These 3 Ingredients May Affect You and the Environment
10/07/2018 Andrew Pothecary

These 3 Ingredients May Affect You and the Environment: Make a Conscious Switch to Alternatives

Each year, companies introduce thousands of consumer products that are designed to help us with our everyday living. But, it can be tough to consider both the health and environmental effects of our purchase decisions. Affordability and convenience are usually top of mind, so we don’t often think of a product’s overarching implications.

Consider avoiding these three ingredients for better health and for better care of the environment.

Avoid talcum powder in hygiene products

Talcum powder is an ingredient found in hygiene products such as lotions, deodorants, makeup, and baby powders. Its absorbent properties make it an ideal ingredient, but studies since the 1970s link exposure to ovarian cancer and mesothelioma. The FDA only regulates talc in food products, yet it has no restrictions in place for use in cosmetics. The European Union, on the other hand, completely bans talcum powder as an ingredient.

Talcum powder’s health dangers have come to light in recent years with high-profile court cases calling out family brand Johnson & Johnson. Thousands of women filed claims against the company claiming that long-term use of its talc-based products led to their ovarian cancer diagnoses. Six of nine major cases sided with the plaintiffs, and we’ll likely see more court decisions in the coming years.

How is talcum powder affecting the environment?

Talcum powder isn’t just affecting human health. It has also taken a toll on the environment. Unsafe talc mining practices still take place around the world, causing devastation to local wildlife. India’s Jamwa Ramgarh Wildlife Sanctuary dedicated to protecting endangered tigers has been hit especially hard by these unethical practices.

Safer alternatives to consider

If you use baby powder as a part of your daily hygiene routine, consider purchasing talc-free options that should clearly say so on the label. Cornstarch and arrowroot powder are great natural alternatives that also encourage the planting of corn and starches to build up the environment.

Avoid oxybenzone in sunscreen

Oxybenzone is an organic compound found in many popular sunscreens. The ingredient is very effective at blocking harmful UV rays, but exposure has also been associated with human health risks. Studies link the hormone disruptor to reduced male fertility, altered birth weight, and decreased testosterone levels in adolescent boys.

How is oxybenzone affecting the environment?

Hawaii passed legislation in May to ban sunscreens containing oxybenzone and octinoxate due to the belief that they cause the destruction of coral reef populations. 14,000 tons of sunscreen go into our oceans each year, and one small drop is enough to cause the reefs to bleach white and lose their nutrients. The ingredients may also affect surrounding marine life.

Safer alternatives to consider

There are plant-based sunscreen options on the market today that are labeled as “reef-safe.” However, scientists discovered that certain plant-based ingredients like eucalyptus and lavender are dangerous to the ocean’s invertebrate population. Overall, it’s recommended to avoid sunscreens that contain the ingredients oxybenzone, octinoxate, and octocrylene.

Sunscreen isn’t the only way to stay safe in the sun. When you’re outside, wear sun-protective clothing, hats, and sunglasses. Seek shade often, whether it’s courtesy of a deck umbrella or trees overhead.

Avoid phthalates in medications

You’ve probably heard the word “phthalates” before. This chemical class makes plastic more flexible and is found in products such as food containers, shower curtains, and children’s toys. But, they are also used as inactive medication ingredients and in a drug’s enteric coating to prevent disintegration in the stomach.

Phthalates are linked to health risks such as hormone disruption, birth defects in children, and cancer. The FDA and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services published guidelines recommending that certain phthalates be avoided as excipients, or inactive ingredients, in medications. However, these guidelines are not legally enforceable.

How are phthalates affecting the environment?

Phthalates don’t just affect human health; they also impact our soil and the foods we harvest. German scientists warn of the harmful effects that phthalates from microplastics have on animal and plant populations as they leach into our water and soil sources.

Safer alternatives to consider

Ask your pharmacist about the inclusion of phthalates in medications that are labeled as “time-release” or “enteric-coated.” There may be phthalate-free options available if you do find that your prescription contains the class of chemicals.

Over-the-counter medications may list phthalates as an inactive ingredient on their labels, so be sure to read carefully before purchasing.

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