How to identify hidden toxins in your products

How to identify hidden toxins in your products

If you've started your journey towards a more non-toxic lifestyle, you've probably started to recognize some common harmful ingredients. Good job! Learning to spot toxic ingredients can be an overwhelming task at times, especially since there are so many to look out for. It took me a year just to get comfortable reading labels and knowing what to look for, but even now I still have to look up some ingredients. Sometimes it's more complex than just the ingredients on the label. In some cases an ingredient is totally fine as long as it's not being ingested or put on open wounds. In other cases it isn't the ingredient itself, but how it's manufactured that you need to be wary of.

What is a hidden toxin

Certain chemicals, especially those made synthetically, are manufactured or extracted through a process that exposes to them toxic compounds. These toxic compounds can remain in the final product, but companies aren't required to list them on the ingredients label. As a consumer you have to learn to recognize these ingredients in order to fully protect yourself.

Another way that some ingredients can be hidden in a product is by listing two ingredients that on their own don't pose a danger, but when used together can react to form a harmful a chemical. One example of this is benzene which is created when potassium or sodium benzoate is combined with ascorbic acid or citric acid are mixed together. Benzene is a known carcinogen but that hasn't stopped some companies from using these ingredients together. There is some debate about which of these combinations you should watch for, but we'll Talk about Benzene in more depth another time.

How to spot hidden toxins

As mentioned above the ingredients we're talking about won't be on the label, so how do you know if they're in the product? The first step to spotting hidden toxins is educating yourself as much as possible about the ingredients that are on the label. One way to spot hidden toxins is to know how different ingredients can interact with each other. You don't necessarily need to check how each ingredient interacts with every other ingredient in the product, but when you look up an ingredient be sure and check if it can react with anything to form something harmful. If there is anything that ingredient reacts with, then make note of it so if you ever see those two things together you'll know to avoid.

Another thing to look out for is anything that is made synthetically. I'm not saying every single synthetic compound is bad or contains toxins, however they do have a much higher chance of containing toxins. They also harm our environment, especially those made from petrochemicals.

A synthetic substance is one that is made by chemical synthesis, especially to imitate a natural product. Sometimes products with synthetic chemicals are even labeled as being natural products. Generally if a product contains anything synthetic I avoid that product and I recommend you do the same. For many of these substances the manufacturing process exposes them to toxic chemicals that can stay with them and mix into the product you are getting. Even when the toxins don't end up in the final product, the process of creating synthetics is harmful to the environment and many of them don't break down like the natural substance they are intended to imitate.

Keep in mind that many synthetic ingredients have a natural variation and sometimes even the natural variation can go through a process that exposes it to toxins. If you're unsure or have questions, it's always best to ask the manufacturer where they source their ingredients.

More to look out for

If you see a product containing PEG’s you can be sure it is contaminated with 1,4 dioxane. You should always avoid these products because 1,4 dioxane is a known carcinogen and even low exposure over a long period of time can increase your risk of cancer.

Unfortunately there are also many products that can be unintentionally contaminated with 1,4 dioxane and there's no obvious way to know it's there. The best way to protect yourself from this carcinogen is to avoid products with synthetic ingredients. Buy products made from ingredients that were not exposed to pesticides or petrochemicals. Since 1,4 dioxane is used as a stabilizer for trichloroethane and trichloroethylene you should also avoid these as well.

Tocopherol acetate which is synthetic vitamin E can be contaminated with Hydroquinone. In some cases, tocopherol which is supposed to be the naturally occurring vitamin E can be contaminated as well but it’s far less likely. In the process used to manufacture this ingredient it is exposed to hydroquinone. Like 1,4 dioxane you would not know this was in your product as it’s not a requirement to list hydroquinone as an ingredient.

The good news is that you can easily ask the product manufacturer if they use Hydroquinone in the manufacturing process for their tocopherol or tocopherol acetate. It may also be a good idea to ask if they manufacture the tocopherol themselves or source it from another company. If they do get it somewhere else then you may want to reach out directly to the manufacturer to find out if there's any risk of contamination.

This list is not exhaustive, but it's a good starting point. It's important to acknowledge that it's impossible to completely avoid toxins, but it is still important to reduce your exposure as much possible. The best way to avoid toxins is to research every ingredient on any product you are using, especially those you cannot pronounce. If in doubt, be safe and avoid. Don't feel bad (or embarrassed) about reaching out to a company about their manufacturing process. Sometimes it’s as simple as sending an email and asking the right questions. Which ever approach you take when looking into how toxic ingredients are, always remember that you’re in control of what you put in and on your body!

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