There might be dangerous chemicals in your tap water — here’s how to stay safe

Remember the movie “Erin Brockovich”? Of course, you do.

But unless you’ve rewatched it recently, you may not remember that Brockovich—in real life, and in the movie—was fighting a company suspected of polluting a small California town’s drinking water with a cancer-causing contaminant called chromium-6 (aka, hexavalent chromium).

Fast-forward 20 years, and it may shock you to learn that chromium-6 is still a threat to 218 million Americans, including residents of every state. That’s just one of the many findings of a just-released Environmental Working Group (EWG) report on the state of our nation’s drinking water.

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“We’ve known about chromium-6 since Erin Brockovich, but it’s still a pervasive problem, and there’s no federal legal standard for it,” says Nneka Leiba, MPH, the director of Healthy Living Science at the EWG.

Unfortunately, chromium-6 isn’t the only dangerous chemical of concern. After examining data from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and almost 50,000 public water systems across the nation, the EWG found 267 different contaminants in our nation’s water supply—more than half of which have no established legal limit.

How could this be, you ask? “The Environmental Protection Agency hasn’t put a new contaminant on its regulated list since 1996, which is when the Clean Water Act was passed. We’ve learned so much more about chemicals since then, but we still haven’t made any improvements in our policies,” Leiba explains.

Arsenic, lead, the agricultural herbicide Atrazine, perchlorate, and perfluorinated chemicals are just a handful of the hundreds of contaminants the EWG found to be widespread in public tap water systems. Many of these chemicals have been shown to be carcinogenic, impair thyroid function, and cause harm to fetal growth and development.

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When asked for a response, an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) spokesperson was quick to point out that “more than 90 percent of the country’s drinking water systems meet all of EPA’s health-based drinking water standards” and that the EPA has “set drinking water standards for more than 90 contaminants, including microorganisms, disinfectants, disinfection byproducts, inorganic and organic chemicals, and radionuclides.”

How you can protect yourself

Start by plugging your zip code into the EWG’s database to learn what contaminants are in your local tap water.

  • The 11 safest nontoxic cleaners (plus what to avoid)
  • Wearable health trackers: Do they work?
  • 20 ways to never get cancer
  • 7 lemon water swaps you’ll actually be excited to sip
  • Your bottled water has 24,500 chemicals

Next, check out the EWG water filter guide and buy one, stat. You can input contaminants of concern and find filters that are third-party certified by NSF International, a product testing, inspection, and certification organization.

“In most cases, activated carbon water filters will reduce many or all contaminants,” Leiba says, referring to the pitcher-style water filters many of us already use. “Having one is especially important if there’s a vulnerable population in your house—someone who is pregnant or sick, or a baby,” Leiba says. (One EWG-approved filter to try: Brita Chrome 8-Cup Water Filter Pitcher, $40, amazon.com)

Put your water filter to good use with this de-bloating sassy water recipe:

One thing you shouldn’t do: turn to bottled water.

“In many cases, bottled water is just filtered tap water, so it’s the same thing you’d get using a filter,” Leiba says. “But bottled water is much more expensive, and it can also expose you to contaminants leaching into your water from the plastic bottle itself.”

Protecting future generations

Leiba says we all need to “raise our voices” and let elected officials know we need greater source-water protections and infrastructure upgrades (contact information for local government officials can be found on USA.gov.) “Our water utilities are constantly dealing with the influx of contaminants, but the onus isn’t only on the utility,” she says. “They’re usually within federal safety limits, but being within federal limits does not mean our water is safe. In many cases, we’ve done the science and the testing, and we know that these contaminants are unsafe, but there’s been no action taken.”

10 Reasons to Go Makeup Free

Going without makeup has become something of a trend in recent years. Heidi Klum has done it, so have Kate Moss and Brooke Shields. HuffPost Live hosts Caitlyn Becker and Caroline Modarressy Tehrani also did it. Beyond the need to keep up to date with fashion trends, there are some good reasons to go makeup free. Here are ten of them to get you started.

1. Your Skin Will Get Healthier
Makeup was never intended to improve your health, only your appearance. It does the latter very well in some cases, but the former quite poorly. Continuous, daily makeup use can actually increase wrinkling and cause your skin to age faster. A break from makeup is a great way to improve moisture, reduce blemishes, and help clear up complexion. Focusing on improving the health of your skin, rather than concealing it, is a major benefit of going without makeup.

2. Time
Applying makeup takes time, time that you could spend doing something else you enjoy. If you do something that brings you joy, you’ll be a happier, healthier person. That said, personal time spent “getting ready,” whether its first thing in the morning or before a night on the town, can also be relaxing and help you prepare for what lies ahead. Even if you aren’t applying makeup, take the time to wash your face, comb your hair, and get into the right mindset for tackling your next task.

3. It Lightens Your Load
Applying makeup is never a once and done event. You have to check it, re-check it, and re-apply it throughout the day and night. If you don’t wear makeup, then you don’t have to carry a bagful of cosmetics with you everywhere you go. You’ll be lighter, freer, and you’ll spend more time engaged with the world around you because you won’t be checking your makeup in the mirror several times per hour.

4. It Improves Your Confidence
This may seem counterintuitive, but if you are the type that regards makeup as a sort of shield, then going without it can help you improve your sense of self-worth. You are likely to find that people love you just as much without makeup as they do with it. Knowing that people like you for you is a powerful boost to self-esteem.

5. True Love
Believe it or not, many men prefer women with little or no makeup. They find the real you attractive and interesting. If you meet the guy of your dreams sans makeup and he engages with you, then you never have to worry about waking up next to him with unkempt hair and eye crud. He loves you, not your makeup.

6. Harsh Chemicals
As much as cosmetics manufacturers work to make makeup safe and healthy, they can’t avoid or even know about all of the effects that arise from putting chemicals onto your skin. More important than the makeup itself, however, are the products used to remove it, which are relatively harsh chemicals.

7. Vitamin D
Okay, this sounds a bit weird, but remember that sunlight helps your skin convert precursors of vitamin D into the active product that helps build bone. Vitamin D is critical to good bone health and covering your skin with makeup actually reduces the amount of sunlight reaching it. Do your bones a favor and let the sun make direct contact with your skin. It will also feel great. Just don’t forget the sunscreen!

8. Allergies
Makeup products contain large numbers of ingredients, any one of which can cause allergy. This is particularly true of people with sensitive skin, but even people who don’t have overt reactions to makeup may be increasing the level of inflammation in their bodies. In some cases, the reaction may develop over time, after years of exposure. To avoid allergic reactions, avoid makeup.

9. It May Harm Animals
Most makeups, even if not tested on animals, still contain ingredients that come from animals. If you want to be a friend to the animal world, then you’ll want to avoid makeup. You can use your choice to go makeup free as a message about your commitment to doing good in the name of animals.

10. It Saves Money
Estimates vary, but it is thought that the average woman spends about $300 per year on makeup. Choosing to reduce or eliminate makeup from your budget could be the difference between a vacation and staycation. A little time on a tropical island or the opportunity to get away from the bustle of daily life may do more to improve your appearance and your health than makeup ever could.

The truth is that makeup is not essential. Sometimes culture, habit, or personal insecurities lead us to believe that we need something that we really don’t. Try going a week or two without makeup and see how you feel. Most women feel happier and healthier without makeup, even if they only do it for a week or two every few months as a sort of holiday. How often do you go without makeup?

The Chemicals In Your Closet

If you’re here, that means you are interested in some aspect of healthy living. Maybe you are improving your diet, working on sleeping, or drinking more clean water.

You’re working to make sure that you are only ingesting healthy foods, and it’s important to make sure you aren’t using the unhealthy ones on the outside either!

Chemicals in Cleaners and Beauty Products

Most conventional beauty and cleaning products are full of questionable or outright dangerous chemicals that can be just as harmful to your body’s largest organ as the chemicals you ingest. If you’ve gone out of your way to clean up your diet, it is time to take the next step and clean up the rest of your life!

If you have kids, this is especially important as they are even more susceptible to chemicals in cleaning products, shampoos, lotions, plastics, air fresheners, laundry detergent, etc.

Unlike healthy eating, natural cleaning/ living is an area where it most definitely is CHEAPER to go the natural route. With a few master ingredients, you can keep you house and body clean for practically nothing. At my house, the ingredients I always keep on hand for cleaning are:

White Vinegar
Borax
Washing Soda
Baking Soda
Salt
Lemons
Liquid Castile Soap
For beauty/personal care, I can make practically everything with:

Coconut oil
Baking soda
Shea butter
Liquid Castile soap
Apple cider vinegar
Essential oils
Not Convinced?

Here are a few basic recipes for homemade cleaners and beauty products that you can easily make:

Natural Cleaning Recipes

Natural Homemade Laundry Detergent
Natural All-Purpose Cleaner Recipe
Natural Oven Cleaning
Natural Homemade Glass Cleaner Recipe
Easy Homemade Scouring Powder Recipe
Floor and Tile Cleaner Recipe

Health and Beauty Recipes

Natural Homemade Substitutes for Conventional Beauty Products
Seven Natural Remedies you Already Have at Home
Seven Natural Beauty Tricks From Your Kitchen
Natural Homemade Baby Wipes-Easy to Make
Make Your Own Natural Deodorant With This Simple Recipe
Natural Homemade Toothpaste- Easy Recipe
UPDATE: Remineralizing Toothpaste Recipe!
Natural Homemade Sunscreen Recipe
Natural Bug Spray Recipes that Work
Health Tonic: Vinegar of the Four Thieves

The Challenge

You are eating healthier, now its time to stop inundating your body with junk from the outside!

I challenge you to hit the bathroom counter, cabinets, under the kitchen sink, etc and get rid of all the chemical filled products that aren’t good for you or your skin! Some examples would be: all purpose cleaners, glass cleaners, disinfecting sprays, conventional deodorants, lotions, toothpastes, soaps, beauty products, etc. Give them to a toxic waste disposal place or, if you aren’t sure you are going to make the switch permanent, put them where you can’t use them for a month and see how you feel then!

3 Ways to Reduce Chemicals in Bath Water

Regular tap water can be a source of many chemicals from chlorine to fluoride and many others. At our house, we have a water filter for our drinking water and we also use filters on shower heads.

Since most of our kids are not old enough to take showers yet, I also wanted to find a good option for bath water. I’m yet to find a filter adapter for a bath tub, but I’ve told my dad (an engineer) that he needs to work on one of these!

In the meantime, I wanted to find ways to reduce the chemicals my children were exposed during bath time. My son had allergies and skin troubles since he was a baby (though we’ve almost completely eliminated them now) so this was especially important for him.

Chemicals in Bath Water?

In the 1990s, the Environmental Protection Agency acknowledged that a person can absorb more chlorine and other contaminants from bath and shower water than even from drinking water polluted with the same substances.

Unfortunately, this puts children most at risk, as some children bathe for 45 minutes or more several nights a week. Since children also have a larger surface-area-to-body-weight ratio, they may absorb chemicals more quickly and be more severely affected by them.

Children’s tissues, organs and biological systems are still developing, with several stages of rapid growth and development occurring from infancy to adolescence. This rapid development, combined with the immaturity of body organs and systems, predisposes children to potentially more severe consequences within certain age ranges and windows of vulnerability.”

These are the most common things we do to reduce the chemicals in bath water:

1. Vitamin C

Vitamin C is great for the immune system, but it can also play a role in reducing the chemicals in bath water. Most municipal water supplies use Chlorine to help reduce the number of pathogens in the water.

Unfortunately, the cure can sometimes be as bad as the disease,  as Chris Kresser says in this post:

“When chlorine is used as a water treatment, it combines with organic matter to form compounds called trihalomethanes (THMs), also known as disinfectant byproducts. One of the most common THMs formed is chloroform, which is a known carcinogen. (2) Other THMs formed include the di- and trichloramines formed when chloramine is used as a disinfecting agent. (3) These compounds are toxic when consumed, inhaled, or applied to the skin.”

Carbon block filters (like the one we use for drinking water) will remove chlorine, but they can be tough to use for shower/bath water. Another simple option is to use Vitamin C to neutralize the chlorine in bath water. Vitamin C will also neutralize Chloramine (chlorine and ammonia) which is also often used in treating water and which can be more dangerous than Chlorine.

Two forms of Vitamin C will work to neutralize chlorine more effectively:

  • Ascorbic Acid form of Vitamin C
  • Sodium Ascorbate form of Vitamin C

If you are interested in the chemical reactions and the by-products, you can find them here. Personally, I prefer to use Sodium Ascorbate form (I use this one) since it has less of an affect on the pH, but either form will work.

Just a teaspoon of either of the above forms of Vitamin C should be enough to neutralize a tub of water and it is best to put the powder in for a 2-5 minutes before getting in the bath to allow it to work.

If you aren’t a fan of having to add powder to the bath each time, there is actually a bath ball de-chlorinator that you can use to accomplish the same thing and it is good for over 200 baths! (This is the one we have)

2. Clay

Healing clays, like Bentonite Clay, bind to heavy metals in the body and help remove them. This same action can happen externally, and clay is often added to baths for detoxing.

One of my favorites is Bentonite Clay (from a previous post):

“Bentonite Clay is a unique clay due to its ability to produce an “electrical charge” when hydrated. Upon contact with fluid, its electrical components change, giving it the ability to absorb toxins. Bentonite is known for its ability to absorb and remove toxins, heavy metals, impurities, and chemicals.

As Mountain Rose Herbs explains:

“Bentonite is a swelling clay. When it becomes mixed with water it rapidly swells open like a highly porous sponge. From here the toxins are drawn into the sponge through electrical attraction and once there, they are bound.”

I use Bentonite Clay to detox my hair and as a “shampoo” of sorts, but I also regularly add bentonite clay to my kids’ bath after removing the chlorine.

Note: Don’t use metal when dealing with Bentonite, as it makes it less effective. I mix 2 tablespoons of Bentonite Clay with water in a glass jar with a plastic lid and shake well. I then pour this in to the bath after the chlorine has been removed. The two types of clay I’ve personally used and had good results with are:

  • Aztec Secrets Bentonite Clay
  • Redmond Clay

3. Salts & Minerals

I’ve written before (a lot) about magnesium (tired of hearing about it yet?). Due to depleted soil levels of magnesium and use of synthetic fertilizers, many of us don’t get enough magnesium. One of the easiest ways to help kids avoid this problem is to add these minerals to their bath water. From this article about Epsom Salt:

Studies have shown that magnesium and sulfate are both readily absorbed through the skin, making Epsom salt baths an easy and ideal way to enjoy the amazing health benefits. Magnesium plays a number of roles in the body including regulating the activity of over 325 enzymes, reducing inflammation, helping muscle and nerve function and helping to prevent artery hardening. Sulfates help improve the absorption of nutrients, flush toxins and help ease migraine headaches.

At our house, this is what I do:

“I regularly add a cup of epsom salts or magnesium flakes and a few tablespoons of Himalayan salt to my kids baths. When I have the time, I take relaxing baths in this mixture also.

When I can’t take the time for a bath, magnesium oil also helps. Amazingly, I notice the benefits of transdermal magnesium (baths or magnesium oil) much more quickly than when I take internal forms of magnesium.

My favorite Magnesium Bath Recipe

  • 1-2 cups of epsom salts or magnesium flakes(magnesium flakes are absorbed much more easily)
  • 1/2 cup Himalayan or Sea Salt
  • 1/2 tsp of natural vanilla extract
  • 10-15 drops of essential oil of choice (I love lavender and mint)

I mix the salt and magnesium flakes and then sprinkle with the vanilla and essential oil. The whole mixture gets added to a warm bath, and I soak for at least 20 minutes, though 30 is preferable.I try to make time for this at least once a week, though my kids get it added to their bath each night.

For intensive therapy (illness, eczema, etc.) these baths can be done daily, though you should check with a doctor if you have any medical conditions.”

Everyday chemicals linked to chronic disease in men

Phthalates are a group of chemicals widely used in common consumer products, such as food packaging and wrappings as seen in this photograph. (Stock image)

Chemicals found in everyday plastics materials are linked to cardiovascular disease, type-2 diabetes and high blood pressure in men, according to Australian researchers.

Researchers from the University of Adelaide and the South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute (SAHMRI) investigated the independent association between chronic diseases among men and concentrations of potentially harmful chemicals known as phthalates.

The results of the study are now published in the international journal Environmental Research.

Phthalates are a group of chemicals widely used in common consumer products, such as food packaging and wrappings, toys, medications, and even medical devices.

Researchers found that of the 1500 Australian men tested, phthalates were detected in urine samples of 99.6% of those aged 35 and over.

“We found that the prevalence of cardiovascular disease, type-2 diabetes and high blood pressure increased among those men with higher total phthalate levels,” says senior author Associate Professor Zumin Shi, from the University of Adelaide’s Adelaide Medical School and the Freemasons Foundation Centre for Men’s Health, and a member of SAHMRI’s Nutrition & Metabolism theme.

“While we still don’t understand the exact reasons why phthalates are independently linked to disease, we do know the chemicals impact on the human endocrine system, which controls hormone release that regulate the body’s growth, metabolism, and sexual development and function.

“In addition to chronic diseases, higher phthalate levels were associated with increased levels of a range of inflammatory biomarkers in the body,” he says.

Age and western diets are directly associated with higher concentrations of phthalates. Previous studies have shown that men who ate less fresh fruit and vegetables and more processed and packaged foods, and drank carbonated soft drinks, have higher levels of phthalates in their urine.

“Importantly, while 82% of the men we tested were overweight or obese — conditions known to be associated with chronic diseases — when we adjusted for this in our study, the significant association between high levels of phthalates and disease was not substantially altered,” Associate Professor Shi says.

“In addition, when we adjusted for socio-economic and lifestyle factors such as smoking and alcohol, the association between high levels of phthalates and disease was unchanged.”

Associate Professor Shi says that although the studies were conducted in men, the findings are also likely to be relevant to women.

“While further research is required, reducing environmental phthalates exposure where possible, along with the adoption of healthier lifestyles, may help to reduce the risk of chronic disease,” he says.

Stanford Researchers Send Text Messages Using Household Chemicals

Nearing the completion of his master’s degree in computer engineering and computer science at York University in Ontario, Canada, Nariman Farsad was considering pursuing further study elsewhere. But his supervisor, Andrew Eckford, convinced him to stay by suggesting an odd line of research.

The idea? Figure out how to create a system that uses chemicals to transmit messages.

“When he explained it, it was intriguing to me because it was very new and seemed futuristic,” said Farsad, now a post-doctoral fellow at Stanford, in the lab of Andrea Goldsmith, professor of electrical engineering. “I thought, OK, it’s a high-risk, high-reward project, so why not?”

This remains relatively uncharted territory, studied by few other researchers in the world. At York, Farsad built the first ever experimental chemical texting system, which used vodka to send its messages. Now, as a member of the Wireless Systems Lab at Stanford, he has a faster version that communicates through pulses of glass cleaner and vinegar.

There are challenges yet unmet by the current system and another, bacteria-based system in the making. In the midst of this work, Farsad and Goldsmith relish envisioning the strange and wonderful potential of data exchange through chemicals.

Simple idea, complex execution

In essence, the chemical communication system is a straightforward concept. Like many systems, it relies on a binary code to relay messages. But instead of zeros and ones, it sends pulses of acid (vinegar) or base (glass cleaner). The researchers type their desired message in a small computer. The computer then sends a signal to a machine that pumps out the corresponding “bits” of chemicals, which are sent through plastic tubes to a small container with a pH sensor. Changes in pH are then relayed to a computer that deciphers the encoded message.

Farsad chose these specific chemicals because they are easy to obtain and they cancel each other out at the receiving end of the system. In his vodka messaging machine, the signal would build up to the point that the receiving end was too saturated with vodka to receive more messages.

The complications of this type of system, like the vodka hurdle, are largely due to the fact that it’s completely new. Goldsmith has spent her entire career working in wireless communication. Chemical messaging offers a new twist on familiar problems.

“Every problem that we’ve addressed in traditional wireless communications over the last three or four decades is really different now because it’s a different mode of communicating,” Goldsmith said. “As so, it opens up all of these new ways of thinking about the optimal way to design this type of communication system.”

One of the most pressing challenges is figuring out how to separate the signal from the noise at the end of the transmission. Upgrading from vodka to the acid-base combination was an immense improvement but the chemicals still leave residue behind as they move through the channel.

A science-fiction solution

Given the challenge, Goldsmith and Farsad could probably imagine a dozen ways in which chemical messaging could change the way we transmit and receive information. It’s wireless and affordable, and it could work without electronics. That means it could function in places where typical electromagnetic communications systems struggle, such as under water or in places containing lots of metal.

Fantastic possibilities they’ve already discussed include leaving secret messages that others wouldn’t even know to look for, having robots communicate with trails of liquid text, or being able to fall back on chemical communication in the extremely unlikely scenario that our electric grid is knocked out by a terrorist attack.

“It’s just so ‘out there,’ like science fiction,” Goldsmith said. “What are all the exciting ways that we could use this to enable communication that is impossible today? That’s what I would want someone to walk away thinking about.”

The researchers are currently looking into how chemical communication could advance nanotechnology. Cost-effective nanotechnology already exists that may someday go inside the human body. But these devices are so small that, in order to communicate, they have to be wired together or else depend on high-frequency signals, which could potentially cause organ damage. These signals also tend to only travel short distances and powering them has yet to be figured out. As an alternative, chemical-based data exchange could be self-powered, traveling throughout the body harmlessly – and undetectable by outside devices.

“This is one of the most important potential applications for this type of project,” Farsad said. “It could enable the emergence of these tiny devices that are working together, talking together and doing useful things.”

While working to improve their current chemical texting system, Goldsmith and Farsad are also collaborating with two bioengineering groups at Stanford to make human body-friendly chemical messaging a reality.

Natural Stain Removal Guide (No Harsh Chemicals Needed!)

If your house is anything like mine, laundry stains are a daily fact of life.

For many of us, laundry tops the list of household jobs we’d rather not do. In fact, its often voted the one job we’d gladly hire someone to help with if we could. Especially with small children, stains make laundry even tougher.

Even my most crunchy of friends will turn to Shout spray for laundry stains to save clothes from being ruined. Even friends who make their own deodorant, toothpaste and laundry soap still use conventional stain removal methods.

Why Use Natural Stain Removal Methods?

When you switch to natural cleaning, you can’t just spray it all with “Shout” and call it a day… so what to do?

Conventional laundry stain treatment solutions are some of the most toxic cleaning products available. They contain harsh detergents, solvents, chemicals like sulfates and parabens as well as a host of artificial colors and scents.

Borrowing some wisdom from my grandma’s era and the help of my professional stain creation experts (aka: my children), I compiled a helpful list of effective stain treatments for various types of stains. I keep this list handy for reference when I’m doing laundry. I’ve included a printable version (at the bottom of this post) in case it will be helpful to you too.

Natural Stain Removal Guide

Removing stains naturally takes a little more know-how and work than using a one-size fits all spray. When used correctly, these methods are highly effective (and you won’t have to keep the poison control number on hand!).

TIP: Always treat stains from the back, rather than the front, to avoid rubbing the stain in more.

How to Treat Different Types of Stains

Ink or Paint Stains: Soak in rubbing alcohol for 30 minutes or (ink only) spray with hair spray and wash out.
Tea or Coffee Stains: Immediately pour boiling water over the stain until it is gone, or if it is already set, scrub with a paste of borax and water and wash immediately.
Grass stains: Scrub with liquid dish soap or treat with a 50/50 Hydrogen Peroxide (3%) and water mix
Mud stains: Let dry and brush off what you can, then scrub with a borax/water paste and wash immediately
Tomato Based Stains: Treat with white vinegar directly on the stain and wash immediately.
Dingy Whites or Underarm Deodorant Stains: Soak the stain directly in a mix of 50/50 hydrogen peroxide and water for 30 minutes and then add 1 cup of hydrogen peroxide to the wash water. For really tough yellow stains, make a paste of 3% hydrogen peroxide and baking soda and rub into the stain. Leave on for 5 minutes before laundering.
Other Food Stains: Treat with a mix of 50/50 Hydrogen Peroxide and water and soak.
Grease and Oil Stains: Sprinkle the stain with dry baking soda to remove any loose oil or grease and brush off. Then, soak in undiluted white vinegar for 15 minutes, rinse and scrub with liquid dish soap before washing
Vomit, Urine, Poop, Blood, Egg, Gelatin, Glue or other protein based stains: DO NOT WASH IN WARM WATER!!!!! This will set in the smell. Soak in cool water and then wash with an added mixture of 1/2 cup hydrogen peroxide and 1/2 cup baking soda in the washing machine.
How to Handle Really Tough Stains

When I encounter stains that don’t respond to the methods above, I’ll use stronger products that still contain natural ingredients. My favorite is Dr. Bronner’s Sal Suds, which gets an “A” from the Environmental Working Group, and which is an amazing all-purpose natural cleaner.

It can be used directly on really tough stains in a pinch, though I prefer to make a natural stain spray:

How to Make a Natural Stain Spray

The closest non-toxic alternative I’ve found to stain removal sprays is this homemade version. It takes under two minutes to make, and can be kept by the washing machine for easy use.

Natural Stain Remover Ingredients

1 3/4 cups water
1/4 cup Dr. Bronners Sal Suds (regular Dr. Bronners Liquid Castille Soap will not work the same way in this recipe)
A 16-ounce glass spray bottle
Natural Stain Remover Instructions

Put the water into the spray bottle.
Add the Sal Suds.
Place lid on bottle and swirl gently to combine.
Spray on stains before laundering to help remove even tough stains.
Other Natural Laundry Tips

On the go stain removal:

My Homemade Baby Wipes can be kept in a small Ziplock bag and make a great pre-treat spot remover on the go.

Laundry Booster:

Add 1 Tablespoon Sal Suds to a load of laundry as a natural stain removing booster.

Stop Dryer Static Naturally:

Make your own natural dryer sheets or use wool dryer balls to remove static without the need for disposable dryer sheets. (Tutorials for both here)

DIY Laundry Soap:

Making your own laundry soap is a great way to save money and avoid artificial fragrances and harsh chemicals. Try these homemade laundry soap recipes, or use this modified version if you have an HE washer.

‘Everyday chemicals’ linked to cancer

“Chemicals in everyday items like cosmetics linked to cancer,” The Independent reports. Research involving genetically engineered human cells found that a class of chemical called aldehydes damaged a gene that prevents cancer from developing.

Aldehydes are organic chemical compounds naturally present in the environment and also found in many man-made products and substances such as cosmetics and car exhaust fumes. Examples of aldehydes include acetaldehyde, which is created when the body breaks down alcohol and formaldehyde, used in many products, from paint to explosives.

The research centred on the BRCA2 gene. Healthy BRCA2 genes – they come in pairs – produce a protein that helps repair DNA and regulate cell growth. Mutations to the BRCA2 genes can lead to uncontrollable cell growth which can trigger breast and ovarian cancer in women, and prostate cancer in men.

In this study the researchers found that exposure to aldehydes reduces the amount of DNA repair protein the gene can make. In people who are carrying abnormal BRCA2 genes to start with – so make less repair protein in the first place – aldehydes further reduce the amount they can make. This leads to DNA damage which could progress to cancer.

This is early stage research so we cannot say what would be a safe or toxic level of exposure to aldehydes.

Unless you are willing to take drastic steps, there is not much you can do to limit your exposure to aldehydes, with the important exception of sticking to the recommended weekly limits for alcohol consumption.

Where did the story come from?

The study was carried out by researchers from the University of Cambridge and two Swiss institutions: the Institute of Molecular Systems Biology and the University of Zurich. It was funded by grants from the Medical Research Council.

The study was published in the peer-reviewed scientific journal Cell, on an open access basis so it is freely available to access online.

Some of the media reports are a little over dramatic, placing a lot of emphasis on individual products. For example The Sun says: “Boozing gives you cancer, and now scientists think they know why.” The Daily Mail lays the blame on “shampoo, booze and car fumes”. These chemicals are present in many products and occur naturally. We can’t place the blame on single products, or say that these provide the whole answer.

The Mail and Sun also give little attention to the fact that the findings were mostly relevant to carriers of BRCA2 mutations and not the general population.

The Independent provides the most accurate and balanced reporting of the study, pointing out that it is “rather misleading to suggest that products containing aldehydes could be an ‘important cause of cancer'”.

What kind of research was this?

This was laboratory research which aimed to see how chemical compounds (aldehydes) present in the environment or in products we use can affect our DNA and cancer risk.

The researchers’ particular focus was on what causes mutations of the BRCA2 gene which can make people susceptible to cancers including breast and ovarian.

The researchers explain how normally the BRCA2 genes produce a protein that helps to maintain and repair the DNA in our chromosomes – structures in our cells which carry genetic information. Other lab studies in mice and human cells have shown that disruption to the BRCA2 gene often leads to altered chromosome structure and sensitivity to toxic chemicals.

In this study the researchers investigated the toxic effect of formaldehyde or acetaldehyde compounds, which naturally occur in the environment, are found in various products, and accumulate in our body tissues.

What did the research involve?

The experiments were conducted on various female human cancer cells.

The laboratory methods are complex. Essentially the cells were incubated with formaldehyde and acetaldehyde. Following this, the researchers studied the DNA to see what effect there was on the BRCA2 protein and chromosome structure.

The researchers looked at what happened when cells had two normal copies of the BRCA2 gene and when they were heterozygous, with one normal copy and one abnormal copy with a mutation.

What were the basic results?

The researchers found that aldehydes (both formaldehyde and acetaldehyde) break down the BRCA2 protein.

When a person has two normal copies of the gene they are still able to produce a functional amount of the protein that repairs and maintains chromosome structure.

However, when a person only has one normal copy of the gene they are not able to produce enough of the repair protein. When the DNA replicates it then produces what are called R-loops, three-stranded nucleic acid structures. This damages the structure and stability of the chromosomes and as such could potentially lead to cancer development.

How did the researchers interpret the results?

The researchers conclude that this study raises a potential model where environmental compounds could lead to cancer development in people carrying BRCA2 mutations.

Conclusion

This valuable laboratory study gives a further insight into how BRCA2 mutations could lead to cancer development. Aldehydes could further reduce the amount of DNA repair protein that people with an abnormal BRCA2 gene copy are able to produce.

However, we shouldn’t jump to any conclusions from this. For one thing, aldehydes are naturally present in the environment, as well as included in diverse products, from cosmetics to fossil fuel. We can’t lay the blame on individual products and it’s difficult to completely eradicate exposure to aldehydes.

This study alone can’t inform on a safe or toxic exposure level, either for people with or for people without BRCA2 mutations.

We also can’t conclude that aldehydes provide the whole answer as to why people with BRCA2 mutations are susceptible to cancer.

All of us can reduce our cancer risk by avoiding smoking, taking regular exercise, limiting consumption of red meat and alcohol and avoiding excessive exposure to sunlight.