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Healthier Hygiene

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Antibacterial Soaps and Cleaners continued...

At last check by the CDC, 75% of adults and children’s urine tested positive for triclosan, the most common antibacterial ingredient. People in higher income brackets were more likely to have triclosan in their bodies.

Although the levels were generally low, Greene asks, “If there’s a potential harm to people, and proven environmental damage, without any benefits, why are we using these products?”

What you can do: Don’t buy products containing triclosan or triclocarban, the most common antibacterial chemicals. Not all products will list ingredients, but you can safely avoid any product that advertises itself as “antibacterial,” say experts. Wash hands -- and clean surfaces in your home -- with regular soap and water.

Phthalates

Pronounced “THAL-ates,” these chemicals are common ingredients in fragrances in consumer products. (They are also “plasticizers” used in plumbing, shower curtains, varnishes, vinyl floors, and many other products.)

“Some of the phthalates are known to function as hormones in the human body,” says Greene. In animal studies, high doses of phthalates disrupt hormone production.

It was believed that the smaller exposures people get from each product they use were safe. But the fact that phthalates are everywhere -- even in the indoor dust we breathe -- has created concern and led to closer monitoring. The CDC finds low levels of phthalates in most of our bodies.

Some recent evidence suggests that exposure to phthalates in humans may be related to low sperm count and quality in men. Exposures in pregnant women have been associated with subtle changes in genital formation in baby boys.

What you can do: Until more evidence is in about phthalates, “it makes sense to avoid them in your personal care products when you can,” says Greene. “That’s especially true for expecting moms and children.” Unfortunately, it’s often impossible to know which of your personal care products contain phthalates, because they’re only listed as “fragrance.” Opt for fragrance-free products or choose those that use essential oils, like lavender and citrus. Check products’ ingredients in the Cosmetics Database.

Parabens

Parabens are chemicals widely used as preservatives in cosmetics. They prevent microbes from growing, which ensures products don’t get contaminated with bacteria or fungi. Most makeup, moisturizers, hair care products, shaving products, as well as many foods and drugs, contain parabens.

Parabens act like the hormone estrogen in the body, although the effect is weak. Isolated studies have found parabens in tissue samples of breast cancer tumors, but haven’t shown that parabens cause breast tumors. FDA scientists say parabens seem safe, but more study is needed.

What you can do: Read the labels on your personal care products. Look for the words methylparaben, butylparaben, propylparaben, or other words with “paraben” included. Paraben-free products are available, if you choose to avoid this common preservative.

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Do you check ingredients in personal care products like shampoo and toothpaste?