It seems like every chemical we hear about nowadays has some sort of tie to cancer.
We are flooded by countless reports that tend to incite fear in us because the ingredients either definitely cause cancer, may cause cancer, kind of cause cancer — or we just don’t know if they cause cancer. You get the point.
The truth is, we just don’t know how harmful some things can be; the best we can do is be aware of what the science tells us and make our best decisions based on that information. With that, here are six common household items that have been associated with cancer.
1. Antimicrobial soap
Triclosan, an active ingredient in soap, has come under fire (especially lately) because it has been found to cause liver fibrosis and cancer in mice. It’s similar to the mechanisms that are similar in humans. University of California, San Diego School of Medicine researchers say there are consequences of long-term exposure to triclosan. They published a study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
“Triclosan’s increasing detection in environmental samples and its increasingly broad use in consumer products may overcome its moderate benefit and present a very real risk of liver toxicity for people, as it does in mice, particularly when combined with other compounds with similar action,” said Robert H. Tukey, a professor who led the study.
Not everyone believes triclosan is harmful. The American Cleaning Institute issued a statement on the study, claiming the research is distorted.
“The fact is that overdosing mice with triclosan at levels they would never likely come in contact with does not represent a realistic circumstance for humans,” said Dr. Paul DeLeo, ACI associate vice president of environmental safety. “We’ve known for decades that the mouse is not a good model for human risk assessment of triclosan.”
2. Nail polish
Steer clear of dibutyl phthalate (DBP), a type of phthalate that has been tied to cancer. Phthalates are also found in cosmetics, body washes, fragrances and plastic bottles. Toluene is also quite toxic, the Environmental Working Group says. Formaldehyde — a known carcinogen — is used as a nail hardener, and you might want to avoid it.
Parabens have been found in shampoos, makeup and lotions. More recently, companies have advertised when their products do not contain parabens — or when they have removed them. A 2012 study found parabens in women who had breast cancer. According to the American Cancer Society, “There are no clear health risks from parabens in food, drugs, cosmetics, and skin care products,” but people concerned about them may want to avoid products containing parabens.
4. Scented laundry detergent and dryer sheets
A study out of the University of Washington suggests that these items could include carcinogens that are distributed through vents.
“This is an interesting source of pollution, because emissions from dryer vents are essentially unregulated,” said lead author Dr. Anne Steinemann, a professor at the university. “If they’re coming out of a smokestack or tail pipe, they’re regulated, but if they’re coming out of a dryer vent, they’re not.”
The verdict is kind of out, and some sources say the chemicals can be harmful over time. If you don’t want to risk it, there are other natural dryer sheet, detergent and fabric softener alternatives, such as baking soda.
5. Plastic bottles
Phthalates, which are used in plastic products to make them flexible, are known to disturb hormones, contribute to asthma and lead to cancer. Many studies have shown that these can be very harmful. Aside from the threat of cancer, phthalates recently came under fire for being linked to lower IQs in children. Specifically, di-n-butyl phthalate and diisobutyl phthalate were found in mothers, and their children wound up having lower IQs. The chemicals were highlighted in a PLOS One study.
Still confused about what to avoid and what’s OK? Do some Googling, or check out this list of safe and unsafe household products from the Environmental Working Group.