Everyday Sources of Toxins: Modern living comes with a caveat of toxicity. We use the products in our homes, our bodies, and the foods we put in our mouths: toxins are everywhere. So without wanting to instill undue fear, we must make conscious choices about the things we expose ourselves to, knowing that our toxic load builds up to the point of disease over time. Today we explore some of the lesser-known toxins in hopes of educating ourselves to make better choices today for a healthier tomorrow!
This article has been medically reviewed by Dr. Charles Penick, MD
1. Air Fresheners
Ironically, air fresheners are everyday sources of toxins that do the opposite of freshening the air. Most air fresheners on the market are made up of synthetic ingredients, which turn into Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) in the air.1 These VOCs cause indoor air pollution and are toxic to humans and animals. In addition, they contain ingredients like ‘fragrances,’ a blanket term for a wide range of synthetic ingredients linked to reproductive and developmental toxicity.2
Investing in all-natural sprays made with 100% essential oils is a better option. However, essential oils also impact hormones and should be used mindfully. The best option is to open a window, get a HEPA air filter, or use a product like the Moso Bag that uses activated charcoal to filter the air.
Like air fresheners, perfumes carry a high VOC toxic load. The ‘fragrance’ label is an insidious umbrella that contains over 100 possible toxic ingredients. They include health-disrupting ingredients like benzaldehyde, camphor, ethyl acetate, benzyl acetate, linalool, acetone, and methylene chloride.3
‘Natural fragrances’ are another greenwashing term companies use to suggest that the scent is indeed healthy. Unfortunately, natural fragrances aren’t safe either, for there are no standard criteria for what these words mean. Natural fragrances are just another umbrella term for hormone-disrupting agents that can cause various negative health symptoms.4
3. ‘Green’ Cleaning Products
Sure, you may know that the bright blue window sprayer and the conventional bathtub gel with a poison control phone number on it are toxic… But did you know many of the healthier ‘eco’ brands are just as bad?
Greenwashing is the act of using health-oriented terms to market a product to a consumer, despite the fact it is not healthy or even eco-friendly.5 These tactics are at an all-time high since consumer mindfulness is on the rise, and people care more than ever about what they put in the body, on their bodies, and what types of products they use in their homes.
Labels like ‘all-natural,’ ‘eco-friendly,’ ‘green,’ or even ‘organic’ should trigger a red flag, especially when cleaning products. Companies are also very good at omitting a few known toxic ingredients and replacing them with other nasties. Just because something does not contain SLS does not mean it is automatically healthy!
The only solution is to read the label and understand the various ingredients that make up your cleaning products. Websites like Environmental Working Group offer great resources to learn more about every element in cosmetic and home cleaning products.
Alternatively, make your cleaning products using simple and truly non-toxic ingredients like bi-carb soda, vinegar, and essential oils.
4. Fabric Softeners and Dryer Sheets
Having soft or scented clothes might seem appealing, but many conventional products are everyday sources of toxins containing ingredients linked to various health problems. Common ingredients include benzyl acetate (linked to pancreatic cancer), ethanol (linked to central nervous system disorders), benzyl alcohol (an upper respiratory tract irritant), limonene (a known carcinogen), chloroform (a neurotoxin and carcinogen), and fragrances.6
Both fabric softeners and dryer sheets stay in your clothes and are then absorbed into the bloodstream via contact with your skin. Drier sheets have the added problem of turning into VOCs in the air, causing air pollution in your house as well.7
You can swap out these toxic options for a quarter cup of baking soda or a quarter cup of white vinegar to the wash cycle. Both will help naturally soften clothes without the toxic load!
5. Dry Cleaned Clothes
Although getting your clothes dry cleaned may be convenient, it might come at the cost of your health. A typical cleaning chemical used in dry cleaners is tetrachloroethylene or perchloroethylene (PCE), which is classified as a likely carcinogen.8 PCE is linked to liver, kidney, and central nervous system damage and can aggravate pre-existing conditions.9
Although many cities are banning PCE, it remains the most commonly used cleaning agent for most dry cleaners. Therefore, doing laundry at home with non-toxic detergents may be the better choice to reduce your toxic load.
6. Tap Water
The easy access we have to tap water is a double-edged sword. Although tap water is considered ‘clean’ compared to water sources that contain harmful agents like parasites and bacteria, it comes at the cost of toxicity. Tap water is commonly ‘purified’ with small amounts of toxins. Although the spectrum of additives that make tap water harmful to human health is vast, look no further than chlorine as a reason to avoid drinking or bathing in unfiltered tap water.
Although chlorine effectively kills harmful bacteria, it does not discriminate between good and bad bacteria.10 Since our human microbiome is full of bacteria that we rely on as a part of our immune system’s first-defense team, drinking or bathing in chlorine is a no-no.11 If the amount of chlorine used effectively kills harmful bacteria in the water, it is in large enough quantities to kill off your good microbiome.
Investing in a high-quality water filter that removes toxins from tap water is revolutionizing whole-body health and is key to reducing your toxic load. Getting a shower filter like a carbon filter will also support your skin’s microbiome health and prevent you from absorbing cholrine through the skin.
7. Non-Stick Cookware
Let’s get real: cooking with non-stick cookware is much more convenient. Food doesn’t stick to the pan, which makes the whole cooking and cleaning process more manageable. The cost, however, may not be worth it. The polytetrafluoroethylene that makes products like Teflon non-stick is linked to various health concerns.12 Also, this coating starts to break down at high temperatures, releasing toxic chemicals into the air and your food.
Known as the ‘Teflon flu,’ the symptoms of inhaling these fumes can range from chills, fever, headache and body aches, and even lung damage.13 In addition, ingesting these chemicals through your food has been linked to fertility problems, among others.14
Better alternatives for non-toxic cookware are stainless steel, cast iron pans, or untreated clay pots.
8. BPA-Free Plastics
Many people are aware that you should avoid BPA conventional for health reasons. Bisphenol A (or BPA) is a chemical compound that makes up certain plastics. It is associated with many health concerns and has been widely accepted as a health hazard.15 Unfortunately, many companies promote their “BPA-free” plastics without telling you that their replacements are just as toxic. Alternatives include BPS and BPF, which have similar structures to BPA and appear to have similar metabolism, potencies, and action to BPA.16
Better alternatives include glass or steel containers.
9. Canned Food
Canned food can increase toxicity levels in the body for multiple reasons. First off, the can itself is made from generally toxic materials, including aluminum or tin, and is lined with BPA or nefarious substitutes like BPS or BPF. In fact, the largest source of dietary BPA exposure is canned foods.17 This is probably the most concerning issue since the food is sitting and absorbing toxicity daily. Since many of these foods have years of shelf-life, this does not fare well for your health.
Aside from the toxicity of the container, many canned foods also contain high amounts of refined salt, sugar, or preservatives. This can be avoided by reading the labels and assuring that there are no unnecessary additives. Avoiding the toxicity of the can itself can be avoided by opting for glass preserves instead.
10. Bug Sprays
Although nobody likes to get covered in bug bites during summer, many bug sprays are highly toxic. For example, DEET (diethyltoluamide) is the most popular bug spray ingredient due to its effectiveness in protecting from ticks, mosquitos, and other bugs. Still, it can be the source of significant health problems when used regularly. Side effects from DEET include skin allergies, seizures and brain malfunction, fatigue, respiratory conditions, and possibly even cancer.18-19
Alternatives include all-natural essential oils like lemon eucalyptus.
This point may surprise you, but the people we expose ourselves to can increase the emotional toxicity in our bodies. Stress comes in three forms: emotional, chemical, and physical. Addressing physical stressors is essential, but true healing and whole-body health are impossible unless you explore toxicity from all three dimensions. Emotional stressors have a genuine impact on physical health.20
Only you can be the judge if people are helping or harming your mental health. Prioritize your well-being by surrounding yourself with people who are caring and mindful of your needs. Community and support are fundamental human needs, and picking the right people for you is one of the keys to living a happy, healthy life.
Finally, one of the most toxic things that we are generally quick to dismiss is our self-talk. How do you speak to yourself? Is it kind or generally nasty? The way we talk to ourselves can have a genuinely negative impact on our stress levels. This emotional toxicity is cultivated over a lifetime and influences how we operate worldwide.
Healing from low self-worth is a journey that can be cultivated by exploring our early-life traumas.20 Many modalities can help recover from painful childhood experiences, including Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), somatic experiencing (SE), and tapping (EFT).21-22
Toxicity negatively impacts the body’s health over time. Managing toxicity requires an awareness of things that are, in fact, sources of toxins. Everyday toxins that you may not be aware of include: air fresheners, perfumes, cleaning products (including eco ones), fabric softeners, dry-cleaned clothes, tap water, non-stick cookware, BPA-free plastics, and bug sprays. Don’t forget about emotional toxicity by being mindful of the people in your life and your self-talk.
Medical Disclaimer: This article is based on the opinions of The Cell Health team. The information on this website is not intended to replace a one-on-one relationship with a qualified healthcare professional and is not intended as medical advice. It is intended to share knowledge and information from the research and experience of the Cell Health team. This article has been medically reviewed by Dr. Charles Penick, MD, for the accuracy of the information provided. Still, we encourage you to make your own healthcare decisions based on your research and in partnership with a qualified healthcare professional.
- “Volatile Organic Compounds’ Impact on Indoor Air Quality.” EPA, Environmental Protection Agency, 10 Feb. 2021, www.epa.gov/indoor-air-quality-iaq/volatile-organic-compounds-impact-indoor-air-quality.
- Steinemann, Anne. “Fragranced Consumer Products: Exposures and Effects from Emissions.” Air Quality, Atmosphere & Health, vol. 9, no. 8, 2016, pp. 861–866., doi:10.1007/s11869-016-0442-z.
- “Get the Facts on Fragrance.” Women’s Voices for the Earth, 10 Jan. 2020, www.womensvoices.org/fragrance-ingredients/facts-on-fragrance/.
- “‘Natural’ Extracts Can Trigger Allergies.” Environmental Working Group, 21 May 2021, www.ewg.org/news-insights/news/natural-extracts-can-trigger-allergies.
- “What Is Greenwashing?” Ethical Consumer, 28 Jan. 2021, www.ethicalconsumer.org/transport-travel/what-greenwashing.
- “Don’t Get Slimed: Skip the Fabric Softener.” Environmental Working Group, 11 June 2021, www.ewg.org/news-insights/news/dont-get-slimed-skip-fabric-softener.
- Steinemann, Anne C., et al. “Chemical Emissions from Residential Dryer Vents during Use of Fragranced Laundry Products.” Air Quality, Atmosphere & Health, vol. 6, no. 1, 2011, pp. 151–156., doi:10.1007/s11869-011-0156-1.
- “Tetrachloroethylene (Perchloroethylene).” Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), www.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2016-09/documents/tetrachloroethylene.pdf.
- Cichocki, Joseph A et al. “Target Organ Metabolism, Toxicity, and Mechanisms of Trichloroethylene and Perchloroethylene: Key Similarities, Differences, and Data Gaps.” The Journal of pharmacology and experimental therapeutics vol. 359,1 (2016): 110-23. doi:10.1124/jpet.116.232629
- Huang, Junli, et al. “Disinfection Effect of Chlorine Dioxide on Bacteria in Water.” Water Research, vol. 31, no. 3, 1997, pp. 607–613., doi:10.1016/s0043-1354(96)00275-8.
- Turnbaugh, Peter J., et al. “The Human Microbiome Project.” Nature, vol. 449, no. 7164, 2007, pp. 804–810., doi:10.1038/nature06244.
- Shuster, Katherine A et al. “Polytetrafluoroethylene toxicosis in recently hatched chickens (Gallus domesticus).” Comparative medicine vol. 62,1 (2012): 49-52.
- Shimizu, Taro et al. “Polymer fume fever.” BMJ case reports vol. 2012 bcr2012007790. 10 Dec. 2012, doi:10.1136/bcr-2012-007790
- EFSA Panel on Contaminants in the Food Chain (CONTAM) et al. “Risk to human health related to the presence of perfluorooctane sulfonic acid and perfluorooctanoic acid in food.” EFSA journal. European Food Safety Authority vol. 16,12 e05194. 13 Dec. 2018, doi:10.2903/j.efsa.2018.5194
- Brent A. Bauer, M.D. “Tips to Reduce BPA Exposure.” Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 14 May 2021, www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/expert-answers/bpa/faq-20058331.
- Moon, Min Kyong. “Concern about the Safety of Bisphenol A Substitutes.” Diabetes & metabolism journal vol. 43,1 (2019): 46-48. doi:10.4093/dmj.2019.0027
- Almeida, Susana, et al. “Bisphenol A: Food Exposure and Impact on Human Health.” Comprehensive Reviews in Food Science and Food Safety, vol. 17, no. 6, 2018, pp. 1503–1517., doi:10.1111/1541-4337.12388.
- Tisch, Matthias et al. “Genotoxicity studies on permethrin, DEET and diazinon in primary human nasal mucosal cells.” European archives of oto-rhino-laryngology : official journal of the European Federation of Oto-Rhino-Laryngological Societies (EUFOS) : affiliated with the German Society for Oto-Rhino-Laryngology – Head and Neck Surgery vol. 259,3 (2002): 150-3. doi:10.1007/s004050100406
- Chaney, L A et al. “Anticonvulsant-resistant seizures following pyridostigmine bromide (PB) and N,N-diethyl-m-toluamide (DEET).” Toxicological sciences : an official journal of the Society of Toxicology vol. 49,2 (1999): 306-11. doi:10.1093/toxsci/49.2.306
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