We bring a lot of products into our homes without knowing that they might be harmful to our health — which is not a comfortable fact. Two big categories where you might want to pay special attention to health risks are cleaning products — which we use on almost every surface within our homes — and health and beauty products — which we often apply directly to our skin. When you look more carefully at these everyday products, a surprisingly large number contain ingredients that have been linked to an elevated risk of cancer or other health issues, including allergic reactions and reproductive and developmental problems.
The level of risk isn’t always easy to define. For example, some research has identified problems with parabens, a common ingredient in cosmetics, including basics such as shampoo. One of the most alarming studies found that parabens were present in breast tumors. Parabens are also known to act like estrogen, which is another cause for concern when considering breast cancer risk. What does that mean for health risks overall? The answer is not necessarily clear. But if you’re aware of the potential problems associated with any chemical, you can learn more about the issues, and then make a more informed decision about whether you want to be exposed to it. Two good sources for more background on potentially hazardous chemicals in personal care products are the FDA and the Campaign for Safer Cosmetics.
Identifying Problem Products. If you want to take a closer look at specific products, the nonprofit Environmental Working Group has some terrific resources. Check out the Skin Deep Cosmetics Database, the Guide to Safer Sunscreens and the Guide to Healthy Cleaning. For each guide, simply look up a specific product and you’ll find a safety rating for the overall product, as well as ratings for the safety of different individual ingredients.
A similar website is GoodGuide. This organization provides health, safety and environmental information on a wide range of household products. Like the Environmental Working Group databases, this site also flags potentially hazardous ingredients, and provides specific information on why they might or might not be cause for concern.
DIY Options. If you’re not happy about some of the ingredients appearing in your household cleaners and cosmetics, keep in mind that making your own using simple, natural ingredients is also possible. You can do a lot of household cleaning using nothing but vinegar, baking soda and lemon juice, and making your own toothpaste and shampoo is easier than you might think. As an added bonus, making your own personal and household cleaners will often save you money, too!
You can find an enormous number of recipes online, as well as many books devoted to this topic. We especially like Annie Berthold-Bond’s book Better Basics for the Home. Find an excerpt with tons of useful recipes here.
This blog is part of the MOTHER EARTH NEWS guide Find the Best Green Products and Services.
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