Are you Aware of the Chemicals in Your Everyday Products?

Winnie Ne STEM Aug 20, 2020

In a perfect world, we would be able to walk into a store and pick out a product without having to worry about harmful chemicals being in them. Unfortunately, that’s not the case: companies sell us products containing chemicals that are harmful to not only us but the environment as well. For example, plastics, detergents, cosmetics and many other products are known to be endocrine disruptors, chemicals that affect our bodily activities. In fact, according to the Environmental Working Group, "85% of the 10,500 ingredients in products have not been evaluated for safety by the Cosmetic Ingredient Review and US Food and Drug Administration." Doing your research and being aware of what chemicals and ingredients are in your everyday products is crucial, which is why I’ve gathered a few of the MANY chemicals you should keep an eye out for as well as some alternatives for the products. Let’s start with something we’re all familiar with: microbeads.

Microbeads are tiny plastic particles that are often found in cleansers for exfoliation but they can also be found in toothpaste, sunscreen, soaps, and shampoos. Although these tiny plastic beads may feel nice for your face, they eventually make their way into our ocean where they could be consumed by marine life. Microbeads are known to absorb chemicals and pesticides, and like all plastics, they don’t biodegrade so once consumed, they stay in the animal's body and go up the food chain where it can affect us humans as well when we consume fish. Ingesting microplastics can also cause blockage in the digestive tract, which will ultimately lead the animal to die of starvation. As an alternative, try using natural exfoliators like coffee grounds and sugar.

Sugar works as a great alternative to microbeads. Photo by Glen Carrie / Unsplash

Harmful chemicals can also be found in many other everyday essentials. Take sunscreen as an example: this summertime necessity often contains oxybenzone, Butylated Hydroxytoluene, and Butylated Hydroxyanisole, all of which are toxic to marine life and humans. Chemicals like Oxybenzone have been proven to harm coral reefs. To avoid these nasty substances, opt for sunscreens that use Titanium and Zinc Oxide as their main ingredients instead. Another common product is nail polish which often contains Dibutyl Phthalate, a chemical that raises health concerns similar to that of sunscreen. In order to lessen the effects, we have to choose our sunscreens wisely based on the ingredients they contain and the type you want, which would be either mineral or chemical. Mineral sunscreen stays on the surface of your skin and reflects the UV rays while chemical sunscreen is absorbed into the skin. Thankfully, we have technology that allows us to access the ingredient lists of products and rate how good they are within seconds. The apps EWG and Think Dirty allow you to search and scan products to view the list of their ingredients and outputs a ranking based on how harmful they are.

Now for something that flies under our radars: clothing. Fashion can be a huge contributor to the release of detrimental chemicals. In fact, if you are wearing synthetic clothes, each wash cycle could release up to 700,000 microplastic particles, which UNenvironment defines as "tiny plastic particles up to 5mm in diameter." These particles of plastic permeate the food chain and even end up in our own food supply. Furthermore, the process of making clothes is also more harmful than one might think—I recently learned from Melanie Gonzalez, the owner of Simple Good, that making a single t-shirt takes:

700 gallons of water, .10 pounds of fertilizer, .01 pounds of pesticides, and 1.23 pounds of fossil fuels...
Clothing Rack
Your clothes could be contributing to the release of harmful chemicals into our environment. Synthetic fibers like polyester, acrylic, nylon and spandex are made from fossil fuels which contribute to global warming. Photo by Lauren Fleischmann / Unsplash

While I know it can be hard to not shop for clothing, there are other options: Choose clothing made of natural resources like organic cotton and bamboo or shop second-hand clothes at thrift stores and from apps like Poshmark, Depop, and Mercari; you can also upcycle by making your own clothes! Shopping second-hand/repurposing your own clothing will prevent large amounts of clothing from ending up in the landfill. Not only will you be saving money, you’ll be taking a step towards bettering the environment.

Going the natural route is often the best option, but when that doesn’t work out, make sure you check the ingredients in your products—this practice will not only benefit you, but also our planet! Let’s all do our part and make a difference!

Featured Image by Emmett Maier

This article was published in partnership with Simple Good, Long Island's first zero waste lifestyle shop with a variety of sustainable, zero or low waste, ethical, eco friendly, vegan and organic products. The Current will be working with Simple Good to promote eco-friendly lifestyle changes. Stay tuned!

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