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It pays off to read labels and avoid products with harmful chemicals

It pays off to read labels and avoid products with harmful chemicals. A new study from the Silent Spring Institute confirms that it pays off to read labels and seek out healthier products, such as shampoo that is free of parabens. The researchers found that consumers who try to avoid parabens and other endocrine disruptors have significantly lower levels of the chemicals in their bodies. 

Endocrine disruptors interfere with the body’s hormones, which can lead to serious health issues such as reproductive disorders, thyroid disease, asthma, and certain types of cancer. Despite the potential harm they can cause, these chemicals are widely used in personal care and household products

“That’s why expert scientific panels and medical societies recommend that people take steps to limit their exposure to these chemicals,” said study lead author Dr. Robin Dodson. “And, with the current pandemic, we see how diseases associated with environmental chemicals also make people more vulnerable to COVID-19 – yet another reason to reduce exposures in the population.”

To investigate the impacts of various types of products, Dr. Dodson and her team collected urine samples from 726 participants across the United States who signed up to join the Institute’s biomonitoring project. The researchers analyzed the samples for 10 common endocrine disruptors.

The participants also completed an online survey, reporting on the products they use and whether they avoid products with certain chemicals listed on the label.

The analysis showed that 87 percent of participants were taking steps to avoid specific chemicals in products. These individuals were found to have lower levels of parabens, BPA, triclosan, and benzophone-3 compared with the general U.S. population. 

The experts determined that avoiding certain products and reading ingredient labels was the most effective way to reduce exposure to endocrine disruptors.

The study revealed that people who avoided products with parabens, triclosan, BPA, and fragrances were twice as likely to be in the group with the lowest body burden for all of the chemicals combined.

“This study not only helped us gain a better understanding of how product choices influence people’s exposures to endocrine disruptors, but it also provided us with an opportunity to educate consumers and empower them to make healthier choices,” said Dr. Dodson.

After the urine analysis, the participants received a personalized digital report that compared their chemical levels with the other participants as well as with national data. The report contained information on the health effects of the chemicals that were present in each individual’s urine and how to avoid those chemicals.

By downloading Silent Spring’s free mobile app Detox Me, the participants could learn more about reducing chemical exposures in their everyday environment.

However, Dr. Dodson emphasized that some chemicals are hard to avoid because it is unclear what products they are in. For example, some of the volunteers who said they avoided products with parabens still had high levels of parabens in their bodies. 

“What this study shows us is that people can’t shop their way out of this problem,” said Dr. Dodson. “This is about much more than consumer choice.”

“Ultimately, encouraging companies to invest in safer alternatives and strengthening regulations to keep harmful chemicals out of products in the first place would be the most effective and equitable way to protect public health.”

The study is published in the International Journal of Hygiene and Environmental Health.

By Chrissy Sexton, Staff Writer

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