Life

The Lowdown on Leather: the Good, the Bad, and the Surprising Alternative Leather Options

A breakdown of the most sustainable and non-toxic leather products out there


Stop, drop, and shop! Here's to the newest fashion trend, where the only thing hotter than rocking your style, is rocking it sustainably. So, let's talk about leather. Who here loves it? Can I get a hand raise? Maybe it's your everyday bag or your "makes-everything-look-better" moto jacket, or maybe you just want to make 2019 your year to rock leather! Don't worry, we've got the health scoop on it all, from real leather to vegan leather, and even ones made of food (no, we're not joking). Keeping reading – you won't be disappointed, we promise!


Here's the scoop on pleather (a.k.a. Plastic leather)

Yes, really, this is actually leather made of plastic, otherwise known as vegan leather and pretty much explains what this product is in a nutshell. What's it made of, you ask? The more modern and slightly less bad plastic that is often used to make vegan leather is polyurethane (PU). While it's slightly better than Polyvinyl chloride (PVC), which used to be the standard, it still releases hazardous toxins during manufacturing and the oil-based polymers it's made of requires fossil fuels to produce (1). Fossil fuels, to put it bluntly, are a major driver of climate change and climate change happens to have some pretty negative health effects on humans (12). Climate change can make wildfires worse, keep you sneezing from allergies, and increase the number of bugs biting you! PU is pretty stinky if you ask us!

Before manufacturers figured out how to use PU to make leather, PVC was the go-to. You may remember something about PVC from our Simple Swap: shower curtain series. Well, it's still a problem here, too. PVC isn't used as much as it was in the 1960's and 70's, but it can still be found in the composition of some vegan leather. The issue is that PVC releases dioxins, which are potentially dangerous in confined spaces and especially dangerous if heated. It also uses plasticizers such as phthalates to make it flexible. Depending on the type of phthalate used, they can really mess with your health (1)! You're probably thinking that if PVC releases chemicals into the environment, it can't be great sustainability-wise, and you're right! PVC is pretty much the worst plastic for the environment (11).

In terms of safety, the manufacture of synthetic leather isn't great for the environment or humans because of the plastics used to make them. The synthetics used in vegan leathers don't fully biodegrade, although they can be broken down to a degree. But, as they break down, they can also release toxic particles and phthalates, which can affect the health of animals and the environment. That's pretty much the exact opposite of what you're intending to do if you're buying pleather to be environmentally friendly (1)!

Okay, so pleather is pretty bad, what about leather?

Here's the sparknotes version of what leather is. Leather is essentially tanned animal skins; there are many forms of leather, and the type you get depends on how the animal skin has been treated (5). The treatment process, called tanning, uses all sorts of bad chemicals to produce leathers of different colors, looks and feels (5).

Leather is not 100 percent safe for consumers since there can be residual chemicals left on the product when it gets to you, but it is ESPECIALLY not safe for workers. The health effects from exposure to these chemicals range from irritation of the eyes, nose, and throat in low doses (10) and all the way to cancer in larger doses or over longer periods of time (8). You can come in contact with these chemicals just from being around the products a lot and breathing it in (in the case of workers), or even touching the products and accidentally ingesting the chemicals that have rubbed off on your hands from touching the items. One thing to remember is that since most of these chemicals are used to make the raw material leather, the chemicals are probably not in high quantities by the time the leather gets to you, but be aware that they are likely still in small quantities on the leather, and if you are sensitive, you might experience some of the symptoms we've listed!

Whoa, those both sound not so good. So, what are some good alternatives?

If you are looking for other materials that are cool and can be made to imitate leather more safely check out items made of:

  1. Cork: this material is considered to be the most environmentally friendly material for creating fake leather. It is naturally water resistant, durable and easily recyclable. Because it comes from trees, it can be grown sustainably to lessen the impact on the environment. While the pattern is not the exact same as real leather, it has the same soft feel and each pattern is unique (2)!
  2. Waxed Cotton: this material is waterproof and durable. It can look and feel like patent leather but without the harsh chemical treatments used to make patent leather (2).
  3. Tree Bark Leather: as its name suggests, this product comes from trees and can be grown and harvested sustainably. It is both durable and strong, not to mention unique as each tree's grain varies (2)!
  4. Piñatex: this material is made from pineapple leaf fibers (yes, the fruit!). It looks and feels like cowhide, and is also durable and watertight. It's a sustainable product and economically friendly for pineapple farmers because normally the leaves would be considered waste (2).
  5. Mushroom leather: this material is best described as synthetic silk. Unfortunately, it just debuted recently and still has a pretty steep market price, but keep an eye out for it in the future (7).
  6. Vintage leather: I bet you didn't see this one coming, but we're serious, reusing is a huge part of sustainability! Don't buy new as you're adding to the demand, but if you happen to see a product that calls your name at a vintage store, go for it!

There is definitely a trade-off when choosing pleather or leather products. By being more informed, you can choose a material that you're comfortable with in terms of safety (for you and for the workers that have to make these products!) and sustainability.

References

  1. https://mahileather.com/blogs/news/all-you-need-to-know-about-vegan-leather
  2. https://www.stylewise-blog.com/2017/10/is-faux-leather-really-better-eco-leather-substitutes.html
  3. https://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/substances/toxchemicallisting.asp?sysid=29
  4. https://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/PHS/PHS.asp?id=280&tid=51
  5. https://www.worldofleathers.com/leather-guide-and-info/what-is-leather-its-origins-forms-and-uses/
  6. https://www3.epa.gov/ttnchie1/ap42/ch09/final/c9s15.pdf
  7. https://www.forbes.com/sites/amyfeldman/2018/04/16/synthetic-spider-silk-maker-bolt-threads-debuts-new-bio-material-leather-made-from-mushroom-roots/#168770cd1837
  8. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK158851/
  9. https://www.cdc.gov/
  10. https://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/phs/phs.asp?id=218&tid=39
  11. https://s3.amazonaws.com/hbnweb.dev/uploads/files/pvc-in-buildings-hazards-and-alternatives.pdf
  12. http://www.ipcc.ch/ipccreports/tar/wg3/index.php?idp=18
Food

Summer BBQ Essentials

Don't break out the grill without these non-toxic finds!

Summer isn't complete without at least one BBQ! They're the ultimate excuse to get together with friends, enjoy the nice weather, and cook delicious food (even if you're doing meat-free Monday). If you're new to the BBQ scene, then you might not realize that an outdoor get-together can require some specialized gear. Standard BBQ gear can be made from harmful materials like melamine, plastic, and PFAS, which is why we wanted to find alternative products that were safer for our health. Our summer BBQ essentials roundup has everything you need and more to throw the best party ever! And don't forget to check out our tips for a non-toxic BBQ!


Stainless Steel Popsicle Mold

Stainless Steel Grill Basket

Glass Beverage Dispenser

Cast Iron Griddle Pan

Carbon Steel Grill Frying Pan

Moscow Mule Mugs

Enamelware with seafood pattern

Grill tools

Stainless steel Citrus Press Juicer

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Roundups

Non-Toxic Personal Care Picks at Costco

The best personal care at wholesale prices!

Costco has some great hidden gems among the massive package of toilet paper and free samples. That's why we did the research and found the best non-toxic personal care items. All these items have been vetted by us and are readily available both online and in stores.

Weleda Skin food

type A deodorant

Pura D'or Organic Aloe Vera Gel

Honest Company Truly Calming Lavender Shampoo + Body Wash

eos USDA Organic Lip Balm

Pangea Organic Facial Mask- Japanese Matcha Tea, Acai, & Goji Berry

Dr. Jacobs Naturals Castile Body Wash

Roundups

9 Stainless Steel & Glass Tumblers

For iced coffee, iced tea, and smoothies on the go

Getting iced coffee in a plastic cup with a plastic straw is a lot harder to do after watching that video of a plastic straw being removed from a turtle's nose. Plus there is also that pesky condensation that creates a pool of water at the bottle of your cupholder or on your desk. So we found the 9 best reviewed stainless steel and glass tumblers, so that you can have your iced beverages in style this summer. Many of the brands have different sizes ranging from 20oz to 30oz and variety of colors. We prefer stainless steel or glass because many of the acrylic or plastic tumblers may have chemicals similar to BPA. We also link to some stainless steel straws because not all of these tumblers come with straws. And if you're like us, drinking iced coffee through a straw is just synonymous with summer.

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Life

Banish Bugs With Our Recommended Insect Repellent Ingredients

Don't be an all-you-can-eat-buffet for annoying critters again!

Summer is here! But that means so are the biting insects…. Ugh. Mosquitoes, ticks, chiggers, fleas, and biting flies seem impossible to avoid when the weather heats up. They're really annoying and they can post a pretty big health risk. Mosquitoes and ticks alone can transmit some scary diseases like Zika, Lyme, malaria, encephalitis, and dengue fever. And to make matters worse, a new CDC report shows the number of mosquito and tick-borne diseases are on the rise (1). To help protect yourself against these pesky insects, we're discussing the most effective insect repellent ingredients that are EPA registered (AKA safe and effective) and CDC recommended: DEET, picardian, and oil of lemon eucalyptus.

We know what you're thinking- synthetic chemicals are recommended?! In this case, the risk of disease is a bigger environmental health threat than using these two specific synthetic chemicals. Additionally, there have also been no scientific studies that show essential oils are effective in protecting against insect bites so we can't include them in our recommendations. You can try them and maybe they'll work for you, but there's no guarantee. If you really want our one DEET alternative, non-synthetic repellent recommendation, that has a transparent list of ingredients, and is scientifically proven to keep bugs away, stay tuned!

DEET

DEET (N,N-diethyl-meta-toluamide) is considered to be the "gold standard" of insect repellent. It's a good choice if you're outside all day in a high-insect are because it repels the most insects, including both mosquitoes and ticks, and lasts the longest amount of time (2). When applied correctly (make sure to read the label!), there are very few negative reactions from DEET. A product with a concentration of DEET between 20-30% can provide protection from insects for most of the day (3). DEET can be used while pregnant and on children older than two months and has not been found to be carcinogenic. Although some may see dermatitis or an allergic reaction from long-term exposure to high levels of DEET (2) and oral ingestion has been shown to have neurotoxic effects like seizures (4).

Picaridin

Picaridin (icardian) is another repellent ingredient that repels ticks and mosquitoes. It's been widely used in Europe and Australia for years with positive results. A product containing at least 20% picaridin has similar short-term results as DEET, although picaridin does not provide long-lasting protection as well as DEET and has to be reapplied more often (2). Picaridin has not been studied as thoroughly as DEET, but it does not seem to have any major negative health impacts. Although uncommon it can cause skin or eye irritation, so make sure to read the directions when using a product containing picaridin (5). We've become big fans of Ranger Ready Picaridin 20% Insect Repellent Mist!

Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus

Oil of lemon eucalyptus (P-menthane-3,8-diol) is a natural oil extracted from the lemon-scented eucalyptus plant (6). It can be an appealing ingredient to people because it's an alternative to synthetic chemicals like DEET or picaridin. Oil of lemon eucalyptus is great at repelling mosquitoes, flies and gnats, but not so great against ticks (2). Products containing at least 30% of oil of lemon eucalyptus have shown to be almost as effective as repelling mosquitoes as DEET, but it has to be applied much more frequently (6). While it is natural, it can irritate the eyes or skin and is not recommended for children under 3 (7). Just a quick note: lemon essential oil and eucalyptus essential oil are NOT the same thing as oil of lemon eucalyptus though, so make sure to look for that exact phrasing in any ingredient lists.

Since oil of lemon eucalyptus is EPA registered and a natural ingredient, we think it's a great synthetic-ingredient alternative! We love Murphy's Naturals Lemon Eucalyptus Oil Insect Repellent Spray. It uses 30% oil of lemon eucalyptus as a way to repel those annoying bugs and lists all of the ingredients (ethanol and water). It's super super hard to find a complete list of ingredients in insect repellent products, so we think this is a huge plus.

So which ingredient should I choose?

It depends! Are you in an area with a high amount of mosquitoes and ticks? Are you outdoors for the entire day or maybe just an hour? Do you want to avoid synthetic chemicals or are you okay with it? Are you traveling to a place that has a high rate of diseases like malaria or yellow fever? The EPA has a quiz you can take in order to find the best insect repellent for your needs.

We recommend to always read and completely follow the directions listed on any repellent product you use, and wash your hands after applying a repellent. Generally you want to apply repellent when you're outside while holding the product at least 6 inches away as you spray. While spraying repellent on your clothes is okay (although DEET shouldn't be sprayed on synthetic fabric), it's not a good idea to spray it under your clothes (8). Long sleeved shirts, pants, long socks, and closed toe shoes can reduce the risk of a bite because less skin is exposed.

Now that you're fully up-to-date on the best insect repellent ingredients you can go back to focusing on what really matters: barbecuing, swimming, beach trips, and all of fun activities that come with summer!


References:

1. https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/67/wr/mm6717e1.htm?s_cid=mm6717e1

2. https://www.uptodate.com/contents/prevention-of-arthropod-and-insect-bites-repellents-and-other-measures

3. https://www.ewg.org/research/ewgs-guide-bug-repellents/ewg-repellent-guide

4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed?term=2506420

5. http://npic.orst.edu/factsheets/PicaridinGen.html

6. https://www.beyondpesticides.org/assets/media/documents/pesticides/factsheets/oillemoneucalyptus.pdf

7. https://www.cdc.gov/zika/prevention/prevent-mosquito-bites.html

8. https://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/yellowbook/2018/the-pre-travel-consultation/protection-against-mosquitoes-ticks-other-arthropods

Food

Canned Coffee is Convenient, But What About BPA?

Why they should be a treat instead of part of your daily routine

Now that we're all working from home, it's easy to get bored of our everyday homemade coffee routine. Sometimes we just want something different to wake us up in the morning or even a quick pick me up in the afternoon! That's where canned coffee comes into play. It's quick, convenient, and comes in a ton of flavors. But that convenience might come at a cost; there's been concerns surrounding the use of BPA in the lining of canned products. So, does canned coffee pose a risk to health? We looked at the research to find out.

The Problem With BPA in Cans

BPA, or bisphenol A, is a synthetic chemical that acts like estrogen in our bodies and it has been known to screw with important hormones like testosterone and thyroid hormones. Some of the common health problems associated with BPA include breast cancer, reduced sperm production, obesity, reproductive issues, disruption of brain development and function, and damaging effects to the liver (1). To make matters worse, there is more and more scientific evidence that even very low doses of BPA exposure can be harmful, especially for pregnant women and babies. Low doses of BPA exposure have been tied to abnormal liver function, chronic inflammation of the prostate, cysts on the thyroid and pituitary gland, and many more serious health effects during the early stages of life (5).

Even though BPA is definitely not a chemical we want to be exposed to, it's found basically everywhere, including our food. One common place to find BPA is the internal lining of canned foods or beverages. BPA can help prevent corrosion between the metal and the food or drink inside a can, but over time (or if stored under the wrong conditions like high temperatures), it can start to leach out and get into the food or drink (2). Even cans that say BPA free can have nasty BPA alternatives that have been shown to have similar hormone disrupting effects (7).

Studies have shown that canned soft drinks, beers, and energy drinks all had small traces of BPA in them. Beer was found with the highest concentration of BPA, followed by energy drinks. Soft drinks were found to have the lowest concentration of BPA. In order to find out where BPA in these drinks was coming from, researchers compared the canned drinks to the same drinks packaged in glass bottles. They found very little to no traces of BPA in the glass bottled drinks, which means that the source of BPA in the canned drinks was definitely coming from the cans themselves (2,3,4).

Even if there are only small traces of leachable BPA, it can still be harmful if we are consuming canned products on a regular basis.

Is Canned Coffee Safe?

With the recent increase in popularity of cold brew and other canned coffee drinks, there have not been extensive studies on BPA levels in canned coffee. However, one study of canned coffee drinks in Asia, where they have been popular for longer, did find that BPA was leaching into the coffee from the can. Interestingly, they also found that the more caffeine was in the coffee, the more BPA leached from the can into the drink. Meaning the more caffeine, the more BPA! (4,6) Now before you think you can get away with only drinking decaf canned coffee, keep in mind that caffeine only increases the leaching from the can, but it can still happen without it (6).

Even though the levels of BPA found in canned coffee were relatively small, because BPA is all around us in so many common products, we should try to limit our exposure as much as we can. This means that it's probably okay to drink a canned coffee every once in a while, but best practice is to not drink them every day. But if you're in the middle of a road trip and are desperate for some energy, don't get too stressed about grabbing a canned coffee!

Canned Coffee Alternatives

If you're starting to get worried about what coffee to buy when you're out and about or when you want something more than just plain coffee, don't stress! We thought of some easy and fun alternatives for your canned coffee fix that might make you forget all about it!

  1. Swap out the canned coffee for coffee in a glass bottle or tetrapaks whenever possible.
  2. Find some fun new ways to make coffee at home like using a Chemex or a nice French press!
  3. Go get a coffee at your local coffee shop. Support small businesses if you can!
  4. If you like canned coffee because of the flavors, try making your own caramel or mocha sauce at home. It's pretty easy and it saves money! For something icy and refreshing, we are partial to muddling some fresh mint with some cold brew.


References

vom Saal, F. S., & Vandenberg, L. N. (2021). Update on the Health Effects of Bisphenol A: Overwhelming Evidence of Harm. Endocrinology, 162(bqaa171). https://doi.org/10.1210/endocr/bqaa171 (1)

Cao, X.-L., Corriveau, J., & Popovic, S. (2010). Sources of Low Concentrations of Bisphenol A in Canned Beverage Products. Journal of Food Protection, 73(8), 1548–1551. https://doi.org/10.4315/0362-028X-73.8.1548 (2)

Determination of BPA, BPB, BPF, BADGE and BFDGE in canned energy drinks by molecularly imprinted polymer cleaning up and UPLC with fluorescence detection. (2017). Food Chemistry, 220, 406–412. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.foodchem.2016.10.005 (3)

Kang, J.-H., & Kondo, F. (2002). Bisphenol A migration from cans containing coffee and caffeine. Food Additives and Contaminants, 19(9), 886–890. https://doi.org/10.1080/02652030210147278 (4)

Prins, G. S., Patisaul, H. B., Belcher, S. M., & Vandenberg, L. N. (2019). CLARITY-BPA academic laboratory studies identify consistent low-dose Bisphenol A effects on multiple organ systems. Basic & Clinical Pharmacology & Toxicology, 125(S3), 14–31. https://doi.org/10.1111/bcpt.13125 (5)

Kang, J.-H., & Kondo, F. (2002). Bisphenol A migration from cans containing coffee and caffeine. Food Additives and Contaminants, 19(9), 886–890. https://doi.org/10.1080/02652030210147278 (6)

Pelch, K., Wignall, J. A., Goldstone, A. E., Ross, P. K., Blain, R. B., Shapiro, A. J., Holmgren, S. D., Hsieh, J.-H., Svoboda, D., Auerbach, S. S., Parham, F. M., Masten, S. A., Walker, V., Rooney, A., & Thayer, K. A. (2019). A scoping review of the health and toxicological activity of bisphenol A (BPA) structural analogues and functional alternatives. Toxicology, 424, 152235. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.tox.2019.06.006 (7)

Life

Throwing a Party with Less Plastic

A healthier way to eat cake, drink beer, and celebrate

Parties are always great. You get to see friends, have a good time, and figure out how to eat delicious food off a paper plate while not spilling whatever may be in your cup. While the chips, cake, and booze may not be the healthiest, there are other things you might not be thinking about that harm our health. The biggest offender at parties usually is all the plastic. The plastic cups, the plastic utensils, the fun table cloths with Yoda's face on them are all made of plastic.

While there are many reasons to avoid plastic - it's not good for the world, it requires oil to make, it's hard to recycle if there has been food on it - one that people often don't usually think of is that single-use plastic can affect our health, both immediately and long term. The chemicals in the plastic cups, or even used to make paper cups and plates oil and water resistant, can easily seep into food and drinks. As it does that, it gets into our bodies as we consume the fun party foods and can interfere with the ways cells communicate with our bodies. This interference has been shown in various research projects to lead to things like obesity, fertility problems, temperature disregulation, and even cancers (1).

We are never going to be completely free from plastic. It's everywhere, and for certain things, it's really convenient and necessary. But, it isn't necessary as often as we normally use it. And, one way to lower the risk of health problems and send a message to companies that create unnecessary plastic waste at the same time is to buy and use fewer plastic products or products with excessive plastic packaging.With a few simple swaps, you can make the party healthier for your guests (and yourself) by limiting the amount of plastic you use:

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