Three Ingredients That Aren’t Good For You or The Environment

It can be easy to get into a routine when buying consumer goods. Unfortunately, products we once assumed were safe are being thrown into the spotlight for unsafe ingredients that have taken their toll on human health and the environment.

Educate yourself on these three ingredients you should avoid to make healthier consumer decisions going forward.

Phthalates in medications

Phthalates are a class of chemicals used to increase the flexibility of plastic. They’re present in a number of products including carpeting, shower curtains, food & beverage containers, and even certain prescription and over-the-counter medications. Phthalate exposure has been linked to hormone disruption and may also increase the risk of miscarriage and gestational diabetes.

The pharmaceutical industry utilizes phthalates in a medication’s enteric coating, or polymer barrier, to prevent disintegration of the drug in the stomach. The FDA and U.S. Department of Health have published regulatory information advising the industry to avoid phthalates in medications, yet these recommendations are not legally enforceable.

Look for words on medication labels like “enteric coated” or “time release,” since these drugs may make use of phthalates. For over-the-counter medications, check the label’s inactive ingredients for the world “phthalate” and consider switching to options that are phthalate-free.

Talcum powder in personal care products

Talcum powder is used in a variety of personal care products because of its ability to keep the skin dry. Lotions, deodorants, and baby powder may still include the ingredient today despite its link to ovarian cancer and mesothelioma.

Johnson & Johnson’s Baby Powder and Shower-to-Shower products have recently come under fire for their inclusion of the ingredient. Over 5,000 women have filed claims against the family brand, assigning blame for their ovarian cancer diagnoses. Out of nine high-profile cases, six have sided with the plaintiffs, resulting in millions of dollars in damages. Talcum powder is completely banned as an ingredient in the European Union, yet it is still allowed by the FDA.

Health risks aren’t the only downside to the use of talcum powder. Unsafe talc mining practices in parts of the world have devastated local wildlife; India’s efforts to protect endangered tigers are a prime example. 

Oxybenzone in sunscreen

Check for sunscreen’s inclusion of the ingredient oxybenzone. Hawaii recently passed legislation to ban sunscreens with the organic compound after studies indicate it has played a role in the destruction of coral reefs.

Oxybenzone is found in 65% of non-mineral sunscreens due to its ability to block UV rays. But, human health risks have also been linked to the ingredient, including newborn developmental concerns and reduced male fertility.

The FDA treats sunscreen like over-the-counter medications rather than cosmetics, resulting in a stricter approval process for new ingredients. The agency attempted to streamline this approval process in 2014 with the Sunscreen Innovation Act, but new ingredients for safety purposes still haven’t been approved since the 1990s.

To protect both your health and the environment all summer long, consult the Environmental Working Group’s 2018 Guide to Sunscreens for recommendations on the safest options.

By Morgan Statt, health & safety investigator focused on trending consumer issues and product safety. Follow her organization Consumer Safety on Twitter for news alerts, recalls, and the latest stories in consumer wellness.

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