Can a shower curtain be bad for your health? It can if it contains phthalates. Phthalates are just some of over 800 chemicals that are labeled as endocrine disruptors. These chemicals are toxic for a number of reasons. They may mimic estrogen, androgen or thyroid hormones and cause your body to respond to them inappropriately. Or they may block, stimulate or inhibit these hormones. By interfering in your hormone system, there is growing evidence that these chemicals are responsible for a wide range of health problems.
Endocrine disruptors are found in many products. Sandwich bags, air fresheners, dryer sheets, perfumes, sunscreens, cleaning products, laundry detergents, flame retardants, pesticides, cosmetics, shampoo, conditioners and vinyl shower curtains can all be suspect. One widely known endocrine disruptor is bisphenol-A or BPA. This chemical is found in plastics and is the reason many people choose glass water bottles over plastic.
In February 2013, the United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP) and the World Health Organization (WHO) released a new report: State of the Science of Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals 2012. According to this study, endocrine disruptors are linked to high rates of endocrine-related cancers, such as breast, ovarian, prostate, testicular and thyroid cancers; low semen quality; genital malfunctions such as non-descended testes; adverse pregnancy outcomes; obesity; and Type 2 diabetes. But the effects don’t stop with humans. The report also finds reproductive defects, infertility and antler malformations in some Alaskan deer populations and population decline in some species of otters and sea lions. Clearly, it’s a good idea to minimize your exposure to these chemicals.
1. Reduce household fragrances. Keep your house fresh and clean without using air fresheners. Give your carpets and rugs a cleaning but remember to clean or change the vacuum filter first for maximum freshness. Open the windows. Put a bouquet of roses on the table. If your home smells stale, put a few drops of essential oils on cotton balls and leave them around the house.
2. Throw out the dryer sheets. Use homemade dryer sheets. Combine ½ cup vinegar with 6-8 drops of grapefruit, orange, lemon or tea tree essential oils. Spritz this solution on an old washcloth until moist and throw it in your dryer with your clothes.
3. Use green laundry detergents.
4. Use green cleaning products. You can clean most things with vinegar, baking soda, pure soap and a little determination.
5. Avoid perfumes. Use essential oils or, better yet, use no scent at all.
6. Choose your sunscreens wisely.
7. Buy natural cosmetics. Many cosmetics contain chemicals that may be endocrine disruptors but figuring out which ones are safe can be tricky. There are many cosmetic ingredients and sources disagree about their hazards. As a general rule, European standards are stricter than in the US so look for European brands. In addition to changing your cosmetics, you can reduce your exposure to endocrine disruptors by using cosmetics less often.
8. Use natural shampoos and conditioners. Use vinegar or baking soda solutions to clean your hair.
9. Store your food in glass. Phthalates make plastics soft and are found in sandwich bags and other pliable plastics. Fats absorb phthalates more easily than water, so be especially careful to store fatty foods in glass. Avoid heating or freezing food in plastic because extreme temperatures release the phthalates.