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Women use, on average, 12 personal care products a day, containing about 168 chemicals. Men use about 6 personal care products a day, containing around 85 chemicals.1 Add that to the chemicals we inhale and food products we ingest daily—yowzers! This can have an enormous impact on our health.  While not all chemicals are toxins, we can significantly reduce the impact of certain chemicals by understanding where they live, what they do in our bodies, and how we can limit our exposure to them​.

Let’s explore 3 top chemicals of concern that I am working to minimize in my own home. Keep in mind, chemicals can enter our body in 3 ways: transdermal through our skin, ingestion, and inhalation—so, when assessing your environment for chemicals, think about these 3 pathways of exposure.

1) Parabens

What are they: A preservative that prevents bacteria growth; methylparaben, propylparaben, butylparaben, and other chemicals ending in paraben.

Where are they: In personal care products like lotions, soaps, shampoos, cosmetics, and baby care products.

Did you know?

  • Parabens easily penetrate the skin and remain in body tissue.
  • Parabens are known allergens and are estrogenic chemicals that have been linked to hormonal conditions in both men and women.2
  • Parabens have been found in breast tumors (methylparaben being the most frequently occurring). Parabens act as estrogen in the body and in a lab have caused breast cancer cells to grow and proliferate.3

Avoid it:

  • Avoid using products with “_______paraben” in the ingredient label

2) Phthalates

What is it: Class of man-made chemicals found in plastics to make them soft and flexible.

Where is it: Found in polyvinyl chloride plastic (PVC) products like shower curtains, upholstery, tablecloths, children’s toys, and raincoats. They are used in fragrances, pesticides, cosmetics, nail polish, plastic bottles, and medical supplies like IV tubing, plastic storage containers, and many more items. Phthalates help lovely fragrances loiter, so they could be used in cleaning products, air fresheners, perfumes, disinfectants, and personal care products.

Did you know?

  • Phthalates have been found in milk, butter, margarine, vegetable oils, and cheeses.4
  • Phthalates are often called estrogen mimickers and are known for disrupting women’s reproductive hormones.5 Studies show that phthalates can influence early breast development in young girls, alter hormone levels and contribute to irregular menstrual cycles.6,7
  • Studies show that women with fibroids as well as women with endometriosis have higher levels of phthalate metabolites than women without fibroids or endometriosis.8
  • Children with higher urinary phthalate concentrations showed higher levels of insulin resistance as well as blood pressure in adolescents.9 Studies on men show a link between phthalate levels in the urine, insulin resistance and abdominal obesity.10

Avoid it:

  • Look for products that say "Made without synthetic fragrances" or "Fragrance free."
  • Clean with windows and doors open.
  • Use glass containers for food storage when possible.

3 ) BPA—Bisphenol A

What is it: Used in the manufacturing of polycarbonate plastic and in the lining of metal food cans.

Where is it: Polycarbonate plastic, reusable bottles, food processors, blenders, food cans, thermal paper (receipts), and dental sealants for composite fillings.

Did you know?

  • BPA is a well-known estrogen mimicker. Higher levels of BPA have been found in women with repeated miscarriages.11 Studies using human breast cancer cells show that BPA stimulates breast cancer growth (just like human estrogen).12
  • Women with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome have been shown to have higher levels of BPA than women without PCOS.13 
  • BPA has been linked to an increased risk of heart disease, diabetes and liver problems.14 Studies on mice have found that BPA exposure is linked to obesity and insulin resistance, similar to that seen before the onset of type 2 diabetes.15 Higher levels of BPA have been associated with greater odds of obesity.16

Avoid it:

  • Avoid introducing your plastics to heat, oil, acidity, and abrasion—these breakdown plastics and cause chemicals to leach into food.
  • Baby your food processor and blender containers. Use a soft sponge to clean, not the dishwasher.
  • Switch to glass storage containers. Dispose of plastic containers that show degradation (like the tomato sauce ring from acid breakdown). Cindy Santa Ana from Unlock Better Health says, “If the sauce is in the plastic, the plastic is in your sauce.”17
  • Go fresh instead of canned when able.
  • Say no to receipts.

Although there are many more questionable chemicals and heavy metals that we didn’t address in this post—including pesticides on our food – these three are a great place to start to reduce your overall exposure. Some ingredients have a powerful influence on our health, so pay attention to how you are exposed and start choosing products that support a thriving body whenever you can.


  1. Cindy Santa Ana, Knocking Your Tox Off,” private lecture, Unlock Better Health, Lander, WY, 22 January 2016.
  2. S. Pedersen et al. “In vitro skin permeation and retention of parabens from cosmetic formulations.” International Journal of Cosmetic Science, 2007;29(5):361-367.
  3. P. D. Darbre et al, “Concentrations of parabens in human breast tumors.” Journal of Applied Toxicology. 2004;24(1):5-13
  4. Buck Levin, Environmental Nutrition (Vashon Island, WA: Hingepin Publication, 1999) 
  5. Tara Lovenkamp-Swan & Barbara J Davis, “Mechanisms of phthalate ester toxicity in the female reproductive system, Environmental Health Perspectives, 2003;111(2):139-145.
  6. I. Colon et al, “Identification of phthalate esters in the serum of young Puerto Rican girls with premature breast development. Environmental Health Perspectives, 2000;108(9):895-900.
  7. Tara Lovenkamp-Swan & Barbara J Davis, “Mechanisms of phthalate ester toxicity in the female reproductive system, Environmental Health Perspectives, 2003;111(2):139-145.
  8. Jennifer Weuve et al, “Association of urinary phthalate concentrations with endometriosis and uterine leiomyomata: preliminary finds from NHANES, 1999-2002,” Epidemiology, 2007;18(5):178-179.
  9. Leonardo Trasande et al, “Urinary phthalates and increased insulin resistance in adolescents,” Journal of Pediatrics, 2013;132(3):646-55.
  10. Richard W Stahlhut et al, “Concentrations of urinary phthalate metabolites are associated with increased waist circumference and insulin resistance in adult US males,” Environmental Health Perspectives, 2007;115(6)876-882.
  11. Mayumi. Sugiura-Ogasawara et al. Exposure to bisphenol A is associated with recurrent miscarriage. Human Reproduction, 2005;20(8):2325-2329.
  12. Wade Welshons et al, “Large effects from small exposure. III. Endocrine mechanisms mediating effects of bisphenol A at levels of human exposure,” Endocrinology, 2006;147(6):S56-S69.
  13. T Takeuchi et al, “Positive relationship between androgen and the endocrine disrupter, bishpenol A, in normal women and women with ovarian dysfunction, Endocrine Journal, 2004;51;165-169.
  14. IA Lang et al. “Association of urinary bisphenol-A concentration with medical disorders and laboratory abnormalities in adults,” Journal of American Medical Association, 2008;300:1303-1310.
  15. Alonso-Magalena Paloma et al, “The estrogenic effect of bisphenol A disrupts pancreatic B-cell function in vivo and induces insulin resistance,” Environmental Health Perspectives, 2006;114(1);106-112.
  16. Cindy Santa Ana, Unprocessed Living: 3 Easy Steps to Transition into Healthy Eating (2015). Reference for all chemicals.