for candles that have untreated and lead-free wicks whenever possible. Heavy metals in candle wicks are more common than you would think, and “A candle with a lead-core wick releases five times the amount of lead considered hazardous for children and exceeds EPA pollution standards for outdoor air, says the CPSC, which is why they banned lead wicks in 2003. Exposure to high amounts of lead has been linked to hormone disruption, behavioral problems, learning disabilities, and numerous health problems.” (source)
Finally, be wary of how candles are scented as well. Most candles are made with fragrance oils, which are synthetic and made to attempt to duplicate natural plant scents. Fragrance oils are common in candles and other scented products as they are inexpensive, and tend to have a stronger scent throw meaning less oil needs to be used. In a 2001 study, the EPA reported that synthetic fragrances were shown to cause "possible mutagenic and genotoxic effects." Synthetic fragrances have also been shown to contain hormone disruptors which are linked to abnormal cell reproduction which could result in tumor growth. Unless a company states they use only pure essential oils in their candles you can assume they are made with synthetic fragrance oils. Even the phrase “made with essential oils” is misleading, as only a small percentage of essential oils could be present.
Non Toxic Candle Swap
The entire line of non toxic candles is made with only all natural ingredients, and the company has committed to providing all natural candles made with only pure essential oils. The materials are simple, with a coconut wax blend (consisting of 90% coconut, 5% palm, and 5% soy), various essential oils, and untreated wood wicks.
With herbal, floral, and fruity scent blends available in travel size candles as well as full sized candles, there is a scent for everyone. The Focus candle includes basil, lime, and rosemary essential oils and is perfect for the person who doesn’t enjoy what are considered traditionally “feminine” scents.
Sunscreen is a necessary evil in the world of sun exposure- I say evil as so many sunscreens contain potentially harmful ingredients. Sunscreens work by either creating a physical barrier to protect the skin, or a chemical barrier to prevent absorption of UV rays. Either of these can cause concern as ingredients in everything are quickly absorbed into the skin and as a result into other tissues of your body.
What to Avoid
Oxybenzone is the most common sunscreen chemical, and is an endocrine disruptor that can cause hormonal imbalances and reduce sperm count in men. It is added to nearly 65% of chemical barrier sunscreens in the EWG database. This chemical is being found in the blood of more than 96% of the population in the United States.
Octinoxate is also widely used in chemical barrier sunscreens, and is rapidly absorbed through the skin. It is used effectively as a UV filter, however is a known endocrine disruptor as well, that mimics estrogen and can affect thyroid functions.
Titanium or zinc oxide nanoparticles in barrier sunscreens. In larger particle formats both titanium and zinc oxide pose little to no risk in topical usage (avoid inhalation such as in powder or sprays) as they cannot penetrate the skin and are not considered hormone disruptors. Nanoparticle form is easily absorbed into the skin.
Non Toxic Sunscreen Swap
Products from the Beautycounter line are favorites of ours as the brand is built around making high quality products without any of the 1,000+ banned chemicals from around the world. Their sunscreen products (lotion and stick, with a spray on the way!) use Zinc Oxide as a main ingredient and comes in at a 1 on the EWG scale.
The entire Beautycounter suncare line can be found here.
Look under your medicine cabinet, I’m sure you have at least one product that states it is harmful to humans and pets; or should be used in a well ventilated space. We’re used to it, assuming that these products are needed to create a clean home environment. Sparse exposure to many of the chemicals found in household cleaners is likely not harmful, but we’re talking about cleaners that many of us use every day- I wouldn’t call that limited exposure.
What to Avoid
2-Butoxyethanol- found in many window and multipurpose cleaners. Ever notice how Windex smells slightly sweet? That’s due to 2-Butoxyethanol. This chemical is not required to be listed on a product label, and is a powerful solvent. It can cause sore throats when inhaled, and high levels of this chemical can contribute to liver and kidney damage, according to the EPA.
Phthalates- found in many fragranced household products. Due to the proprietary nature of many fragrances, companies do not have to disclose what is in their scents, therefore do not have to list any phathalates. The umbrella word of “fragrance” is a good indicator of a phthalate presence. These are known endocrine disruptors- high concentrations of phthalates correspond with reduced sperm counts in men. Exposure is usually through inhalation, however contact to the skin via scented soaps or lotions is problematic as absorption via the skin leads directly to other tissues and organs.
Non Toxic Cleaner Swap
DIY. Seriously. You can find countless recipes for cleaning solutions on Pinterest or via a simple Google search. Our favorite is from Keeper of the Home, a tried and true multi purpose cleaner that consists of baking soda, water, tea tree essential oil, and castile soap.
All-Purpose Cleaning Solution
1 tablespoon baking soda
1 teaspoon castile soap
3-5 drops tea tree essential oil
Add the baking soda, castile soap and tea tree oil to a spray bottle. Fill the rest of the bottle with water. Shake or stir to combine.
The baking soda is a great degreaser, the castile soap has excellent cleaning power, and the tea tree oil is a natural disinfectant. It’s a simple but super effective combination that works!
I love a good mani-pedi as much as the next person. I often do them at home as a way to relax and as a self-care measure I try to incorporate into my routine. I think we all know, deep down, that our favorite nail polish can’t be good for us- have you smelled nail polish?? I’m not going to ruin your weekly manicure for you, as I have a great brand swap coming below!
What to Avoid
Our friend the phthalate found above is common in nail polishes, as well as toluene and formaldehyde.
Toulene- used in nail polishes to create a smooth product and finish. It has a sweet smell and is often used in nail polish removers as well. Prolonged or frequent exposure can cause brain damage, nausea, and hormone disruption. Toulene is on the list of substances banned in the EU, and it is also listed as harmful to fetal development by California’s Prop 65. (source)
Formaldehyde- used to harden and strengthen nail polishes and sometimes as a disinfectant for nail care tools. Not toxic in small levels (and is produced by the human body in tiny amounts), however is a known carcinogen at higher levels. Causes irritation and damage to the nose and throat, and has been shown to cause cancer in laboratory tests.
Non Toxic Nail Polish Swap
It is water based and has virtually no scent on it’s own, and most importantly is completely non toxic. Comes in many colors, and also has a companion non toxic nail polish remover that works only on their polish. You’ll be surprised at how healthy your hands and nails can be even with a regular manicure.