Consumer health groups have studied many household products and warned that they contain carcinogens, or ingredients known to cause cancer.
Here are the prime products to send packing, along with safer replacements to substitute:
Pots, pans, and other cookware made with a nonstick coating (Teflon) have been controversial for many years. The main chemical in nonstick coatings is perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), which is known to cause cancer.
The question has been whether enough PFOA gets into the human body from pans to pose a risk. Some experts believe that PFOA and as many as 15 other chemicals can be released when cooking with these coatings, particularly at high heat. Other concerns involve whether the chemicals can get into food once the surface becomes scratched and nicked over time.
The EPA has called on manufacturers to phase out PFOA, but it hasn’t happened yet.
The takeaway: Don’t use nonstick pans to cook foods over 300 degrees, and toss them when the coating gets scratched.
Safer substitute: Glass, cast iron, copper, and ceramic or porcelain-coated pans are all safe. There are also lines of nonstick cookware made with other surface coatings (often ceramic, titanium, or both) that are PFOA-free.
Your makeup bag and medicine cabinet may be hazardous to your health, containing chemicals that are known carcinogens. Philip Landrigan, dean of Global Health at Mount Sinai School of Medicine, advises avoiding the “dirty dozen” toxic chemicals in skin care listed in National Geographic’s Green Guide, including:
- Coal tar
- Petroleum distillates
According to Landrigan, chemicals belonging to a class called phthalates are among the biggest culprits in beauty products because they mimic the action of our natural hormones. Phthalates such as dibutyl phthalate (DBP), dimethyl phthalate (DMP), and diethyl phthalate (DEP) are used in beauty products as “plasticizers,” to harden nail polish, help hair spray adhere to the hair, and fix scent in perfumes. Phthalates are also found in the flexible plastic bottles in which shampoo, lotion, and other beauty products are stored, and they can leach into the contents.
Another of the worst offenders is lipstick, which may contain lead, known to cause numerous health problems, including cancer. In response to a public health effort by the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, the FDA recently conducted two separate investigations testing lipsticks for lead, and the results were pretty scary. Lead was detected in every single one of the lipsticks tested, and not in small amounts. The first FDA test revealed lead levels up to 3.06 ppm (parts per million), and the second test found lead levels up to 7.19 ppm.
Lastly, be aware that beauty labels are not always honest. In one recent study, keratin-based hair straighteners labeled “formaldehyde-free” were found to contain formaldehyde. While the levels found were fairly low, stylists are at risk because of repeated exposure.
Safer substitute: The generic term “fragrance” can cover a lot of chemical additives; choose fragrance-free products or fragrances made from botanical ingredients. Natural skin care and beauty companies sell natural and organic skin care lines that list their ingredients transparently and are free of phthalates, heavy metals such as lead, and other toxic chemicals.
BPA, or bisphenol A, has been in the headlines endlessly the past couple of years, but that doesn’t mean we know what to do about it, since the news has been both alarmist and confusing. Here’s the lowdown: BPA is a phthalate and a synthetic estrogen linked to cancer, reproductive problems, and heart disease.
In 2010, the President’s Cancer Panel recommended that consumers not use water bottles and other containers made with BPA and urged that the ingredient be removed from commercial production, but that has happened in only a handful of states. Still, BPA-free bottles are now manufactured by all of the major bottle manufacturers, and BPA-free bottles are fast becoming the norm, at least where they are available.
Unfortunately, BPA has been much slower to phase out in other products, such as the lining of cans. Because BPA can react with the metal of the cans, and cans are heated as they’re sterilized, canned food is “high risk” for BPA.
Another ingredient used to make plastics more pliable is diethylhexyl adipate (DEHA), which is also classified as a possible carcinogen. DEHA is in almost all plastic wraps and has properties similar to phthalates, like BPA. Unlike BPA, it has yet to be phased out of most products.