The environmental toxins lurking under your sink (and some safer alternatives!)

by Sophie Friend & Meghan Donovan

Environmental toxins are chemical compounds that can disrupt biological processes and negatively affect health. The accumulation of toxins found in our food, air, water and day-to-day products can lead to metabolic & systemic dysfunction. The systems most affected by these chemicals are the immune, neurological, reproductive and endocrine and can present as asthma, allergies, brain fog, headaches, libido alterations, developmental toxicity, reproductive dysfunction and glucose dysregulation. 

You may have heard the term endocrine disrupters, which are chemicals that interfere with our endocrine system by creating havoc with our hormones via increasing or decreasing hormone production, imitating hormones, interference with hormone signalling, and competing with nutrients. They are found in products such as your laundry liquid, dishwashing detergent, shampoo, makeup, and deodorant. 

This information is especially important to consider if you are on your fertility journey or have young children in the home as their body systems are rapidly developing. An analysis by the environmental working group revealed that 20% of cleaning product ingredients are linked to reproductive and developmental disorders in children, a further 10% being skin irritants. 

We’re becoming more aware of fillers, preservatives & pesticides in our food but have you ever thought to check the ingredients list of your laundry liquid? Our skin is the largest organ and chemicals on our clothing and sheets can be absorbed through the pores while we breath in the often (very) strong fragrance. 

It’s difficult to determine what ingredients are actually contained in the products, as manufacturers are not legally required to disclose this information. If they do, they often list ingredients as anionic or non-ionic surfactants which could be any ingredients that “lift dirt and stains”. 

In addition to this, due to proprietary laws products are able to simply list “fragrance” as an ingredient without specifying which chemicals (and just how many) are involved to create the products scent. Next time you go to put the laundry load on for a second time (because you forgot about it the first time #mumlife) check the ingredients.

For example, OMO laundry powder contains: anionic and nonionic surfactants, bleach, enzymes, alkalis, sodium carbonate, sodium sulphate, sequestrant, polymer, anti foam, perfume and colour. 

The usual suspects - a list of hormone-altering chemicals found in cleaning products: 

  • Fragrance: often derived from petroleum and contain hundreds to thousands of chemicals unknown to the consumer as they are not required to be listed. Every year, around 8,000 metric tonnes of inexpensive synthetic fragrances are produced worldwide. They may cause skin irritation, allergic reactions and asthma. Swap for products that contain pure essential oils. Pregnant women, bubs and kids should avoid products with fragrances. 
  • Phthalates: you’re unlikely to see this chemical listed as it is often a constituent of “fragrance” and is commonly found in cosmetics and personal care products. Phthalates are a known endocrine disruptor that has shown to trigger testicular cell death and reduce sperm count by 50% in men and alter egg development and maturation in women with high levels. Also linked to birth defects, obesity, diabetes and thyroid conditions. 
  • Sodium Dodecylbenzenesulfonate: known to irritate the nose, throat and lungs causing coughing, wheezing &/or shortness of breath 
  • Sodium Laureth Sulfate: the component that makes the laundry liquid soapy. It is banned in the European Union due to a probable human carcinogenic byproduct that is created in its manufacturing process. It is known to irritate the eyes, skin & lungs.  Opt for gentle surfactants such as alkyl polyglucosides (APGs) 
  • Disodium Distyrylbiphenyl Disulfonate: topical exposure has been shown to irritate the skin & eyes, animal studies have shown low exposure to cause irritation and organ effects
  • Solvents: Ever seen d-limonene on the back of a citrus based cleaning product? These contain terpenes that cause asthma and allergies. Airbone exposure can cause headaches, nausea, sissiness and irritation of the eyes, lungs & skin. Glycol ethers found in cleaning products and cosmetics adversely affect fertility, with exposure linked to lower sperm counts. 
  • Isothiazolinones: methyl-chloroisothiazolinone is a cheap preservative that is linked to allergic reactions including eczema. 
  • Triclosan - petroleum derived chemical found in personal care products (hand soap, body wash, cosmetics, deodorants) leads to skin, eye and lung irritation as well as effects on the immune system with allergic reactions.  
  • Ammonia that is found in bleach and household products are eye, lung, and skin irritations, and is linked to asthma and allergic rhinitis. 

These are just a few of the chemicals in laundry liquid. Never mind when they all start partying with the ingredients in your make-up bag, hair products, dishwashing liquid, baby wipes and create a bioaccumulation of toxins. 

So, what’s the next step? 

Choose cleaning products that list every. single. ingredient. You can then research over at the chemical maze book (hard copy or phone app) which rates the ingredients health impact. Choose products that use food grade ingredients and pure essential oils, not industrial grade that are loaded with impurities.

Some of our favourite laundry product brands include...

References

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