Body Toxins and Their Sources

This page is updated often. Last updated: 18 Sept 2010

Children today are born pre-polluted.[7]

There are over 200 industrial chemicals, pesticides and other contaminants that cause cancer.[7] Many of these chemicals are contained in and listed on the back of your beauty and household products not to mention their appearance as food additives.

After watching The Story of Cosmetics, I started reading the labels on products in my bathroom, kitchen and laundry. Of course, I knew I was using toxic stuff but I didn't want to deal with the reality.

But after seeing that video on toxic cosmetics I went through my bathroom and started reading labels and looking up the ingredients. After an afternoon of obsessive research I felt overwhelmed and briefly terrified.

Then I started to think about the impact not just on me but on the environment. I shampoo my hair: the chemicals go down the drain. I wash my clothes: the chemicals go down the drain. I have no idea what happens to the sewage water after it is treated or even if the treatment removes the chemicals. Apparently not. The more I read, the more I learned: so many of these chemicals are found in our waterways, in our soil, in the air, in the dyes of our clothes.

Potentially Everything I Use Today Is Toxic

The keys on my computer keyboard. The desk my elbows are resting on. The fabric in the cushion of my office chair. And of course any and all of the plastic containers in my kitchen, my storage closet.

The more I learned the more I feel exactly that which I wished to avoid: overwhelmed and hopeless. Even if I stop using chemical-laden products today, it will be hard to avoid toxins in the water, in food, in the air. They are ubiquitous. Still, I've made a commitment to myself not to purchase products that contain toxic and harmful chemicals; to find healthy natural replacements even if it means I have to make my own.

This shouldn't be hard. I am not a big beauty products user. I found lipsticks too drying (no wonder). Makeup clogged my pores and made me itch (no wonder). The one cosmetic vanity I still want to use but lately irritates my eyes is mascara. It makes my eyes burn, so I almost stopped using it. And I am already very particular about bathing with only vegetable based soaps. I've had too many allergic reactions (no wonder) to shampoos and soaps.

There are many many chemical or ingredient lookup resources available on the internet. My list below is a measily start but by compiling this, it helps me become personally aware and knowledgeable about the toxins that threaten the health of my family, my friends, the environment...all of us.

The big question now is how to detox the body of chemicals? Or what about a heavy metal detox?

Check out our body cleanse page for a list of detox programs and references. See also our detox naturally page for information about your body's own detox mechanisms.

And since becoming obsessed with less toxic and more green living I discovered the book at the left.

Contributing Editor Gigi Gerow

Toxin List

Aluminum, Aluminium

Aluminium zirconium, aluminium chlorohydrate. A heavy metal. Found in deodorants (specifically antiperspirants), antacids, non-dairy creamers and table salt. Beware also of cooking with aluminum pots and pans or consuming food stuffs that are stored in aluminum containers including foil.

Health Impact

  • Chronic exposure to aluminum compounds implicated as a cause of Alzheimer's Disease.
  • All heavy metals are toxic to the kidney and may contribute to the formation of kidney stones.

Aspartame - aspartic acid

A wood alcohol compound found in artificial sweeteners including NutraSweet, Equal, and Spoonful. Also found in diet drinks and over 5000 other food products.[1],[8]

Health Impact

  • Causes Methanol Toxicity which causes multiple sclerosis like symptoms.
  • Like MSG implicated as a cause of migraines.
  • Implicated as a cause of cancer.

BPA - Bisphenol A

A chemical...a synthetic estrogen...used in a variety of items but most commonly associated with plastics. National survey shows high exposure. Avoid plastics with #7 printed on the bottom.

Health Impact

  • Implicated in everything from breast cancer to obesity, higher cardiovascular disease, diabetes and liver enzyme abnormalities.[10]
  • Disrupts hormone functions.

Dryer Sheets

Those little smell-good sheets you put in your clothes dryer to to eliminate static. They are composed primarily of toxic synthetic perfumes that cling to your clothes and then penetrate your skin. Give them up and instead: try a few drops of essential oil on a cottonball.

Health Impact

Excitotoxins - Flavor Enhancers

Includes food additives such as MSG and aspartame. [9]

Health Impact

  • See MSG and aspartame.
  • Destroys brain cells; implicated in seizures and strokes.

Flouride

A mineral that occurs naturally in water with high mineral content. In small doses strengthens developing teeth and bones. In excessive amounts it is toxic.[11] Flouride has become an environmental toxin, used in a variety of household products in these formS:

  • sodium monofluorophosphate
  • sodium fluoride
  • ammonium bifluoride

Health Impact

Toxic levels:

Formaldehyde

A colorless gas that occurs naturally in the environment but not normally in living organisms. Toxic chemicals in the form of parabens are used as preservatives and they release small quantities of formaldehyde into beauty products.

Health Impact

  • Causes contact dermatitis.

Lead

Another heavy metal, lead contaminates the water, air and soil from a variety of polluting sources: old paints, gasoline, lead pipes. Lead poisoning is also an occupational hazard. Even lipsticks contain lead: Lead found in 61% of lipsticks including Revlon, Cover Girl, Body Shop, L'Oreal and Maybelline brands.

Health Impact

  • Lead poisoning affects the functioning of many organs.
  • Lead affects the development the nervous system so is particularly dangerous for children.
  • There is no safe level of contamination.

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heavy metals and other contaminants from your tap water.
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Mercury and Methylmercury

A heavy metal mercury is used in thermometers and dental amalgams. Mercury occurs naturally in the environment but is also released into the air by industrial behavior. Mercury released into the air accumulates in our water ways including the ocean and gets converted to methylmercury. Methylmercury is the mercury that is absorbed by fish and poses the greatest health problem through dietary consumption. [5].

Health Impact

  • Mercury poisoning can affect vision, hearing and speech.
  • Listed by the State of California as chemical known to cause cancer.[12]

MSG - Monosodium Glutamate

A flavor enhancer. Commonly used in Chinese cooking but appears in many packaged and processed foods. Not always listed as an ingredient because it may be an ingredient in some other ingredient. For example: natural beef flavouring or yeast extract or sodium caseinate, etc. A label that reads No MSG is the safest bet. See also Aspartame.

Health Impact

  • An "accepted scientific fact" that MSG causes migraines.[3]
  • Water retention.
  • Skin problems
  • See excitotoxins

Natural

Natural is a term that is used and abused on all sorts of product labels from cosmetics to household cleaners. There is no regulated standard and you simply cannot trust a manufacturer's use of this word. Check the labels.

Health Impact

  • Products labelled natural may in fact be full of toxic ingredients from cancer causing carcinogens to organ damaging and allergy-causing chemicals.

Parabens (para-hydroxybenzoate, p-hydroxybenzoic acid, methylparaben, propylparaben)

Preservatives used in thousands of beauty products[4].

Health Impact

  • Disrupts hormone functions and implicated in breast cancer.

Perfluorochemicals (PFCs)

Widely used in repellants and found in most people. Teflon, Scotchgard, Stainmaster and Gore-Tex. How to Avoid PFC's.

Health Impact

  • Disrupts development and hormone functions; affects fertility in both men and women.

Phthalates

Used in plastics and synthetic fragrances. Avoid any beauty product that lists fragrance as an ingredient unless it states specifically what type of fragrance is added.

Health Impact

  • Disrupts hormone functions.

Propylene Glycol

Used for a big long list of things including as a humectant (moisturiser) in beauty products, as a carrier for fragrances, as a solvent in pharmaceuticals and as a food additive. According to Aubrey Organics Dictionary of Natural Ingredients propylene glycol should ideally consist of vegetable glycerine and grain alchohol but there are petrochemical synthetic variations so who knows which labels can be trusted.

Health Impact

Polyethylene Glycol (PEG), Polypropylene Glycol (PPG)

Synthetic ingredients used to enhance penetration and thus harmful in conjunction with other chemicals. Beauty products often contain more than 50% of this chemical. A neurotoxin, originally developed as an antifreeze.

Health Impact

  • Small concentrations produce eye and skin irritation.
  • Causes contact dermatitis, damages liver, damages kidney.
  • Chronic exposure can cause gastro-intestinal disturbances, nausea, headache, vomiting, and central nervous depression.[2]

Sulphates (Sodium Lauryl/Laureth Sulphate [SLS]
Sodium Lauryl Ether Sulphate [SLES])

A synthetic detergent and surfactant (foaming agent) found in shampoos, toothpaste, soaps, liquid soaps and other beauty and household products. Do not be fooled if a label says "comes from coconut".

Health Impact

  • Eye, scalp and skin irritant.
  • Causes allergic reactions.
  • Implicated in the presence of the carcinogen 1,4 dioxane found in beauty products.

Teflon (PFOA - perfluorooctanoic acid)

A PFC, teflon is a non-stick coating used in cooking utensils. Found in most people.[6]

Health Impact

  • Implicated as a human carcinogen.

Triclosan

An antibacterial agent used in soaps, detergents, beauty products especially deodorants. Becomes an environmental threat as it ends up in waterways. Toxic to aquatic life. Has turned up in breast milk. See this Triclosan Guide.

Health Impact

  • Reacts with the chlorine in tap water and produces the carcinogen chloroform.
  • When exposed to ultraviolet light (e.g. sunshine) it degrades and in the process creates the carcinogen dioxin.
  • Disrupts hormone functions.
  • Causes liver damage.

References

[1] Snopes.com on Aspartame

[2] Propylene glycol monomethyl ether Material Safety Data Sheet, National Institute for Occupational Healthy and Safety.

[3] MSG: Alternative Cures: More than 1,000 of the Most Effective Natural Home Remedies - p342

[4] Parabens: Journal of Applied Toxicology 24, 5-13 (2004)

[5] Mercury: EPA Advisory

[6] Teflon: Environmental Working Group Advisory

[7] Cancer Causing Chemicals: Preventing Cancer: Nine Practical Tips for Consumers

[8] Aspartame: Center for Science in the Public Interest Food Additives List

[9] Excitotoxins: The Taste That Kills

[10] Chemicals in our Food and Bodies, Op-Ed Dr Nicholas D Kristoff, NY Times, Nov 7, 2009.

[11] The Dark Truth About Flouride, Care2 Eric Steinman.

[12] FDA Panel Reviews Health Safety of Mercury Amalgam Fillings, ABC News.

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