Toxins in the Home: An Intro!

Author | Laurie Benade

A few months ago, I was searching for a book my son had found and walked off with earlier that day. If you’ve ever lived with a toddler, I’m sure this sounds familiar. We might find our sunglasses in the bathtub, or have to look in his toys to get ourselves a coaster. While turning over couch cushions, I saw a tag with a warning label that disturbed me: THIS PRODUCT CONTAINS CHEMICALS WHICH ARE KNOWN TO THE STATE OF CALIFORNIA TO CAUSE CANCER AND BIRTH DEFECTS.

It wasn’t my first time seeing a label like this, but I hadn’t realized my couch had earned the warning. Proposition-65 was voted into state law by Californians in 1986; the idea being that companies were required to warn consumers of toxic chemicals present in their products, or choose to reformulate their product to drop the warning. California is the only state that has such a measure, but since most companies sell nationally, you may see the warnings here in Virginia. Take, for instance, this cute chair from Target - you’ll see a Prop 65 warning in the description.

But why do we need these labels? Isn’t there federal government regulation of chemicals in our products? Unfortunately, no. While there are groups such as the FDA in place to regulate private food and drug ingredients, there is little regulation of toxic chemicals in non-food products. In the US, there are only 11 chemicals deemed dangerous enough to be banned from consumer products. To put that in perspective, the EU has banned over 1300.

Over the years, Prop 65 has had its friends and foes. Proponents say that knowing a product has cancerous or reproductively harmful chemicals is the right of the consumer, while some believe the threshold for the warning is far too low, and people are not receiving correct information about actual threats of the products in their home. There has also been a phenomenon of “warning fatigue” - so many products have a warning that consumers now ignore any Prop 65 label, completely defeating the purpose of the law.

I can understand both sides. But considering I spent nine months of pregnancy relaxing on that couch, I felt a bit freaked out coming across that label after the fact. We work hard to create beautiful homes, but can a home really be beautiful if it’s full of toxins? How can we protect ourselves and our families while staying sane?

The range of exposures in the home is vast: from our cookware, to our couch, to our kids’ pajamas. It can be a little scary, but having more information about where to find safer alternatives can help us feel empowered and over time will improve our well-being. There are many easy changes we can make to create safer and healthier homes.

Because many toxins found in the home are endocrine-disruptoring compounds (EDCs), which can mimic or impair a body’s natural hormones, it’s especially important to be mindful of products used on and around pregnant women, babies, and children. During these life stages, our bodies undergo rapid growth and formulation which can have long-term effects during a person’s life span. According to Breast Cancer Prevention Partners, “Low doses of EDC’s, especially during critical stages of development, can increase the risk of adverse health effects including cancers, neurodevelopmental and neurodegenerative diseases, metabolic disorders, asthma and immune disorders.”

This topic can be a bit overwhelming (take it from someone who has gone down the rabbit hole a few times!), so each blog post will tackle a section or two of the home.

To start your journey in creating a cleaner, healthier home today, here are a few ground rules to guide you:

  • FOCUS ON KIDS: Like I stated above, kids and babies are at the highest risk, if you make only a few changes, have it be around the babies, kids, or pregnant people in your home. Baby’s soap, lotion, diaper cream, and sunscreen have the potential to hold toxins. Luckily, there are a myriad of options for healthy products to use on our kids. Dr. Bronners Unscented Baby Soap was all we used to clean our baby in the first year!

Dr. Bronners Unscented Baby Soap | $18.49 (32 oz) *other size/prices available

  • AVOID “FRAGRANCE”: “Fragrance” in the ingredients of a product is considered a proprietary secret, and companies are not required to disclose what chemicals make up their scent. So many dangerous substances can be hidden under this label! Fragrance can be found in shampoo, soap, laundry detergent, cleaners, lotion, and deodorant, among other sources. But hey - I love a yummy smelling lotion as much as the next guy. When choosing something scented, just make sure it’s scented with natural essential oils - these will be listed in the ingredients. This nourishing body cream by withSimplicity has straightforward ingredients and scents from natural oils.

withSimplicity Body Cream | $16.00