Endocrine disruptorsHow to reduce your exposure
We can be exposed to harmful chemicals in everyday products. Current legislation is not up to the job of protecting us – although CHEM Trust is working to improve this. But there are some actions that you can take to reduce your and your family’s risk of being exposed to endocrine disruptors and other harmful chemicals at home, and when shopping, eating, cleaning and taking care of children.
What’s the problem?
There are a range of harmful chemicals in everyday products, including in food, food packaging, clothes, furniture, cosmetics and cleaning products. A lot of these chemicals are not well regulated and are not listed on ingredients lists or labels, making it difficult for consumers to identify them.
What can you do?
So how can you protect yourself and your family from exposure to harmful chemicals, including those that mess with your hormone system?
Before we get into the detail, let’s be honest: things are not set up to make it easy for us as consumers. You’re certainly not going to find it easy to avoid all harmful chemicals all the time. There are too many in play and consumer information at the point of sale is not strong enough to let you make fully informed choices.
But you can take some steps to try to reduce your exposure to endocrine disruptors – and even if you don’t have the time to be checking every product label there are some rules of thumb that are a good first line of defence.
Rules of thumb
Buy less synthetic materials
Opt for natural organic and chemical-free materials, e.g. wood and paper over plastics, cotton over polyester, plant-based over petroleum based beauty and cleaning products, and fresh, organic foods over processed foods.
Reduce the packaging
Buy less highly packaged products – especially food in plastic packaging. Take your own bag and buy it loose when possible.
Look for eco labels
Look for positive labelling – such as the EU Ecolabel, Blue Angel, Nordic Swan – which can be found on certain products such as cosmetics, toiletries, cleaning products, and mattresses. Also look out for the Soil Association logo for organic foods, which won’t have been grown using synthetic pesticides. Certain products may also be labelled to show they are free from some chemicals that are known to be harmful – look out for PFAS-free, PFC-free, and bisphenol-free.
Scan for weasel words
Though it is near impossible to tell which chemicals are in which products from their labels, there are some words on cleaning products and cosmetics that you can look out for. These include parfums, triclosan, and words beginning with ‘fluoro’.
Food – Buying, Cooking and Storing
Food – whether it’s what we eat, how we package it, or how we cook it – is the most common way that we are exposed to harmful chemicals.
But there are ways to reduce your exposure. These include: choosing organic food; avoiding certain types of fish (especially tuna, swordfish, pike, hake, king mackerel); opting for lean meat; buying less food in plastic (especially with recycling codes 3 and 7), and avoiding grease-proof packaging.
You should also be aware of how you store and carry food, and opt for glass or stainless steel containers rather than plastic containers. When cooking, stay away from non-stick pans and microwaveable packaging, and reduce your consumption of takeaway meals in plastic containers.
Cosmetics, hygiene and menstrual products – buy less, choose carefully
There’s a beauty or health product for every corner of the body you can think of, and many of them contain harmful chemicals.
To limit your exposure to harmful chemicals in cosmetics, cut down on your use of cosmetics generally and use apps such as Giki to help you choose safer alternatives.
There are some chemicals to look out for on labels, including parabens, chemicals beginning with ‘fluoro’ and triclosan. When buying menstrual products, opt for organic cotton and totally chlorine free (TCF) products.
Cleaning products – buy less, make your own, choose carefully
The best way to limit your exposure to harmful chemicals in cleaning products is to cut down the range of cleaning products you spend your money on – go for soap and water whenever possible.
Look for eco-labelling on any products you buy, such as the EU Ecolabel, Blue Angel or Nordic Swan. Consider making your own cleaning fluids from simple stuff like vinegar, lemon juice and bicarbonate of soda.
You wear them next to your skin so you want your clothes to be as free from harmful chemicals as possible. Unfortunately many fabrics are treated with chemicals to make them stain-resistant or waterproof.
Opt for organically grown fibres (cotton, wool, hemp, bamboo) over synthetics. For school uniforms and waterproof, stain resistant and easy-care clothing, look for PFC-free and PFAS-free products – there are brands out there that specialise in reducing your risk.
You sit on them, lie on them, rub your face on them. So you’d hope that sofas and other soft furnishings and fabrics are safe. Under current UK regulations, a lot of furniture has to be treated with flame retardants to reduce fire risk. But some of those flame retardants turn out to be endocrine disruptors – not so nice. And what’s more, over time the chemical coatings separate from the furniture and hang around as dust in the house. Furniture may also be treated with stain repellents, and the chemicals used to do this can be harmful.
Fortunately you don’t have to compromise fire safety to keep nasty chemicals out of the lounge, as certain materials can meet fire regulations without the use of flame retardants.
It might surprise you to learn that till receipts, which many of us handle every day when we pop to the shop at lunchtime or to pick up something for dinner, may contain endocrine disrupting chemicals called bisphenols.
There are ways that you can avoid harmful chemicals in receipts, including asking for a digital receipt, separating receipts from food, and not storing receipts in your purse or wallet.
Baby products – advice for parents
Babies and young children are particularly vulnerable to harmful chemicals as they are still developing.
Certain chemicals can interfere with the body’s hormone system, which is particularly concerning for babies developing in the womb. Endocrine disruptors can also affect the health of the reproductive systems of both men and women.
Fortunately, there are some steps you can take to reduce your and your baby’s risk of exposure to harmful chemicals, such as from food packaging, nappies, toiletries, children’s clothing and toys.