According to the Environmental Protection Agency, indoor air can be “more seriously polluted” than outdoor air, even in the largest and most industrialized cities.1We may never be able to escape all of the toxins in our environment, but there are steps we can take to minimize our exposure. The bathroom is a good place to start because it often contains several sources of chemicals in a small space, making the concentration of toxins higher than in other areas of the home. Here are 5 ways to reverse that trend.
#1 | Get rid of air fresheners
Fragranced products, like air fresheners and scented candles, contain chemicals including volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that escape from products in the form of gases. VOCs are up to 10 times more concentrated in indoor air than outdoor air according to the Environmental Protection Agency.2 They’ve been shown to have harmful effects on our health which range from headaches2 and high blood sugar3 to damage of the liver, kidneys, and central nervous system.2Get rid of any air fresheners or scented candles. If you need an alternative, use a diffuser with pure organic essential oils, but it’s better to just open the windows and get some real fresh air.
#2 | Replace plastic shower curtains
Most shower curtains, and shower curtain liners, are made from polyvinyl chloride (PVC). This plastic material releases toxins in the form of gases including VOCs and chemicals that disrupt hormones in the body. Heat can increase the release of toxins from PVC, like when curtains and liners come into contact with hot water and steam during showers. Plastic shower curtains and liners made from PEVA (polyethylene vinyl acetate) or EVA (ethylene vinyl acetate) are less toxic than those made with PVC, but there are better options. Look for shower curtains and liners made from hemp, organic cotton, linen, or recycled sail cloth.
#3 | Evaluate your personal products
More than ten thousand different chemical ingredients are used to make personal care products.4 Nearly 90 percent of these ingredients have never been evaluated for safety and those that have include chemicals that can cause cancer, harm the reproductive system, and disrupt hormones in the body.4 Every day, on average, people use 9 personal products containing 126 unique ingredients, according to a survey by the Environmental Working Group.4 They also found that 1 in 4 women use 15 or more products daily.4 Get rid of any personal products that aren’t being used and check the safety of the rest with the Skin Deep Cosmetics Database [https://www.ewg.org/skindeep] from the Environmental Working Group. You can search by product, ingredient, or manufacturer to read toxicity information and safety reviews on items like soap, shampoo, toothpaste, deodorant, lotion, makeup, hair-styling products, nail polish, contact lens cleaner, bubble bath, sunscreen, and baby products. If their safety rating causes concern, use the same database to find safer alternatives or consider using natural items like vinegar, yogurt, honey, almond or coconut oil, sea salt, oats, aloe vera, shea butter, and essential oils in your personal care routine.
#4 | Use cleaner cleaners
Cleaning products can contain dangerous chemicals that are often unlisted. In the United States, manufacturers are not required to disclose all of a product’s ingredients on the label, which makes it very difficult to evaluate their safety. The Environmental Working Group makes it easier by helping consumers decode labels. Use EWG’s Guide to Healthy Cleaning [http://www.ewg.org/guides/cleaners] to understand the toxicity of the cleaning products you use and find alternatives if necessary. Or you can replace chemical cleaners with white vinegar which cleans by dissolving surface residue, baking soda which acts as an abrasive agent, and pure essential oils which act as disinfectants because they are naturally antibacterial, antiviral, and antifungal. (Note that vinegar should not be used on porous or delicate surfaces including natural stone such as marble, limestone, calcite, or dolomite. Clean these surfaces with liquid castile soap diluted in warm water instead.)
#5 | Filter your shower water
Chlorine is added to tap water to kill harmful microorganisms and in high concentrations it can have negative effects on us as well, including an increased risk of developing bladder and rectal cancers.5 Even though we’re exposed to chlorine every time we drink unfiltered tap water, studies show that the greatest exposure comes from hot and steamy showers where chlorine is inhaled and absorbed through the skin.6 You can filter the chlorine out of your tap water using a point-of-entry filter, which filters all water coming into your home, or a point-of-use filter that attaches to your shower head. Carbon-based filters remove chlorine as well as some volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Reverse-osmosis filters also remove hexavalent chromium, also known as chromium-6, a carcinogen that has been detected in 89 percent of tap water samples collected in cities across the country.7 You can learn what’s in your water with EWG’s Tap Water Database [https://www.ewg.org/tapwater] and use EWG’s Updated Water Filter Buying Guide [https://www.ewg.org/tapwater/water-filter-guide.php#.W7Gr_fZReM9] to find the best filter for you.
1 Environmental Protection Association. The Inside Story: A Guide to Indoor Air Quality. [Web page]. EPA website. https://www.epa.gov/indoor-air-quality-iaq/inside-story-guide-indoor-air-quality. Accessed September 29, 2018.
2 Environmental Protection Agency. Volatile Organic Compounds’ Impact on Indoor Air Quality. [Web page]. EPA website. https://www.epa.gov/indoor-air-quality-iaq/volatile-organic-compounds-impact-indoor-air-quality. Accessed September 30, 2018.
3Hong YC, Park EY, Park MS, Ko JA, Oh SY, Kim H, Lee KH, Leem JH, and Ha EH. Community Level Exposure to Chemicals and Oxidative Stress in Adult Population. Toxicology Letters. 2009;184(2):139–44. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19049859
4 Environmental Working Group. Why this matters – Cosmetics and your health. [Web page]. EWG website. http://www.ewg.org/skindeep/2011/04/12/why-this-matters/. Accessed September 30, 2018.
5 Morris RD, Audet AM, Angelillo IF, Chalmers TC, and Mosteller F. Chlorination, chlorination by-products, and cancer: a meta-analysis. American Journal of Public Health. 1992; 82(7): 955–963. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1694065/
6 Kuo HW, Chiang TF, Lo II, Lai JS, Chan CC, and Wang JD. Estimates of cancer risk from chloroform exposure during showering in Taiwan. The Science of the Total Environment. 1998;218(1):1-7. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9718740
7 Environmental Working Group. Chromium-6 in U.S. Tap Water. [Web page]. EWG website. https://www.ewg.org/research/chromium6-in-tap-water/findings#.W7Go2_ZReM8 Accessed September 30, 2018.
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Sarah Cimperman, ND is the author of the new book, The Prediabetes Detox: A Whole-Body Program to Balance Your Blood Sugar, Increase Energy, and Reduce Sugar Cravings. She graduated from NCNM in 2002 and has a private practice in New York City. Her expertise has been featured on Fox News and Huffington Post and in Natural Health magazine, Whole Living magazine, and the Well Being Journal, among other publications. Dr. Cimperman also writes two blogs, A Different Kind Of Doctor and The Naturopathic Gourmet.