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
Roundups

The 13 Best Non-Toxic Baby Sunscreens

Well reviewed, easy to find, and super safe for your little one

It's finally here! We've rounded up the best 13 non-toxic sunscreens baby sunscreens just in time for all your outdoor adventures. We took into account ingredient safety, as well as reviews from parents, and availability at major retailers. Trust us that these options will not result in a goopy disappointment. All 13 of these non-toxic baby sunscreens are safe for baby, toddlers, kids (and you!) and are free from harmful chemicals. They are all reef safe too! Many of these brands also make a stick that can be a lot easier for face application if your baby is extra squirmy, so make sure to check those out too. Hope this makes your summer to-do list just a bit easier!

a) Adorable Baby SPF 30 Sunscreen, b) All Good Kid's Sunscreen SPF 30, c) Aveeno Baby Continuous Protection Sensitive Skin Sunscreen SPF 50 d) Babo Botanicals Baby Skin Mineral Sunscreen SPF 50, e) Badger Baby Natural Mineral Sunscreen Cream SPF 30, f) Bare Republic Baby Mineral Sunscreen Lotion SPF 50, g) California Baby Super Sensitive Sunscreen Lotion SPF 30, h) Coola Baby Mineral Sunscreen SPF 50, i) Made Of Baby Sunscreen SPF 30, j) Sunblocz Baby and Kids Sunscreen SPF 50, k) Thinkbaby Safe Sunscreen SPF 50, l) Tom's of Maine Baby Sunscreen Lotion SPF 30, m) Totlogic Mineral Sunscreen SPF 30


Because Health is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program so that when you click through our Amazon links, a percentage of the proceeds from your purchases will go to Because Health. We encourage you to shop locally, but if you do buy online buying through our links will help us continue the critical environmental health education work we do. Our participation does not influence our product recommendations. To read more about how we recommend products, go to our methodology page.

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Food

Endless Ideas for Healthy Homemade Popsicles (No Recipe Needed!)

A refreshing family friendly treat, without added food colorings, cane sugar, or plastic packaging.

Popsicles are such a fun treat for adults and kids whenever it gets hot outside! We put together a fun graphic where you can make your own recipe for a healthy homemade popsicle, using whatever you have on hand. We make all sorts of popsicles from leftover fruit, veggies, juices that we have laying around. It's a great way to use up that half of a banana or browning avocado that your kid didn't eat. And instead of becoming food waste (which is a huge contributor to climate change), it gets new life as an amazing treat. We like these silicone or stainless steel popsicle molds, cause they are super durable and we generally try to avoid plastics and food. Making your own popsicles is a great way to have fun, while being non-toxic. Many store bought popsicles contain load of cane sugar, food colorings, other additives, and plastic packaging. So pick one up a popsicle mold, choose a combination of tasty ingredients, blend, freeze, and enjoy!

In case you need some ideas to get started, here are some of our favorites:

Chocolate Fudge: Cocoa powder, avocado (or banana), coconut milk, and honey/maple syrup

Watermelon Strawberry Mint: Watermelon, Strawberries, Coconut water, and Mint

Spinach Blueberry Yogurt: Spinach, Blueberry, Banana, and Yogurt

Creamy Zucchini Pineapple: Zucchini, Pineapple, and Coconut milk

*A special tip on mixing colors. Mixing leafy greens with red or orange fruits/veggies (like carrot juice or strawberries) makes for a pretty brown popsicle. It will still taste good, but might not look as appetizing!


Roundups

Non-Toxic Aftershaves

Cause who wants questionable chemicals on a freshly shaven face?

Whether aftershave is part of your shaving routine for the manly (and fabulous!) scents or to help your skin recover, you probably don't want an aftershave with questionable ingredients or preservatives. This is especially true because the main purpose of aftershave is to calm down any skin irritation and disinfect any small nicks (oops!) you accidentally gave yourself. We also included two options for witch hazel toners that are an all natural, affordable option that calms inflammation and disinfects. We found 7 non-toxic aftershaves and witch hazel toners that have good ingredients, good reviews, and are easy to buy at major retailers. So pick up one up and incorporate it into your morning routine and your skin will thank you!

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Family

5 Easy Changes to Protect Your Sperm from Harmful Chemicals

Keep your swimmers safe with these science-based tips

Hey, guys, yeah all you sperm producing humans out there. Hate to break it to you, but when it comes to different chemicals in our world, your little swimmers might not be as safe as you think. While it's true that you continually are creating new sperm, if you are exposed to some of these nasty things on a regular basis, chances are high that they are affecting both the quality and quantity of your sperm. Even if you aren't planning to have a kid right now, these things could make it harder for you to conceive a kid in the future and research has linked sperm health to overall health. But, hang tight. We have some super simple suggestions for ways to change up your routine that can protect your sperm for years to come.

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Home

What to Know Before Your Next Big DIY Project

Protect your health without sacrificing creativity!

Whether you're inspired by a recent Etsy binge or are a Weekend Warrior who practically lives at Home Depot, DIY projects can be super fun and fulfilling. Before you get started on your next project, we have some tips on what chemicals to avoid, the safety hazards they pose, and ways to keep yourself safe.




Avoid Methylene chloride

It's always fun to spruce up furniture with a new coat of paint but methylene chloride, a seriously dangerous chemical, is found in paint stripping products. In the body methylene chloride turns into carbon monoxide (1), and too much carbon monoxide can cause dizziness, confusion, and asphyxia. Methylene chloride fumes quickly accumulate and are heavier than air, which means workers bending down over projects in poorly ventilated areas are easily susceptible to the dangers of this chemical (2). There have been many accidental deaths from Methylene chloride, so you should completely avoid paint strippers that use it. Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families has created a great reference on safer alternative for paint strippers.

Paint

Before you pick up your paint brush to tackle that dresser revamp, make sure the paint you're using is low VOCs. VOCs, or volatile organic compounds, are chemicals that are emitted as gasses from products like paint and can cause headaches, eye irritation, and nausea (3). VOCs are part of the reason paint can be so smelly when it's drying! Look for a paint that says low or no VOCs on the packaging and make sure to keep the windows open while the paint is drying!

Wood Stains

Updating your wood table or decking? Reach for a water-based wood stain or finish! Traditional wood stains can contain harsh chemicals and emit a ton of VOCs. Luckily a lot of brands have a VOC rating on their label, which makes choosing a product a lot easier. We recommend choosing a stain with low VOCs (under 250 g/l) that is also Green Seal 11 (GS-11) certified (4).

Always Have Proper Ventilation

This is key for any DIY project. Chances are, you'll probably use some chemicals that are not great for you during your project. The best place to work on your project is outside but if you have to work indoor, make sure to open windows and doors, and use a fan to ventilate the area.

Wear a Protective Mask

DIY projects can expose you to a TON of dust, which is why it's a good idea to always wear a protective mask. Dust is bad for you in general, and can also contain particles containing toxic chemicals, which is why we recommend using an N95 mask while working. Normal masks can help protect you, but they don't protect you from all dust. N95 masks filter even the tiniest particles (0.3 microns) (5), which can keep you safe during those extremely messy projects.




  1. https://saferchemicals.org/get-the-facts/chemicals-of-concern/methylene-chloride/
  2. https://prheucsf.blog/2017/11/14/risky-paint-stripper-will-continue-to-kill-while-epa-delays/
  3. https://www.epa.gov/indoor-air-quality-iaq/volatile-organic-compounds-impact-indoor-air-quality#Levels
  4. https://www.ewg.org/healthyhomeguide/wood-stains-a...
  5. https://www.fda.gov/medical-devices/personal-protective-equipment-infection-control/masks-and-n95-respirators

Now that you've invested in some glass and stainless steel food storage containers, maybe you're wondering if you should Marie Kondo all the plastic ones you used to use? Instead adding them to the landfill, what if we told you that all those plastic containers can help you achieve a new level of organization zen? While we don't recommend storing food in them anymore (for those of you who haven't heard: these plastic food storage containers often have BPA or phthalates in them, which can leach into your food over time and cause all sorts of health problems), we also don't think you have to throw them away.

So, what can you do? We have 6 great suggestions for you to repurpose those containers throughout your home.



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Roundups

6 Non-Toxic and Plastic-Free Shampoos

We found 5 shampoo bars and 1 refillable option

We've had a lot of asks for products with sustainable packaging. We heard you! Sustainable, non-toxic, well-reviewed products are actually harder to find than you think. Who knew? But we did a ton of research and found some great options! We searched high and wide and found these 5 non-toxic shampoo bars and one refillable shampoo that comes in an aluminum bottle. These shampoo products are a great way to reduce your plastic consumption without compromising on safe ingredients. A win-win in our book for the planet and your health!

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