Spring Clean Your Air: 5 Tips to Reduce Allergens & Hidden Health Hazards in Your Home Part 1

Springtime with its fresh blooms and high pollen counts, is typically the time when the allergy-prone suffer most. Most of us dismiss our sneezing, wheezing, drippy noses and goopy eyes as the inevitable result of this sequence of events and pop a few antihistamines or cold tablets to manage the symptoms without a second thought. But what if the cause of your allergy misery was the result of something else?

The simple truth is, there are numerous hidden health threats in your home that can cause allergies and other health problems year-round. If you suffer from chronic allergies, there are ways to reduce or eliminate your exposure to these hazards if you know where to look for them.

Here are two of the five hidden (and not-so-hidden) hazards in your home that may be contributing to your misery and what you can do to eliminate them:

    1. Common Household Cleaning and Laundry Products to Die For

      Many of the everyday house hold cleaning products we use are loaded with ammonia, bleach, and a host of dangerous chemicals that can burn your lungs, eyes, nose, and skin –if not used with great caution. Most laundry detergents, fabric softeners, and even dishwashing liquid are made with synthetic fragrances containing phthalates — chemicals used by industry to soften plastics that have been shown to be endocrine disruptors.All those noxious smells can be extremely irritating and harmful especially when you come in frequent or constant contact with them. The good news is there are a growing selection of plant-based, chlorine-, ammonia- and phosphate-free detergents and multi-purpose cleaners to choose from. Or you can make your own safe, highly effective and “green” cleaning products from ingredients like baking soda, washing soda, borax, white vinegar, castile soap, and essential oils.

 

  1. Synthetic Air Fresheners & Scented Candles with Leaded Wicks

    According to one Consumer Product Safety Commission study, as many as 40% of candles on the market still contained lead wires inside their wicks. A candle with a lead-core wick has been shown to release five times the amount of lead considered hazardous for childrenand exceeds EPA pollution standards for outdoor air.It’s now believed that frequent candle burning –especially synthetically scented candles– is a major source of soot and toxic exposure because the chemicals (i.e. phthalates) used in “fragrance” oils tend to soften the wax, increasing the need to add metals to the wicks to stiffen them. Though candle soot is primarily composed of elemental carbon, it can include phthalates, lead, and other toxic ingredients such as benzene and tuolene.

    Scented aerosol sprays, gels, and plug-in air fresheners contain harmful chemicals linked to breathing difficulties, developmental problems in babies, and cancer in laboratory animals.

    Using essential oils in a diffuser or in a water-based aromatherapy spray is a perfectly safe and healthy way to scent your home. And certain essential oils like eucalyptus, peppermint, rosemary and lavender, can assist with sinus congestion associated with allergies, reduce stress, and enhance wellbeing. Always use candles made from 100% vegetable (soy) wax or beeswax with coreless cotton wicks, and scented with essential oils only.

Focus on Prevention: What is Your Body Burden?

You’ve probably noticed that my focus for the past week or so has been on prevention. Taking pro-active preventive measures to protect yourself from unnecessary harm –first in the arena of personal care and beauty, then in the area of medicine consumption. Because those are areas that you have a lot more control over and are relatively easy to manage.

But now I’d like to focus on areas that are hidden sources of trouble and that are a little more difficult to manage –mainly exposure to environmental toxins—because in many cases they are difficult to detect. One indicator of how much you’re being affected by exposure to toxic or potentially toxic substances, and how that might impact your health is something called your “body burden.”

What is your body burden? It’s a measurement of the total amount of synthetic chemicals, heavy metals, and other substances that build up in your body over time –starting with exposures you had as a fetus in the womb.

The Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which tests the “body burden” of chemicals every two years, finds the average American now has 116 synthetic compounds in her body, including dioxin (produced by burning plastic), polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (found in auto exhaust) and organochlorine pesticides (found in farming areas).

Recent studies have detected these pesticides, plastics and polymers not only in umbilical cord blood, but also in the placenta, human milk and the bloodstreams and body fat of infants. Though some of these chemicals pass through body systems in a matter of days, some maintain a long-term presence because exposure is constant. Exposures add up, as they say.

Scientists say women are especially sensitive to synthetic chemicals because these substances can interfere with female hormone cycles and because they adhere to body fat that is more prevalent in women than in men.

Voluntary bio-monitoring programs are key to driving the scientific research to determine and ultimately eliminate or limit unnecessary exposures. However programs like this take time and given what we already know and are constantly discovering, it would be prudent to start embracing “best practices” now rather than waiting for conclusive evidence –at which point the damage for many may be irreversible.

Health advocates are encouraging consumers to shun pesticides, remove outdoor shoes in the house, choose fragrance- and toxin-free products, use baby bottles that are free of a carcinogenic chemical called bisphenol-A and press authorities for stricter laws and more studies.

Give Your Bathroom Cabinet a Spring Cleaning: What Products Are Safe?

When you consider how many personal care products are on the market today and how few have actually been tested for safety it’s hard to know how to choose products that are safe. The best thing you can do is stick with products made from natural, plant-based vs. synthetic ingredients –ones that are identifiable and even familiar.

Look for soaps and moisturizers made with vegetable and nut oils (preferably unrefined) like jojoba, coconut, olive oil, hemp seed, sunflower, high-oleic safflower or shea butter. These are ingredients that work with your skin to keep it hydrated and protected and will not clog pores or interfere with your skin’s ability to produce it’s own natural and protective sebum.

Replace your anti-bacterial Triclosan-based products with ones made with Tea Tree essential oil and Lavender alcohols. Instead of propylene glycol, looks for products made with vegetable glycerin and aloe vera juice or gel. And avoid products preserved with parabens.

For an added measure of security, look for products that are certified organic or made with certified organic ingredients. And don’t be fooled by products that combine synthetic ingredients with natural ones. While the natural ingredients may be helpful they don’t cancel out the toxic or unhealthy effects of the other ingredients.

Don’t forget that many of the ingredients that are harmful to you, are also harmful to the environment, both on the manufacturing and production side and on the back-end as they make their way down toilets and drains and into our riverbeds and streams altering the ecological landscape.

You may be shocked and even dismayed to learn that you are using a lot of products made with suspicious and potentially toxic ingredients. But take heart! There are many natural plant-based alternatives out there with new ones coming into the marketplace everyday. With that in mind, don’t be too hard on yourself. Just get your spring-cleaning done by resolving to green your personal care routine first. This will motivate you to explore other ways you can deepen the sustainability of your lifestyle and make more healthy conscious choices.