Welcome back! This is officially the second post of Get Healthy Month, which is a month of teaching the basics of developing and embracing a healthy life. To read more, you can find all posts in the “Get Healthy Month: The Basics” category under the Health tab. You will find two introductory posts about effects of diet on health, as well as information about cancer. On Sunday I shared my diet with you. Today, I am moving on to the toxins that end up on our bodies instead of in them.
Did you know that the air inside your home is far more toxic than anything you encounter outside? The list of reasons for this is long, but to condense it for you it is basically this — we track in toxins from outside, use toxic chemicals to clean, buy furniture and carpet that are laced with flame retardant chemicals, and even shower and primp ourselves with toxic products. These things all end up on our skin, or in the air and on the surfaces of our homes, which then get circulated on a constant loop by way of our HVAC systems.
These toxins are responsible for a myriad of things, including hormone disruption, lung and digestive problems, allergies, headaches and cancer. That is why, if we are going to talk about health, it really starts here. Eating the right foods and exercising is great, but the best way to stave off major problems like cancer, is to limit your exposure to the carcinogens that cause it in the first place. In this post I am going to cover two major topics — cleaning supplies, and personal care products. Then to finish, I will provide information on products I use, and how to find safe products for yourself.
So many of the things we use to clean our homes and our clothing are actually doing more harm than good. I’ll address each of the most common ones below:
Fabric Softeners and Dryer Sheets — I’m starting here because this is actually one of the most toxic products we use and we don’t even know it. People love the way they make their fabrics feel and smell, but they contain so many of the most toxic chemicals, including chloroform, benzyl acetate, ethanol, and one of the biggest culprits — fragrance/parfum. What makes this category so much worse than some of the others? These things go into our clothes, are not rinsed away like detergents, and then we wear them against our skin all day and even sleep in them all night. Meaning our skin never gets an escape except when we’re in the shower.
Laundry Detergent — Like it’s little sisters, fabric softener and dryer sheets, this one also contains fragrance, as well as sodium laurel sulfate (something you’ll see again when we move on to personal care products), surfactants and dioxane. Detergent is “rinsed” during the wash cycle, making it less dangerous than fabric softeners. However, there is still residue left behind in our clothes that we then wear against our skin.
Dish Soap and Dishwasher Detergent — This one mirrors many personal care products with its use of sodium laurel sulfate (SLS), parabens, PEG’s, fragrances and even dyes. You wash your dishes with this toxic storm, then place your food on them and eat the chemicals that are left behind on your plate. Sounds appetizing, right? Take extra caution if your soap claims to be antibacterial, as this means that it contains triclosan, a hormone disruptor.
Furniture and Wood Floor Polish — Petroleum, nitrobenzene, phthalates, aerosols, turpentine, phenol a, fragrances…and to make matters worse this stuff leaves a residue behind that catches dust, which is full of toxins itself.
Glass Cleaner — Ammonia, anyone? Many glass cleaners contain this chemical that is highly toxic to our bodies, as well as 2-butoxyethanol, a pretty major lung irritant. Also, many other common surface cleaners contain chlorine bleach, which creates a dangerous gas when mixed with ammonia. Clean your bathroom mirror with glass cleaner, then your counters with a bleach-containing cleaner, and you could be doing some pretty major damage.
Surface Cleaners and Toilet Bowl Cleaners — Many of these common cleaners contain chlorine bleach, as well as DEA’s, NPE’s, phosphates and sodium hydroxide. These are hazardous to your skin and your respiratory system. And of course exposure to any harsh chemical causes DNA damage which can lead to cancer.
What to Use Instead:
Let me preface this by saying that there are many, many “natural” cleaners on the market, and most of them are big fat liars. They may have omitted one ingredient that is known to be harmful, then masquerade the product as being “safe” as a result. Unlike in the food world with the USDA organic stamp, there is nothing to regulate cleaners so companies can claim whatever they want, no disclaimers needed. So you have to be careful and do your research when choosing a product.
The easiest way to do this that I have found is to either do your cleaning with common household staples like vinegar and baking soda, or utilize the website EWG.org, or Environmental Working Group. They have consumer guides to a plethora of products, including this guide to healthy cleaning where you can search common cleaning supplies, such as “dish soap”, and it will bring up a list of products rated from A to F. For me, this made finding a safe product extra easy! I found many of them on Amazon, or at Azure Standard.
Laundry: If you’re feeling extra adventurous, you can make your own detergent for extra-cheap using castile soap, washing soda and baking soda. I used to do this when my boys were babies and I cloth diapered, because it stripped everything from those diapers! Now there are so many safe detergents out there on the market. Seventh Generation was always a favorite brand when my boys were little, and they do have a safe laundry detergent. However, I found that it didn’t do a great job at cleaning. I am now using Biokleen, which I have found on Amazon, but actually ordered just a little cheaper through Azure Standard. As for fabric softener? Meh…don’t need it!
Dish Soap and Dishwasher Detergents: Biokleen wins for this one on dish soap as well, and for dishwasher detergent I use the tabs/packs by Nature Clean, which I found on Amazon. Dishwasher detergent was a tough one for me, because so many of the natural brands leave a white residue on glasses. Nature Clean is the first one I’ve found that doesn’t, so I’m a believer!
Surface Cleaners: For this, I use Seventh Generation multi-purpose cleaner in the kitchen, and Seventh Generation tub and tile cleaner in the bathroom. My boyfriend actually works for Unilever so he is able to buy Seventh Generation products from the company store at cost and that is super nice! However, this is also easily available at Target as well. I’ll also use the multi-surface cleaner on my wood furniture when a simple dusting with a cloth doesn’t do it.
Toilet Cleaner: Seventh Generation also makes a safe toilet bowl cleaner, but I personally don’t care for it that much. It cleans well, but within a few days a black ring of mold starts to appear around the water line, meaning you have to scrub the toilet every few days. What I have found works well for toilets, and is also cheap and easy to find in stores, is borax powder.
Floor Cleaner, Glass Cleaner, and Tub Cleaner: Hellooooo vinegar! Honestly, there isn’t much this stuff doesn’t do. Vinegar is naturally a disinfectant…maybe not as strong as bleach, but it’s a heck of a lot safer. The only time I will buy Clorox cleaners in my home is during flu season, because it never fails that at least my oldest child, if not both boys, end up with the flu every year, even with the flu shot. For that, I want something that kills every single germ on every surface they touch!
Here’s the skinny: for floors and glass, or even as a surface cleaner, mix vinegar and water 50/50. So half white distilled vinegar and half water. Another little trick for cleaning glass is to add vodka. This will clear the glass, and also works on chrome faucets and fixtures as well. For the tub, close the drain, squirt in some dish soap, pour in a generous splash of vinegar, and add a bit of water. Then use a rag or a sponge to wipe everything down with that solution. If there is anything extra-stuck-on, then add some salt for a little scrubbing power. I try to avoid that the best I can simply because I don’t want to scuff up the surface of my acrylic tub, thus making it harder to keep clean in the future. My, how I miss the cast iron tub I had in my last house!
Personal Care Products
You will see a common theme in all of these products, so I won’t do a separate paragraph for each like I did above. All of these standard personal care products contain most of the same major toxic ingredients — SLS, parabens, PEG’s, and fragrances. So I will just give you a quick bullet list:
- Shampoo and Conditioner
- Body Wash
- Hand Soap (especially antibacterial)
- Shaving Cream
- Body Sprays
- Insect Repellent
Now that I’ve given you the list of products to look at, I’ll help you with finding safe alternatives. First, the EWG site that I shared above also has a consumer guide called Skin Deep for cosmetics, as well as a guide for personal care products. EWG also has a Healthy Living app, which I’ve found does not help with cleaners, but does help with food and personal care products. You can look up products, or scan their bar codes, to get a score of A through F.
Another app that I use, the one I use the most for personal care products actually, is called Think Dirty. It works just like Healthy Living, except its product database is far more extensive. You can either type in a product, or scan a product’s bar code. You can download these apps and start scanning products in your home, as well as products on the store shelf, and it will give you an overall product score, as well as a breakdown of the ingredients.
Products I Use
Shampoo and Conditioner: My go-to for years was Aubrey Organics Glycogen Protein Balancing shampoo and conditioner. Now, however, Target has a brand called Shea Moisture with a couple of well-rated shampoos. I’ve switched to the Shea Moisture Raw Shea Butter shampoo. For conditioner, however, I use the John Frieda Red conditioner…which is definitely not a safe conditioner. But I have dyed red hair, which is a hair color with large pigments that fade extremely easy, and if I use a conditioner without the red dye protectant, I’ve found that the fading process accelerates. I only wash my hair twice per week, so I don’t feel so terrible about using a conditioner that doesn’t rate well on the safe list.
Body Wash: For this, I actually just use bar soap…the same one for my face and body. I use Dr Bronner’s lavender castile bar soap (they also have a liquid soap, but it’s a lot more expensive and doesn’t last nearly as long). I also recently found a bar soap on Amazon from Bend Soap Company that I really love. It’s a natural goat milk soap, and the set I bought came with a goat milk lotion as well, which I will discuss below.
Hand Soap: Seventh Generation wins again. Their hand soap gets a 0 on Think Dirty, which is the best possible score it can get! It’s also widely available at Target, and Michael can pick this one up from his company store as well.
Lotion: The goat milk lotion I mentioned above by Bend Soap Company is definitely my favorite, and it’s a very recent discovery! Prior to this I was predominantly using Dr Bronner’s lotion that I purchased from Amazon, but I felt that it lacked protective properties. It temporarily made my skin feel better, but overall it did nothing to help the dryness over the winter. The Bend Soap Company lotion is thicker and definitely helps protect the skin from dryness much better than Dr Bronner’s. But both are safe choices.
Moisturizer: Okay. Ladies…the non-toxic world is not our friend when it comes to beauty. I have yet to find a moisturizer that is non-toxic and doesn’t make me break out. Let me just throw out a disclaimer here, though: my skin is still very prone to breakouts, even at the age of 34. It is extremely annoying, and it means that moisturizers that won’t break me out are few and far between. So on this one, I have to suck it up and accept that there isn’t one I’ve found yet that works well and is non-toxic.
I do use Bare Republic mineral sunscreen for the face during the day and it has an excellent rating. But for an actual moisturizer…I’m just using the Yes to Tomatoes brand at Target because it is slightly better than the major brands and it doesn’t break me out.
Toothpaste: For this, I use Burt’s Bees fluoride-free toothpaste. It has a great taste that my kids won’t turn their noses up at, it’s fluoride-free (because we get more than enough of that in our water, and it’s a toxin when taken in high doses too), and it’s available right in the toothpaste aisle at Target.
Deodorant: Honest-to-goodness, if you find a safe deodorant that works well, please share with me because this is something I’ve yet to find. I’ve tried homemade deodorant by a local business, I’ve tried Tom’s from Target, among a couple of other brands that I can’t remember the names of…and they all stank; literally! They might work for a few hours, then all bets are off.
Body Spray/Perfume: I’m sure there are some good safe alternatives out there to traditional sprays, but in all honesty this is something I rarely use. I shower daily, so I don’t really get the purpose of these. I do have some body sprays and one perfume, all from Victoria’s Secret, but I only use them occasionally, like on a special date night.
Makeup: Once upon a time I was using Everyday Minerals, which is a good natural makeup brand. But I stopped using it and went back to the regular drugstore brands for the same reason I don’t use a natural moisturizer — my breakouts. I used Everyday Minerals for a couple of years, but it didn’t cover well enough to disguise the redness and scarring on my skin from the years of acne, nor the breakouts when they happen, which thankfully now is at least mostly limited to “that time of the month”. If you are lucky enough to have a good complexion, then check out Everyday Minerals, because a mineral makeup (Bare Minerals, by the way, is definitely not a non-toxic mineral makeup) will probably work well for you. I, unfortunately, need a full-coverage liquid foundation.
Sunscreen: I’ve found two brands that are readily available at Target, and get a great rating on Think Dirty. The first is Bare Republic, and the second is Babyganics.
Insect Repellent: Babyganics is another winner for me here. I’ve also been hearing people rave about Buggins, and I would love to try it, but haven’t been able to find it in any of the apps so I have no idea what kind of rating it has. It is deet-free, but I’ve been having a really tough time finding an ingredients list outside of the couple of “active ingredients”. The fact that the ingredients list is not easy to find is a bit of a red flag for me…so the jury is still out on this one until I can get further information.
The only category I haven’t specified anything for is shaving cream, because I don’t use this. I use the same soap I wash with. If this is something you use, you can find shaving cream brands on EWG’s website or app to find one for you.
Now that you have the details on household cleaners and personal care products, I wanted to touch on just a couple of final things that you can do to help detoxify your home.
#1 – Keep carpet minimal. If you can find a home with all wood and tile floors, do it! And when it comes to rugs, look for wool because those are the least likely to be treated heavily with flame retardant chemicals. The same rule applies to furniture. However, don’t beat yourself up too much, because finding wool rugs and furniture can be tough and expensive. At least staying away from carpet is a big step in the right direction. Another negative mark against carpet is that it’s a huge dust trap, and dust is full of all of those toxins that are floating around in your home.
#2 – Use a good quality furnace filter. Standard filters are a MERV-4. Anything higher than a MERV-10 is supposed to be extremely good at filtering out dust particles and toxins…however, the higher the rating, the more air restriction you will have as well. I was told by an HVAC guy that, unless you have a high-quality HVAC system that is intended to work with a high MERV filter, then the safest thing for your system is a MERV-8, which is what he uses in his home.
#3 – Shoes off at the door. I fully admit that this is something I don’t practice in the busyness of my life. The last thing I’m thinking about when I walk in the door is taking off my shoes, which means I track all the way through my house to my bedroom in the back before my shoes come off. I also hate clutter, and shoes sitting next to my door would drive me crazy. But this is something that will help prevent outside toxins from coming inside and ending up trapped in your home.
One final thing — pesticides and herbicides. I strongly recommend only spraying for insects outside of the home, and only if you are actually seeing a lot of insects in your house. I don’t see too much in my house outside of the occasional spider in the basement, so I keep spraying minimal. If you do have to spray for bugs or weeds, wear protective clothing, gloves, eyewear, and a mask over your nose and mouth. Remove shoes and leave outside, and shower immediately when done. Also, if you have pets, try to keep them away from where you’ve sprayed for a few days to prevent them from both getting it in their system, and tracking it into the house.
Up next on the blog:
The difference between diets: Plant-Based, Vegan, Keto (Low-carb/High-fat), and Mediterranean
- How to customize a diet that works for you
- Mediterranean Monday — recipe to be determined
- Meal planning, creating shopping lists, and prepping food
- Decoding the grocery store to choose safe and healthy foods
- Breaking patterns to learn how to cook and eat healthy
- Resources to help get you, and keep you, on track
I’ll write again soon!