By Elizabeth Schultz, Certified Integrative Health Coach/Environmental Toxin Specialist
“As consumers, we have so much power to change the world by just being careful in what we buy.”
~ Emma Watson
This is a companion piece to Amy’s guest post on 100 Days of Real Food that ran in back in July. The closer you look, you will begin to realize that nothing is safe when it comes to greenwashing practices. From personal care products and cleaners, to home goods and food! But, as we ALWAYS recommend, you need to learn to be your own health advocate!
So, here are just a few ways you are possibly being duped and how to be a more informed consumer:
The Fake Out: A perfect example of this is when something claims to be BPA-free. I’m sure you have seen this label a lot lately and that’s great, all things should be BPA-free because the chemical BPA does not play well with our bodies! That is because Bisphenol-A (BPA) (bis-FEN-al A) can be absorbed and ingested in our bodies and act as a synthetic estrogen. It is capable of blocking or mimicking our own natural hormones which can lead to a host of health issues, including reproductive system abnormalities, cancer, diabetes, impaired brain and neurological functions, cardiovascular system damage, early onset puberty and obesity.
BPA is just one of a number of bisphenols primarily used to harden polycarbonate plastics, but it is also used in the lining of metal cans, in dental sealants and on cash register receipts. It is great that companies are talking about BPA. But many products that claim to be BPA-free don’t tell you that there was never BPA present in the first place! I recently saw this on sandwich baggies which don’t typically use BPA in the mix and oddly enough, I have even seen this on glass and stainless-steel products which are not even plastic! Just make sure you are not paying more for the “BPA-free” version when it is completely unnecessary.
Bait and Switch: To dig deeper in the BPA-free craze, there is another more pressing problem to be aware of. When they remove BPA, it is often just replaced with another form of Bisphenol, like BPF or BPS! All of which have an equally negative impact on your health and are no better. Of course, you won’t see that on the label!
The Secret Recipe: One of my biggest pet peeves is FRAGRANCE in personal care products and household cleaners. Unless, of course, it is derived from natural oils or floral essences. But because of company’s proprietor secret recipes, “fragrance” can be the same chemical cocktail that is found in toilet bowl cleaners! So, we look for fragrance-free, right? No! What a lot of folks don’t realize is that fragrance-free is often no better. A product that is “fragrance free” is sometimes made by using chemicals to mask the fragrance! It is best to look for Phthalate-free to ensure that there are no secret chemicals in the mix. Phthalates are plasticizers that hold fragrance for a long time and act as a fixative for fragrance. They are used to make things both smell good and sadly to cover smells!
Oops, We Left Out That Little Detail: Shifting gears here a bit, there is a little trade secret that says if the amount present is small enough in a product, it doesn’t need to be on the label. A perfect example of this practice is with trans fats. If the quantity is low enough, companies can say trans-fat free!
Color Blinding: Ok, so it’s one thing to fall prey to “green” terms, I mean we all want to do better, right? But what is even worse, is when we get duped by “pinkwashing”.
Pinkwashing: Breast Cancer Action coined the term pinkwashing as part of their Think Before You Pink® campaign.
Pinkwasher: (pink’-wah-sher) noun. A company or organization that claims to care about breast cancer by promoting a pink ribbon product, but at the same time produces, manufactures and/or sells products that are linked to the disease. *
It’s Breast Cancer Awareness month so please know we are in no way condemning the efforts of those committed to helping with breast cancer awareness and research. But, just because it has a pink ribbon on it does not mean it is safe! When it comes to products that you ingest, absorb, or inhale, we just want everyone to make sure you are using items that are free of chemicals that could potentially cause cancer.
A lot of these pink ribbon products are loaded with Parabens, Phthalates, and many other chemicals that can be very detrimental to your health. You may be contributing to cancer research by buying these products but you may also be contributing to the disease by buying these products!
What do we do to protect ourselves in this pseudo-green market?
1. Well first of all, avoid plastic! I could go on and on but that’s another topic. By avoiding plastic, you can avoid the bisphenols all together! Instead, opt for glass or stainless steel as a more sustainable replacement.
2. Next, be a label reader and familiarize yourself with chemical terms to be wary of, especially Phthalates and Parabens. These are two of the most common disruptive chemicals found in personal care products. One of the easiest ways to do that is a great resource you can download right on your phone, the Environmental Working Group’s Healthy Living app. You can scan the barcodes of the products you are considering buying while you are in the store and see how they rate before you buy them. This is a favorite of ours although note that not all products are in the database. You can also visit EWG’s Skin Deep online for a larger database or download “Think Dirty!” which is another helpful barcode scanning option and app for your phone. We also love companies that make it easy to shop for clean products. Beautycounter not only offers products that are effective and safe, but they are committed to a health and safety standard that goes well beyond what’s required by U.S. law. Their Never List is a handy guide, too, listing questionable or harmful chemicals to avoid.
3. Lastly, don’t fall prey to the latest craze of eco-buzzwords. Instead research and find the companies that are really walking the talk and support their efforts. As always, you cast a vote for safer products with every dollar you spend. And by being true green and chemical-free consumers, you are not only protecting your health but also the health of the planet!
If you want more: check out our latest appearance about Greenwashing on Charlotte Today!
* Resource – http://thinkbeforeyoupink.org/about-us/