How concerned are you about environmental toxins?
Year after year, studies reveal that the environmental toxins found in many household, and health & beauty products can have harmful effects on our health. In many cases, the general public has been using these products on a regular basis without having any idea that they might be causing them harm.
While environmental toxins can negatively impact everybody’s health, women may be more at-risk due to the sheer number of cosmetics and household products they interact with on a daily basis.
This article focuses on the ways in which environmental toxins uniquely affect women’s health, along with four simple steps to start detoxing your body from toxic chemical exposures.
Environmental Toxins: Why Women Are At Risk
There are a few different factors contributing to the prevalence of environmental toxins found in women’s bodies. From the amount of health and beauty products used to the number of chemicals involved in household cleaners–– there are as many overlooked sources of exposures as there are opportunities to detox.
Health & Beauty Products
When it comes to health and beauty products, the average woman uses 12 different products, containing 168 unique ingredients, before she leaves her house in the morning. Many of these ingredients are known or probable human carcinogens. For instance, one of the most common toxic chemicals in health and beauty products is hydroquinone, which is a potential contaminant found in products used daily by 94 percent of all women.
Men are at risk too, but slightly less so due to the fact that they tend to use about half as many products than women. On average, for every 12 products that women use every day, men use 6.
Another common source of environmental toxins is cleaning products. Since these products can contain some very harsh chemicals, they can pose serious threats to human health. Further, women tend to do more household cleaning than men, and for many, the cleaning is done on a daily basis. This daily interaction with environmental toxins through sprays, powders, and detergents can contribute to a woman’s overall toxic load.
Women’s Health Products
Another source of environmental toxins comes from women’s health products. From the time women first start menstruating, they can be exposed to a number of toxic chemicals through pads, tampons and other products such as douching solutions and condoms.
Key Things to Understand About Environmental Toxins
To understand how environmental toxins have become so pervasive, it can be helpful to take a quick glance at the history.
- Since the post-industrial boom following WWII, well over 80,000 new chemicals have been introduced to our environment.
- Less than 1% have been tested for their safety
- Unlike food, pharmaceuticals or pesticides, industrial chemicals used in consumer products do not need to be tested for their safety.
- Environmental toxins are often tiny particles or gasses that end up inside of our bodies through inhalation, absorption, and consumption. For instance, even though you wouldn’t think the plastic particles from your shower curtain could end up inside of your body, they can enter by inhaling them over time.
- In 2016, former president Barack Obama signed into law the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act, which was the first update in 40 years to the Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976.
- Environmental toxins are increasingly linked to many common diseases like cancers, autoimmune disorders, and more.
- Although some companies are developing alternatives to known toxins like BPA, for example, these alternatives are not necessarily safer, either.
5 Common Environmental Toxins
Out of the 100,000+ environmental toxins, which are of greatest concern?
The truth is, it is incredibly difficult to adequately assess the health risks associated with environmental toxins for a few reasons:
- As mentioned previously, less than 1% of environmental toxins have actually been tested for their safety.
- Chemicals are rarely absorbed in isolation. It is nearly impossible to test the safety of the millions of chemical combinations humans might be exposed to on a daily basis.
- Most studies measure the effect of high doses of environmental toxins on human health, whereas the majority of the time, humans absorb low doses over a long period of time.
For these reasons and others, policy is at a standstill. Many authorities such as the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (part of the CDC), link common diseases and various forms of cancer with environmental toxins, but speak in generalities due to insufficient evidence. Most studies call for further research.
To assess risks and take steps to protect yourself in the meantime, it can be helpful to first become familiar with a few of the most common environmental toxins, so that you can extrapolate from there.
Phthalates are a group of chemical compounds used to make plastics more flexible. They are commonly used in everything from nail polish to soaps, shampoos, lubricating oils, hairsprays and more. Since phthalates are so pervasive, they are commonly found in human bodies, and are suspected to interfere with the endocrine (hormonal) system, while also being linked to reproductive health issues and breast cancer.
Parabens are chemicals often used as preservatives in cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, foods and more. They are commonly listed as propylparaben, butylparaben, methylparaben, and ethylparaben. As known endocrine disruptors, they are possibly linked to breast cancer.
3. 1, 4––Dioxane
Many common cleaning ingredients can be laced with 1,4-dioxane, which is a powerful “reagent,” or a substance that is added to help produce a chemical reaction. 1,4–dioxane is a known carcinogen, and multiple tests have found 1,4-dioxane in numerous name-brand cleaning supplies.
*Many health and beauty products list their ingredients on their packaging. Cleaning products, however, are less likely to disclose their ingredients. An excellent resource to assess many consumer products is the Environmental Working Group (EWG).
If you look into the ingredients of common health and beauty products, you’re likely to find the word “fragrance.” Fragrance is actually not an ingredient, but an entire industry of chemical combinations used to produce pleasant smells in everything from perfume to hair products, shower products, soaps, air fresheners, and more. The issue with fragrance is that the industry does not need to disclose the multiple chemicals used to make up each fragrance–– and many of them are toxic. Fragrance has been linked to everything from hormone interference to allergic reactions, and even cancer.
4 Ways to Detox From Environmental Toxins
While research and policy unfold at an extremely slow pace, consumers can take proactive measures in the meantime to protect themselves from the most obvious sources of environmental toxins.
Below are 4 steps you can take to reduce the amount of environmental toxins you are exposed to in your own home.
1. Give up your toxic go-to’s at your own pace
While you might not be able to control outdoor pollution, you can take control over the products you use on your body and in your home. Cutting out some of the most toxic products you don’t need is an excellent way to reduce your overall exposure. This stops the cycle of constantly bombarding your body with new chemicals day after day.
It can be difficult to give up the products you’ve used for years, but removing them from your daily routine can drastically reduce the amount of toxins you’re exposed to, which can improve your overall health.
2. Trade toxic products in for safer alternatives
Nontoxic cosmetics and cleaning products have come a long way in the past decade. While initially it may have been difficult to find natural deodorants that hold up over time, nontoxic lipsticks that don’t bleed, and healthy cleaning products that actually work; now, major retailers offer a wide range of safer alternatives.
The important thing to keep in mind when searching for healthier options is that there is no standard certification to determine whether a product is truly nontoxic or not. However, the “nontoxic” title tends to carry more weight than “natural” or “green” claims, which are usually simply marketing tactics.
The only way to know for sure is to research the ingredients in your products.
Pro tip: the best alternatives will have minimal ingredients that you will be able to easily understand, or be able to google to ensure they are not harmful to human health.
3. Hydrate, and eat a detoxifying diet
The next step in detoxing from environmental toxins is to invest in eating a fresh, colorful, whole foods diet. Many vegetables like dark leafy greens, cilantro, garlic, turmeric, and lemon are known detoxifiers. Regular consumption of a wide range of colorful vegetables and fruit can support your body’s natural detoxification processes, expelling environmental toxins from the body through your waste. Drinking plenty of filtered water can also help flush unwanted toxins from your body.
4. Get Plenty of Exercise & Sleep
Engaging in physical movement that gets your blood pumping and causes you to sweat can help stimulate your lymph glands and eliminate toxic waste from your body. Additionally, when your body is in a state of deep sleep, studies show it undergoes self-cleaning processes which expel toxic waste from the body. Ample rest is paramount to your body having the opportunity to fully detoxify itself.
A Healthier Way Forward
There are plenty of reasons why people are hesitant to pull back the curtain on environmental toxins. It can feel overwhelming, leave your head spinning, and your wallet emptied. The good news is that every day more resources emerge to help guide our purchasing decisions in a healthier direction.
The truth is, there are many cultural implications associated with femininity and womanhood that contribute to a woman’s overall chemical load. From a young age, many girls are encouraged to upkeep their physical appearance with products that have recently been proven as harmful to human health. From using standard anti-perspirant deodorants to hair dye, a lot of our most common methods of self-care and beautification are interwoven with products that have never been properly tested for their safety.
The good news is that it is never too late to begin detoxing your body and home from environmental toxins.
While it can be difficult to say goodbye to certain products you love, the relief it can bring to your body, and the planet, can be worth it. Since toxic chemical exposures can actually be passed down from one generation to the next, detoxing your own body and helping your family detox can help future generations be born with less exposure to environmental toxins.
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