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Carcinogens in the Home

7 Ways to Cancer-Proof Your Home

By , Caring.com senior editor
97% helpful
beauty-lipstick

You wouldn't feed your family a food that you knew caused cancer. But what if you're spraying a cancer-causing chemical every time you clean your sink? In the past few years, consumer health groups have studied many household products and warned that they contain carcinogens, or ingredients known to cause cancer. Here are the prime products to send packing, along with safer replacements to substitute.

If it's hard for you to avoid these products, don't panic. In most cases, the likelihood that using them will tip you from no cancer to cancer is actually pretty small. Still, little risks can add up, and who wouldn't want to eliminate potential hazards from the home if it's not too onerous to do so?

1. Beauty Products and Cancer

Your makeup bag and medicine cabinet may be hazardous to your health, containing chemicals that are known carcinogens. Philip Landrigan, dean of Global Health at Mount Sinai School of Medicine, advises avoiding the "dirty dozen" toxic chemicals in skin care listed in National Geographic's Green Guide, including antibacterials; formaldehyde; hydroquinone; mercury and lead; parabens; phenylenediamine; coal tar; diethanolamine; 1,4-Dioxane; nanoparticles; and petroleum distillates.

According to Landrigan, chemicals belonging to a class called phthalates are among the biggest culprits in beauty products because they mimic the action of our natural hormones. Phthalates such as dibutyl phthalate (DBP), dimethyl phthalate (DMP), and diethyl phthalate (DEP) are used in beauty products as "plasticizers," to harden nail polish, help hair spray adhere to the hair, and fix scent in perfumes. Phthalates are also found in the flexible plastic bottles in which shampoo, lotion, and other beauty products are stored, and they can leach into the contents.

Another of the worst offenders is lipstick, which may contain lead, known to cause numerous health problems, including cancer. In response to a public health effort by the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, the FDA recently conducted two separate investigations testing lipsticks for lead, and the results were pretty scary. Lead was detected in every single one of the lipsticks tested, and not in small amounts. The first FDA test revealed lead levels up to 3.06 ppm (parts per million), and the second test found lead levels up to 7.19 ppm.

Lastly, be aware that beauty labels are not always honest. In one recent study, keratin-based hair straighteners labeled "formaldehyde-free" were found to contain formaldehyde. While the levels found were fairly low, stylists are at risk because of repeated exposure.

Safer substitute: The generic term "fragrance" can cover a lot of chemical additives; choose fragrance-free products or fragrances made from botanical ingredients. Natural skin care and beauty companies sell natural and organic skin care lines that list their ingredients transparently and are free of phthalates, heavy metals such as lead, and other toxic chemicals.