A BEGINNER'S GUIDE TO REDUCING EVERYDAY TOXINS
Updated: Jan 6
If you are setting out to reduce your exposure to harmful toxins, there really is no bad place to start. Simply being aware of where cancer-causing toxins lurk is a step ahead of most. Unfortunately, the topic of non-toxic living is a rabbit hole that will swallow you up if you are not careful!
If you are looking for some direction on where to start on your journey towards a more natural, organic lifestyle, look no further!
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On my own detoxifying journey, I have used the following two criteria to guide my research and the changes I have made.
A) What changes will impact my health the most?
In most cases what we physically put in to our bodies is going to have a greater impact on our health than the things we surround ourselves with. For example, finding a natural alternative for your footwear most definitely won't have the same effect as switching to a more natural toothpaste.
B) What changes are the easiest and most cost effective to make?
Some changes can be made quickly with little to no cost, while others can come at significant expense and may require planning and/or budgeting. For example, switching to a more natural laundry detergent is significantly easier and cheaper than upgrading to a natural mattress.
Below is a very loose guide to what I would consider priorities. Again, any change is progress. You don't have to follow the list. It is impossible to eliminate every toxin, however removing some of the biggest hitters can make a difference.
How will you know?
Directly you probably won't, as these changes are all preventative. The number of toxins we are surrounded by today is significantly more than 50 years ago and we are still learning their individual and cumulative effects. Cancer rates have skyrocketed in the last 50 years and there is a clear link. Why not make simple educated changes to help maintain your health? It can only do good, right?
Not willing to let something go? Don't sweat it. Just make up for it elsewhere.
14 WAYS TO REDUCE YOUR EXPOSURE TO EVERYDAY CANCER CAUSING TOXINS
1. Food additives
A majority of processed/packaged foods contain food additives, many of which are toxic at high doses and not something we should be consuming. It is hard to avoid all processed foods, however, what you can do is make smart choices by reading the ingredients list. If you can't pronounce it or don't know what it is, it's likely not very good for you. Either look it up to see what it is or find a cleaner alternative. The Environmental Working Group (EWG) has a Dirty Dozen Guide to Food Additives you can use as a reference.
To avoid consuming high levels of pesticides, opt for organic produce included in the EWGs Dirty Dozen list (the 12 fruits and vegetables that have been measured to have the highest level of contamination). Additionally, as pesticide use is not exclusive to fresh fruits and vegetables, when possible, purchase food items such as oats, nuts, spices, coffee, and soy that is also organic. Learn more here: Choosing Organic Beyond the Dirty Dozen. Amazon has a great selection of affordable non-perishable organic foods (the whole foods Organic Everyday 365 brand).
Humans rely on water for survival and consume more of it than anything else. For this reason, we should all care about what is in our drinking water.
Water quality varies depending upon your municipality, however regardless of where you are, tap water can contain hundreds of unwanted contaminants including but not limited to lead, arsenic, radioactive elements, mold, pesticides, viruses, bacteria, parasites, fertilizer, sewage, agricultural runoff, toxic algae, industrial effluent, microplastics, and antibiotics. While many of these are filtered out, some get through and others can enter the water from city or household pipes long after it has been treated. It would be near impossible and extremely costly to remove everything. Most municipalities control for cloudiness/particles, microbes, and chlorine, but not much else. And as history shows, the system is far from foolproof. These contaminants may not be making us sick today, however, over time small amounts of toxins can accumulate in our bodies and cause health effects down the road.
The solution? A simple water filter can make a huge difference. There are hundreds of options in a variety of price ranges to filter out some or all of these contaminants. Bottled water is not the solution. In fact, many studies have demonstrated that not only do chemicals leech from the plastic bottles, the quality of the water is often no better than tap water. Be sure to read my post all about water for more extensive information and help to determine the type of filter that will best suit your needs.
"Fragrance" or "parfum" is code for a long list of toxic chemicals that don't legally need to be disclosed. Whenever possible, avoid anything listing either term in the ingredients. This includes perfume/colognes, scented lotions, sunscreens, deodorants, shampoos, conditioners, soaps, laundry detergents, air fresheners, etc. If it has a smell check the source. Naturally derived scents do exist and will be disclosed as something recognizable (such as lavender, coconut or orange extract/oil).
5. Personal Care Products
In addition to containing fragrance, most personal care products contain a long list of other chemicals our body could do without. Shopping in the organic/natural section (online or in most grocery stores) can help you weed out the better products, and doing a quick search on the Environmental Working Group's Skin Deep website or App will show you exactly how it ranks. You can also work backwards by searching the site for the best products and purchasing those. This is how I found one of my favorite brands, Attitude Living.
Similar to personal care products, most cosmetics are full of toxic chemicals, many of which have actually been banned in other countries. Some of these chemicals include formaldehyde, mercury, lead, asbestos, and PFAS. Surely we don't want any of these on our face! Natural options are available and the industry continues to grow. Next time you run out of something try replacing it with a more natural option. Use the Skin Deep site to help you.
7. Cleaning Products
Harsh chemicals are not necessary to properly clean or disinfect. Simple ingredients you likely have in your kitchen (such as vinegar) can do just as good of a job or better, and are not toxic to your health or damaging to the environment. Do a quick google search for DIY cleaning products or purchase a more natural brand such as Attitude or Sapadilla. Use the EWG's guide to Health Cleaning for help finding less toxic options. This includes disinfectant spray, bathroom cleaner, window cleaner, dish soap, laundry detergent, dishwasher detergent, floor cleaner and any other product you might use to clean.
8. Non-stick cookware
Kick your non-stick habit, or at least reduce it. Non-stick surfaces are all over the kitchen, not just in our frying pans. Baking pans/sheets, muffin tins, waffle makers, panini grills, bread makers, and even microwave popcorn bags contain PFOAs which are used to make it both non-stick and toxic. You will be hard-pressed to find a waffle or panini maker without PFOAs, however, you likely are not using these daily. There are numerous alternatives to non-stick frying pans and bake-ware that work just as well but don't come with a dose of cancer-causing chemicals. Cast iron, glass, and stainless steel are your best bet. Using unbleached parchment or muffin liners can help prevent sticking when baking.
If you are using non-stick cookware, make sure you discard it if it shows any signs of chipping or other wear, and never overheat it. These are two sure ways to release toxins into the air and your food. If it can kill birds it's likely not good for us either.
9. Plastics Food Containers
Almost everyone has plastic food containers in their cupboard, and that is okay. Just be mindful of when you are using them. BPA or not, never put plastic containers in the microwave unless you want a dose of chemicals in your meal. It is also not advisable to put food into plastic containers before it has cooled, put them in the dishwasher, or put anything acidic in them. The same goes for kids' plastic cups, bowls, plates, and spoons. Silicone or stainless steel are better options for kids, and glass or stainless steel containers are a much better choice than plastic for most things.
Household dust, as innocent as it seems, contains a slew of toxic chemicals. Yes, dirt and skin particles are in the mix, however so are particles that have migrated out of furniture and products in our home, including flame retardants and other toxic chemicals commonly found in plastics. Being diligent about dusting and vacuuming regularly can make a big difference. Taking your shoes off when you go indoors also minimizes unwanted toxins and bacteria being tracked in. A good quality HEPA air filter will also make a difference.
11. Flame Retardants
Flame retardants are toxic chemicals added to heaps of items to reduce flammability. Items such as couches, carpets, rugs, mattresses, bedding, car seats. electronics and other household items. Even some clothing is still treated with flame retardants. For the most part, the cons of adding flame retardants far outweigh the benefits as these chemicals have been proven to interfere with development and reproduction, and are also carcinogenic.
More and more consumers are seeking products free from flame retardants and slowly their availability is increasing. You don't need to go out and replace every item in your home today, however, whenever you do, check out some of the retailers offering products free of flame retardants. If you are unsure, call or email the manufacturer to find out. Ikea, Pottery Barn and Crate and Barrel are just a few of the companies now free from flame retardants.
Very few of the textiles we buy nowadays are made of natural fibers. Polyester, nylon, rayon, acrylic, spandex, and a long list of others are chemically derived. Bamboo is naturally derived, however, it is converted through a chemical process leaving it far from natural. Cotton, silk, linen, hemp, and wool are natural and derived from animal or plant-based fibers.
Polyester, one of the most used fabrics in the world, is derived from a combination of coal and petroleum and treated with formaldehyde and a variety of other chemicals. Natural fibers are often processed as well, however not to the same degree.
Many consider the gold standard of "clean" textiles to be those that are GOTS certified by the Global Organic Textile Standard. This certification implies that the product is not only made of organic fibers but also adheres to a strict set of guidelines. Another organic certification is Oeko-Tex which has certifications based on both toxicity and sustainability. These certifications also guarantee that the item does not contain flame retardants.
Unfortunately, most of the clothing we find in stores is not organic or made of natural fibers. That's okay. The approach I have taken is to gradually replace bedding and sleepwear with organic natural fibers. We spend a third of our life in bed wrapped up in textiles that I would prefer not to be derived from coal and petroleum. Target and Walmart both sell very affordable Oeko-Tex organic cotton bed sheets, and Burts Bees has reasonably priced GOTs certified organic cotton kids and adult pajamas. If you are willing to spend a bit more there are numerous options for both bedding and organic clothing if you do a quick google search.
Mattresses are actually one of the most toxic things in our home. The only reason they are at the bottom of this list is the price tag of the less-toxic alternatives. They are not cheap, however, once you go down the rabbit hole of researching non-toxic mattresses you won't want to sleep on anything else.
A majority of mattresses contain some combination of polyurethane foam, memory foam, latex, polyester, adhesives, and flame retardants. All of these are toxic and off-gas for a long time.
Why should you care? Unlike other furniture in our homes that contain some of the same materials, we spend a third of our life with our face and body planted to our mattress. Kids spend even more time here. Not only do we breathe in these toxins, they can be absorbed through our skin. Many of these chemicals have been linked to cancer and other adverse health effects, both immediate and long term.
The solution? If you can afford it, purchase a more natural mattress such as Essentia, Naturepedic, My Green Mattress or Hapsy, which are made of natural latex, organic cotton, wool (naturally flame retardant) and/or plant-based foams. Otherwise, purchase a used mattress to avoid the most toxic off-gassing period, use a natural/organic mattress pad (will not prevent off-gassing but will create a barrier between you and the chemicals), or at the very least, if you purchase a brand new traditional mattress be sure to off-gas it in another room (used infrequently) for a period of time before sleeping on it.
If you are not ready to replace your mattress or look into less toxic options, consider replacing your pillow with a more natural option. Most pillows are stuffed with "down alternative" which is a nice way of saying polyester. Shredded memory foam is another popular option. As you now know, these are both toxic and not ideal for planting your face in for the night. Natural options exist that are just as comfortable. Look for organic cotton casings stuffed with kapok, buckwheat, organic cotton, wool or natural shredded latex. White Lotus and Naturepedic are personal favorites.