By Stephen T. Sinatra, M.D., F.A.C.C., F.A.C.N., C.N.S., C.B.T.
When choosing personal hygiene products and products to help clean your home or office, be sure to really read the labels so that you can avoid exposure to harmful toxins. Words like “caution/warning,” “flammable,” “harmful,” “danger,” and “use in ventilated area” are good indicators of toxicity, however less obvious red-flags may include:
- Acetone – a neurotoxin found in spot treatment cleaners and scuff removers.
- Aerosol products – as tiny droplets or particles in the air, aerosols are easily inhaled and can cause respiratory irritation. Some aerosol products may contain contain formaldehyde or methylene chloride (see below).
- Ammonia – a severe eye and respiratory irritant found in a variety of cleaning products, ammonia can form a poisonous chlorine gas when in contact with bleach.
- Bleach – found in a variety of cleaners, bleach is not only an eye, skin and respiratory irritant on its own, but a poisonous gas when combined with certain acids. If you use this antimicrobial pesticide (which can kill viruses, bacteria and fungi), dilute it with water, use a mask and gloves when cleaning, and be sure to avoid mixing it with other household cleaners (such as toilet bowl cleaner).
- D-limonene – found in all purpose cleaning products, especially those with citrus oil, D-limonene can trigger respiratory irritation. It is also a suspected liver, kidney, and gastrointestinal toxin, immunotoxin, and neurotoxin.
- Ethylene glycol butyl ether (EGBE, or 2-butoxyethanol) – used as a solvent in some carpet and tile cleaners, EGBE can irritate the eyes, respiratory tract, and skin, and even cause burns. It may also cause blood disorders, and possibly damage the liver, kidneys, and reproductive system, as well as cause neuroendocrine harm.
- Formaldehyde – exposure to formaldehyde can cause irritation of the eye, nose and throat, wheezing, coughing, fatigue, skin rash and severe allergic reactions, as well as cancer and DNA damage. Formaldehyde may be found in laundry detergents, pet shampoos and body washes.
- Fragrance – found in air fresheners, laundry supplies, personal care and other cleaning products, fragrances may contain hundreds of undisclosed chemicals, including volatile organic compounds (VOCs); some VOCs are known to cause cancer in humans and are associated with liver, kidney and central nervous system damage, as well as skin reactions. Fragrance exposure can also trigger headaches and breathing problems like asthma.
- Monoethanolamine – found in detergents and personal care products, monoethanolamine can cause acute damage such as eye and skin burns and lung damage if aspirated. Repeated exposure can lead to kidney and liver damage.
- Morpholine – used in metal and auto polishes, morpholine is a respiratory and skin irritant that can cause eye and skin burns. When in contact with nitrates (which may be added as preservatives or contaminants), morpholines can form carcinogenic nitrosamines.
- Parabens – though primarily used as a preservative in personal care products like shampoos, conditioners, sunscreens, and make-up, parabens may also be found in cleaning agents. As synthetic estrogens, parabens are disrupt the body’s natural hormones. Avoid products with methylparabens, propylparabens, ethylparaben and butylparabens.
- Paradichlorobenzene (1,4-dichlorobenzene) – found in mothballs, paradichlorobenzene is a pesticide in same category as DDT; known to be carcinogenic in animals, it is suspected as such for humans.
- Phosphoric acid – found in some disinfectants, liquid dishwasher detergents, and bathroom cleaners (to remove lime and mildew), phosphoric acid can irritate the skin, respiratory tract and eyes. Also found in sodas, phosphoric acid is thought to erode tooth enamel.
- Sodium dichloroisocyanurate dehydrate – found in some toilet bowl cleaners and deodorizers, this chemical can cause eye, skin, and respiratory irritation, as well as forms a poisonous chlorine gas when in contact with bleach.
- Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS) – a lathering agent found in detergents and shampoos, SLS can irritate the skin and eyes. When in contact with nitrates, it will form carcinogenic nitrosamines, making gradual, repeated, long-term exposure to SLS a concern.
- Turpentine – found in specialty solvent cleaners and furniture polish, turpentine is an eye, nose and throat irritant that can cause dermatitis or chemical burns. Repeated exposure can lead to kidney and bladder damage.
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