Choosing Safe Products: Why You Should Pay Attention to Ingredients

harmful toxins

While I’ve spoken about topics like this in length on everything from what is in our food to toxins in makeup and skincare ingredients, I don’t often go into the potentially harmful ingredients you find in everyday products. It’s easy to assume that the products on store shelves are safe for us to use. In fact, we have regulatory agencies in place whose very job is to protect consumers. But with new research and studies being regularly presented, we’re learning that ingredients in many common products may not be the safest for us or for the environment.

Here are three ingredients continuing to make headlines for the risks they pose to human health and our world. Before you rush to ditch your products however, learn the research that has been carried out and make an educated decision to either take caution or avoid completely.

Oxybenzone in Sunscreen

sunscreen toxinsSunscreens rely on either chemical or mineral filters to provide protection from the sun’s rays. Oxybenzone is an organic compound that acts as a chemical filter, and it’s one of the most effective ingredients at blocking UV light. It’s found in 80% of sunscreens on the market yet despite its effectiveness at protecting the skin, it can also be absorbed by the body. This absorption factor has caused researchers to detect oxybenzone in our blood, urine, and even breast milk.

What Does the Research Say?
Multiple studies have highlighted the potential human health risks of oxybenzone exposure. The ingredient is a known hormone disruptor and has been linked to male infertility, early puberty in girls, and the development of endometriosis. Oxybenzone exposure during pregnancy has also been associated with altered birth weight for babies of both sexes.

In addition to these health risks, oxybenzone was named the “Contact Allergen of the Year” in 2014 because of its link to skin irritation and adverse reactions. If you experience a reaction to the sunscreen you’ve applied, oxybenzone may be the cause.

When it comes to the environment, oxybenzone is believed to be a primary culprit of marine life devastation. Hawaii passed legislation in May that will ban the use of sunscreens containing oxybenzone and octinoxate due to the belief that the ingredients have destroyed coral reefs. 14,000 tons of sunscreen go in our oceans each year, and a 2015 study ascertained that oxybenzone pulls the nutrients out of coral and bleaches them white.

Should You Avoid or Ditch Completely?
One out of five Americans will develop skin cancer in their lifetime, so we all need to make sunscreen a necessary part of our daily routine. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, anyone can get skin cancer regardless of age, race, or gender. Unfortunately, oxybenzone is a common ingredient in sunscreen that’s very effective at blocking the sun’s harmful rays.

Although it may be tough to avoid completely, try to look for sunscreens that don’t contain oxybenzone as a main ingredient. With studies indicating both environmental and human health effects, it is likely worth the extra time it may take to thoroughly read product labels. Be mindful of sunscreens that claim to be “reef-safe” since these options could contain plant-based ingredients that do more harm than good to our oceans. The Environmental Working Group puts out a great sunscreen guide every year to help you choose a toxin-free and truly reef-safe sunscreen for you and your family.

At the end of the day, skin cancer continues to be a rising concern so do your best to protect yourself without foregoing sunscreen entirely.

Talcum Powder in Hygiene Products

talcum baby powder cancerTalcum powder is a popular ingredient in a number of hygiene products because of its effectiveness at wicking away moisture to keep the skin dry. It can be found in lotions, deodorants, and foundations. More recently, the ingredient made headlines in the news and in the courtroom after claims were filed against family brand Johnson & Johnson. Six major cases have sided with the plaintiffs, and there will likely be more court decisions in the coming years.

What Does the Research Say?
Studies remain inconsistent as to whether or not talcum powder should be avoided at all costs. Research dating back to 1971 illustrated a positive correlation between talcum powder and ovarian cancer when 75% of ovarian tumors in the study contained particles of talc. A more recent study published in the journal Epidemiology shows a “consistent association with perineal talc use and ovarian cancer.”

On the other side of the issue are studies that show no significant increase in cancer risk with talcum powder use. Research that relied on participants’ memory of using talcum powder were considered biased, and Johnson & Johnson continues to deny any association between talcum powder and cancer risk.

In addition to ovarian cancer, talcum powder has also been linked to lung issues like pulmonary talcosis. However, studies are inconclusive regarding talcum powder’s association with lung cancer. Asbestos particles can be present in talcum powder, making it difficult for researchers to determine the exact cause.

Should You Avoid or Ditch Completely?
Since studies remain inconclusive, it may be beneficial to err on the side of caution when using talc-based products rather than ditching completely. Women may want to avoid using feminine hygiene products that contain talcum powder because of the ingredient’s most prominent association with ovarian cancer.

If you’re concerned about exposure via makeup products, it’s important to note that talcum powder goes through a purification process to ensure no asbestos particles remain. However, certain talc-based products on the market have been revealed to still contain the cancerous fiber.

Phthalates in Medications

pill coatings
Phthalates are a class of chemicals used to increase the flexibility of plastic. They’re used in a wide array of consumer goods including children’s toys, shampoos, detergents, and food packaging. Although phthalates are widely known to pose a health risk, they can also be used in the manufacturing of medications – remedies used to improve, not hinder, your health.

Phthalates commonly serve as excipients, or inactive ingredients, in drugs to facilitate proper intake. Found in both prescription and over-the-counter drugs, this chemical class can be used as lubricants, preservatives, or as enteric coatings to prevent the medicine from disintegrating in the stomach.

What Does the Research Say?
In a 2012 study, researchers found that a multitude of prescription and over-the-counter medications contain the phthalates DBP or DEP as excipients. But, the potential human health risks that the medications may pose still needs to be further investigated. With the knowledge that the pharmaceutical industry makes use of these class of chemicals, the FDA and the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services published guidelines recommending that phthalates be avoided as excipients in medications. However, these recommendations are not legally enforceable, and therefore don’t prevent phthalates from being used in pharmaceutical manufacturing.

Although further research is needed regarding phthalates’ presence in medications, a number of studies highlight an association between phthalate exposure and human health risks. There is a growing body of evidence that links phthalates to fertility issues, cardiovascular problems, hormone disruption, and cancer.

More recently, a 2018 study published in the journal Environmental International found that participants who had eaten at restaurants and other dining out environments had 35% higher phthalate levels than those who ate food purchased from grocery stores. This has sparked conversation around just how prevalent phthalates are in our consumer products.

Should You Avoid or Ditch Completely?
With ongoing research indicating the potential health and environmental risks of phthalate exposure, it may be wise to read the product labels of your everyday consumer goods to see if phthalates are present. However, in regards to medication use, further studies need to be conducted to determine if there should be concern for phthalate use in pharmaceutical manufacturing.

If you’d like to take a cautionary approach, talk to your pharmacist about phthalate-free options if your prescription medication is “time-release” or “enteric-coated.” If you’re picking up an over-the-counter drug, read its inactive ingredient list for any inclusion of “phthalates” on the label.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *