/Science

The current regulations in the cosmetics industry and some hope for cleaner products

What’s the Deal with Clean Beauty Regulations?

Science

When you walk into a cosmetics store what section do you go to first? The makeup, the skin care, maybe the hair care? By the time most of us are done and have gone through the entire store it's been two hours and our hands are full of different swatches of nude lipsticks, gold eyeshadows (somehow they are all slightly different), eyeliners, and maybe even a few perfumes on each arm. Cosmetics products are a staple in everyone's lives, but something most people might not be aware of is how many ingredients go into making our favorite cosmetics products like foundation or lip gloss. There's a lot of ingredients and magic that go into making foundation that gives you that perfect dewy skin look or lip gloss that is the perfect balance of sparkly and not too sticky. Due to the lack of government regulation of the ingredients in cosmetics products, there are all sorts of ingredients that are known to cause harm to humans in our makeup, lotions, deodorants, hair care, and the myriad of other cosmetic products. This issue on toxic ingredients has sparked a huge growth in cosmetic products that are labeled as "clean". Have you ever heard of clean beauty? Is it just a trend? Keep reading to explore what clean beauty is and some of the current and upcoming cosmetic regulations!

The problems with unregulated cosmetics

With the exception of hair dye, there are no laws that require cosmetic products or ingredients to be approved by the FDA before they go on the market. The FDA does not require specific safety tests to be done on a product or ingredient meaning only the individuals who manufacture and market the cosmetics have a legal responsibility to ensure the safety of their products. This is a major problem! Because manufacturers are not required to test for safety, consumers do not know if they did these tests at all or if the testing they did was adequate (4). To make matters worse, if a product eventually appears to have an adverse effect, the FDA has no authority under the current regulations to force the company to recall the product, the company must do so voluntarily (12). Between the years 2004-2016, an average of 396 adverse events per year were submitted to the FDA (11). If the objective is to keep people safe, this is too little too late!

Some common toxic ingredients in typical cosmetics products are heavy metals, PFAS (a group of Teflon-like chemicals), parabens, petroleum, phthalates, and fragrances. Heavy metals like lead, arsenic, mercury, zinc, chromium, and iron are often used for coloring purposes in cosmetics from lipstick to eyeliner. They can also accidentally end up in products due to contamination during the manufacturing and packaging processes (1,17). PFAS chemicals are often found in a lot of products like pressed powder makeup, foundation, anti-aging lotions, eyeliner, eyeshadow, mascara, and lipstick (1,16). PFAS gives cosmetics a waterproofing ability along with giving it a really smooth texture on the skin (2). Parabens are a synthetic preservative that is added to cosmetics to last longer, and petroleum, a byproduct of oil refining, has a really long shelf life and softens upon use making it a beneficial addition to cosmetics. The last two common ingredients are phthalates and fragrances which often go hand in hand. Fragrances are obviously placed in a product to make it smell better (1). They can be made from petroleum or natural materials, but most of the time the entire ingredient lists are not given due to it being proprietary information for the brand. Many fragrances then add in phthalates as a solvent to make the scent stick around longer. Phthalates are used mainly in cosmetics as skin moisturizers, skin softeners, skin penetration enhancers, and as anti-brittleness and anti-cracking agents for nail polish (18).

These ingredients are known to be endocrine disruptors, and are linked to reproductive and developmental harm, allergies, and even cancers (1,19). We should also keep in mind that we could be exposed to more than one toxic ingredient everyday depending on how many cosmetic products we use. When used repeatedly, ingredients like PFAS and the different heavy metals can accumulate in our bodies over time and increase our risk for illness (1).

In addition to being hazardous to our health, these same ingredients can also be toxic to our environment. Everytime you throw something away or wash it down the drain, those chemicals are going back into the environment polluting our soil and waterways (5). It's the same as chemicals coming off of your car and polluting the environment: a toxic chemical is a toxic chemical no matter where it came from!

What clean beauty means

The term "clean beauty" is pretty subjective, but it usually means that the products contain ingredients that have been evaluated for safety and the brands are transparent about the ingredients they are using. More and more brands have been coming out with clean cosmetic products because they realized that a lot of the everyday products people use have harmful and toxic chemicals in them. Some of these brands have a list of chemicals they refuse to use like parabens, synthetic fragrances, sulfates, phthalates, and more. There are even some clean beauty retailers that require brands to disclose all of their ingredients and check them against a do not use list before they are allowed to be sold. This all seems like progress, but all of these actions are voluntary and not required under law, meaning most brands don't go that extra mile which is why there's an urgent need for new government regulation and policies for the skincare industry.

Clean Beauty Regulations

The current federal regulations are pretty lackluster. For some context, the EU has prohibited the use of 1,378 substances in cosmetic products compared to the United States which has only banned 11 substances (13,14). Some of these banned chemicals include chloroform, mercury compounds, vinyl chloride, chlorofluorocarbons, and a few others (14). This abysmal effort by the federal government has forced states to come in to propose more comprehensive safety regulation for cosmetics. One particular bill recently passed in California, has established a ban of 25 toxic ingredients in cosmetics which could have major impacts on the cosmetics market as a whole. Because California is such a big market, with about 40 million people, it might force brands to start producing cleaner products. Most brands don't want to create two separate products, one cleaner version for people living in California, and another that is suitable for the rest of the U.S.! So there is hope that this bill in California could push brands to only create clean products. There are also a few other states including Connecticut, Colorado, Maine, Maryland, New York, Oregon, Vermont, Minnesota, and Wisconsin that have adopted policies to start cleaning up the cosmetics sold in their states (6).



Upcoming Clean Beauty Legislation

In the past few years there have been three big pieces of federal legislation that have been introduced into congress along with 9 state policies introduced by Maryland, New Jersey, and New York. Most of these state and federal policies focus heavily on removing the toxic ingredients and giving the FDA more authority to recall a product and to do their own safety reviews. These policies have not been passed or turned into law, but if all goes well they will be on their way to pass in the next few years!


Why switch to clean beauty?

Switching to clean beauty products can be a great way to start limiting our exposure to toxic chemicals. But as we previously mentioned, there is no universal clean beauty standard, or list of ingredients brands need to avoid. There is very little regulation on ingredients across the entire cosmetics industry, meaning products can claim they are safe but that could mean entirely different things depending on the brand. For the most part switching to clean beauty products is likely to reduce your overall exposure to toxic ingredients because these brands have tried to reduce the number of chemicals in their products. Brands like Sephora and Target now have clean beauty sections that people can shop from, along with stores and brands like Detox Market, Follian, Credo, BeautyCounter, Ursa Major, and Biossance to name a few. These stores and brands have made it so we don't have to wait around for government regulation to get cleaner cosmetics products. If you can, try to support more clean beauty brands to show the world that there is a market and a need for cosmetic products that don't put us at risk!

Resources to support and keep updated on clean beauty legislation

We created a list of letter writing campaigns, clean beauty news sources, and information pages on current and upcoming clean beauty legislation. If you want to stay updated on clean beauty legislation and find ways to support the different state and federal policies, click on the links below!

  1. This link allows you to send a message to your congressional representative to support the Safe Cosmetics and Personal Care Products Act of 2019 (H.R. 4296)!
  2. The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics has an action alert page with multiple letter writing campaigns to tell your cosmetics companies, the FDA, and elected officials that safe cosmetics are important to you. Click the link here!
  3. The Environmental Working Group has a page dedicated to clean cosmetics legislation, news and reports, and where to support clean cosmetics companies.
  4. The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics tracks upcoming and adopted state policies in regard to cosmetics and cleaning products.



Sources

  1. https://www.safecosmetics.org/get-the-facts/chem-of-concern/
  2. https://www.ewg.org/skindeep/contents/is-teflon-in...
  3. https://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/21/chapter-9/subchapter-VI
  4. https://www.fda.gov/cosmetics/cosmetics-laws-regulations/fda-authority-over-cosmetics-how-cosmetics-are-not-fda-approved-are-fda-regulated
  5. Juliano, C., & Magrini, G. A. (2017). Cosmetic Ingredients as Emerging Pollutants of Environmental and Health Concern. A Mini-Review. Cosmetics, 4(2), 11. https://doi.org/10.3390/cosmetics4020011
  6. https://www.saferstates.org/toxic-chemicals/cleaning-cosmetics-and-construction/
  7. https://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/billTextClient.xhtml?bill_id=201920200AB2762
  8. https://energycommerce.house.gov/committee-activity/hearings/hearing-on-building-consumer-confidence-by-empowering-fda-to-improve
  9. https://energycommerce.house.gov/sites/democrats.energycommerce.house.gov/files/documents/COSMETICS_DRAFT%20112719.pdf
  10. https://www.feinstein.senate.gov/public/index.cfm/2019/3/feinstein-collins-introduce-bill-to-strengthen-oversight-of-personal-care-products
  11. Kwa, M., Welty, L. J., & Xu, S. (2017). Adverse Events Reported to the US Food and Drug Administration for Cosmetics and Personal Care Products. JAMA Internal Medicine, 177(8), 1202–1204. https://doi.org/10.1001/jamainternmed.2017.2762
  12. https://www.fda.gov/cosmetics/cosmetics-recalls-alerts/fda-recall-policy-cosmetics
Home

How Safe is Borax?

A common non-toxic cleaning ingredient that may not be so harmless

For years people have recommended Borax as a safe and natural cleaning solution as an alternative to harsher traditional cleaners. It's also used a lot for other things like a non-toxic pest solution, to clean carpets, and even as an ingredient in slime for kids(1). But is Borax actually safe? Some say it is completely safe and others swear you should never use it. So we decided to do the research and figure out if Borax is a product we should be using in our everyday lives. We found that there are some issues associated with it, but there are ways it could be used safely in particular circumstances with the right precautions.

Keep reading to learn more about Borax and it's safety, as well as some alternatives you can use instead!

What is Borax?

Borax, or otherwise known as sodium borate, is a natural mineral mined from the Earth that is most commonly found as a white powder. It's most notably characterized as being a good emulsifier, preservative, and buffering agent (2). It's also known for being a great disinfectant, getting rid of stains, whitening clothes, and neutralizing hard water (2, 3). Because of these properties Borax is often found in common household products like laundry detergents, soaps, and degreasers. It's also found in topical medicine, food preservatives, pesticides, and other industrial uses because Borax can inhibit the growth of bacteria and mold, increase resistance to heat and chemicals, kill insects, and helps balance acidity (4).

Is Borax safe?

Since it is considered a natural product, it pops up in a lot of DIY recipes for various tasks around the house. However, just because it is deemed as natural that does not mean it is considered safe. Borax comes in many forms but you're most likely to handle it in its powder form for cleaning or for doing laundry. As a powder, borax has been known to be a skin and eye irritant because it can easily travel through the air and be inhaled or get in the eyes of anyone close by. Borax has also been associated with reproductive issues, endocrine disruption, and developmental issues from exposure to any of its forms (3). It's worth noting that most of these health problems were found in rats that were exposed to pretty high doses of Borax (2), so this probably means that the average person won't come into contact with enough Borax to be very dangerous, but you should still take caution when handling it in your everyday life.

It's also important to look at some of the other uses for a product when determining it's safety. In the case of Borax, one common use is as a pesticide. To kill certain pests, Borax is found as either a powder, which sticks onto the insect's body and then they ingest it from cleaning themselves, or it is mixed into food bait that the insects ingest directly. The Borax will build up in their system inhibiting their metabolism and reproductive system causing them to die. Borax is also really good at breaking down and destroying the exoskeletons of some insects because the powder is very abrasive to them (5).Obviously insects like ants are much smaller and more fragile than us, however, it is slightly concerning that Borax, a product we use relatively often in our homes, has the ability to be used as a pesticide as well.

Not only is Borax used as a pesticide, it is also used as cooling agents, adhesives, anti-freezing agents, building materials, and so many other industrial uses (2). Most of these chemicals and products are usually not associated with good human health so it is something to keep in mind when using Borax to clean around the house.

How to use Borax safely

Borax has been known to have some negative health consequences when exposed in high levels over time and lethal if ingested at high doses in animals and humans (6). Because of this it is best to limit our exposure which means that it's probably okay to be using it every once in a while, but we do not recommend using it for all of your cleaning and household purposes. If you are planning to use Borax for different tasks around the house, we found some ways you can stay safe and avoid any health issues.

  1. Keep the area where you are using Borax well ventilated by turning on a fan or opening a window.
  2. Wear long sleeves and pants to prevent any Borax from getting on your skin because it could cause irritation.
  3. If you spill any Borax on your clothes make sure to take them off right away and wash them. This goes for spilling Borax on anything, clean it up right away!
  4. Use glasses or even goggles to prevent any Borax dust from getting in your eyes.
  5. Try to keep the Borax far away from your face so you don't breathe it in. Avoiding dust is the best thing to do!
  6. Keep the Borax container tightly closed when you're not using it.
  7. Try to not use it everyday, just every once in a while.
  8. Vacuum up the floor of anywhere you used Borax in case any dust settled onto the ground.
  9. Do not ingest any Borax because it can be lethal at certain doses. This goes for children as well, keep the box out of their reach at all times (2).

Alternatives to Borax

As we mentioned, a lot of DIY cleaners and laundry detergents call for Borax. Because it can be a skin and eye irritant we wanted to give you some alternatives you could use instead if you are concerned about using it in your homemade products. We included some other homemade cleaners you can use instead, as well as some store bought all-purpose cleaners that we love!

  • Vinegar: Distilled white vinegar is a great disinfectant and deodorizer, making it a great alternative to Borax's disinfectant qualities. (7)
  • Baking soda: It is a natural and safe deodorizer, as well as, a mild abrasive that can help scrub off tough messes and stains. (7)
  • Non-chlorine bleach: Non-chlorinated bleach is a much safer alternative to the traditional bleach and is a great disinfectant.
  • Washing soda: Washing soda is a popular cleaning additive that is great for removing stains, dissolving grease, softening water, and getting rid of unpleasant smells.
  • All purpose cleaners: Instead of making something at home, check out some of the eco-friendly all purpose cleaners we love!
  • Here is a great recipe for kids slime without Borax!

Sources

  1. https://www.onegoodthingbyjillee.com/uses-for-household-borax/
  2. https://pubchem.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/compound/1303-96-4#section=Uses
  3. https://pharosproject.net/chemicals/2006849#hazards-panel
  4. https://www.borax.com/boron-essentials/shelter#:~:text=U.S.%20Borax%20products%20increase%20building,railway%20ties%20to%20automobile%20frames.
  5. A. Fotso Kuate, et. al. Toxicity of Amdro, Borax and Boric Acid to Anoplolepis tenella Santschi (Hymenoptera: Formicidae) 109-152. International Journal of Pest Management. https://core.ac.uk/download/pdf/18234674.pdf#page=109
  6. http://npic.orst.edu/factsheets/archive/borictech.html#fate
  7. https://www.zmescience.com/medicine/what-is-borax-and-is-it-safe-432432/
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Food

What is Regenerative Farming and What Does it Mean for Our Health and the Environment?

We have the info on regenerative agriculture, food, health and the environment that you've been looking for!

If you're someone who spends equal time cry-laughing through Instagram reels and poring over grocery store labels in search of healthy/environmentally-conscious noms, you may be wondering about the new food word "regenerative." (For the record – yes, we are also proudly those people.) Is "regenerative" really that different from "organic" or "sustainable," you may ask? We've got you covered so you can feel more informed the next time you sojourn through your virtual or in-person grocery aisle!

What does "Regenerative" mean? (Hint: it has nothing to do with generators)

To sum it up, regenerative agriculture (or regenerative ag) not only seeks to "do no harm" by omitting bad stuff from our food, but it also aspires to "regenerate" the land and all things living in it (1,2). Building soil health is where it all begins. This basically means taking what looks like regular old dirt and cultivating within it beneficial microorganisms, root systems, and friendly bugs/worms. These busy networks of soil life barter important nutrients and perform some cool biochemistry, with rippling benefits across neighboring ecosystems. Practices used to build soil health can include: cover crops/crop rotation (growing nutrient-giving stuff after harvesting nutrient-grabbing stuff), multiple cropping (adding variety to attract more diverse bugs/nutrients), "no till" planting (not messing with the soil too much), and rotational animal grazing (letting our roaming friends drop nutrients, mow the grass, and break open the soil for us). Though distinct from organic farming, regenerative ag often avoids synthetic chemical use and incorporates organic practices.

How can agriculture be that good for the environment?

It might be hard to imagine how farming can lead to these types of ecological benefits, given how often we hear about its downsides! But—hang with us—here are a few ways regenerative ag works for the environment:

  • Happier microorganisms and habitats: when farms use fewer (or zero!) synthetic chemicals, they help build a more active and biodiverse community of soil organisms (3, 4). Cultivating healthy soil with biodiverse plants (rather than monocultures) make better habitats for local pollinators like birds and bees! (5, 6). *Side note: if you just had a flashback to middle school sex ed, you're not alone.
  • Cleaner water: thriving soils with deeply rooted plants contribute to more effective water filtration and cleaner watersheds (7, 8). And decreasing fertilizer run-off into water supports fish and marine environments by reducing toxic algae blooms (9).
  • Decreased greenhouse gases: Here's the (slightly) simplified version of how that works… When animals frolic and poo around, they loosen and fertilize the soil; grasses and crops then have better conditions to grow. As the grasses/crops grow, they take carbon dioxide out of the air and use it to create food/roots/leaves (here's a photosynthesis pic if it's been a minute). Grass roots especially can grow very deep, so animal poo can facilitate a lot of carbons storage in the ground! This is also known as carbon sequestration. (10).
  • Mitigated flooding and erosion: the combination of rotational animal grazing and grass/crop planting helps establish root networks and makes soil more permeable (see above point and thanks again, animal poo). Roots help prevent erosion by holding onto the soil and permeable soil reduces flooding by allowing more water to seep in (11).
  • Restored environment: all of these together mean a cleaner, less toxic, more biodiverse and more beautiful environment!

Regenerative is also good for our health…

Here are a few of its direct human health benefits:

  • Foundation for health: similar to our amazing gut microbes (really, could they be any cooler?), beneficial soil microbes also build an important foundation for resilient animal, ecosystem, and human health (12, 13, 14).
  • Improved nutrient quality: animals raised in regenerative settings roam freely and chow down on pasture and/or grass. Not only is this better for animals, but the animal products also have healthier proportions of fats and nutrients (15, 16).
  • Healthier animals: animals pick up fewer hitch-hiking pathogens when they're healthy and have enough space, which means we then have less exposure to food-borne pathogens (like E. coli). Also, when animals don't need as many meds, fewer endocrine-disrupting antibiotics and chemicals end up in our food and water systems!
  • Reduced toxic exposure and disease: less pesticides and synthetic fertilizer use means our farmworkers are exposed less often to toxic chemicals and therefore at decreased risk for chronic disease. And those who eat the food have reduced exposure and risk as well!
  • *Bonus*: all the environmental benefits mentioned above contribute to our long-term health as well!

How to get regenerative in your life

Your herb-growing capacity might just be some cute windowsill space, so how can you incorporate regenerative practices and products into your day-to-day?

  1. Search for local farms that use regenerative practices and get to know them (in a pandemic friendly sort of way). Usually if farms are doing regenerative ag, they show it and want to talk about it!
  2. If you want to find more standardized products, look for the Regenerative Organic Certification—they build on organic principles with strict standards for soil health, animal welfare and social fairness. The Land to Market seal includes regenerative ag fashion products as well (see their Regenerative Buying Guide).
  3. Keep an eye out for other products that say they're regenerative. "Regenerative" itself is not a standardized term, but you can always look up the farm/producer and learn more about their practices.
  4. Use modified regenerative practices in your own garden! Try a "no till" approach. Improve your soil health and nutrient content by planting cover crops like fava beans. Consider planting diverse native plants/grasses that establish deep roots and provide a habitat for pollinators. Your HOA (or family) may not want a sheep in the front yard, but you can still make an impact without acres of farmland!
  5. Reduce or eliminate harmful pesticides/fertilizers as much as possible, opting for organic compost/fertilizers/pest management instead!
  6. Learn more! The Rodale Institute and Savory Institute are both great resources.
  7. Be curious and have fun!



References

1. https://regenerationinternational.org/why-regenerative-agriculture/

2. https://regenorganic.org/

3. https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0180442

4. https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fmicb.2016.02064/full#h5

5. https://www.pnas.org/content/pnas/111/14/5266.full.pdf

6.https://www.google.com/url?q=https://link.springer.com/content/pdf/10.1007/s13593-012-0092-y.pdf&sa=D&source=editors&ust=1614755415230000&usg=AOvVaw3nqoBDN1ENKBIM9UNU6qJE

7.https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/renewable-agriculture-and-food-systems/article/targeting-perennial-vegetation-in-agricultural-landscapes-for-enhancing-ecosystem-services/6E3F150C2060CFF12BCD5C0A92000EE8/core-reader

8. https://www.nrcs.usda.gov/wps/portal/nrcs/main/soils/health/

9. https://link.springer.com/content/pdf/10.1140/epjst/e2017-70031-7.pdf

10.https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/renewable-agriculture-and-food-systems/article/targeting-perennial-vegetation-in-agricultural-landscapes-for-enhancing-ecosystem-services/6E3F150C2060CFF12BCD5C0A92000EE8

11. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2095633915300095#

12. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0091674918309345

13. https://www.nature.com/articles/nature09575/boxes/bx1

14. http://www.nfp68.ch/SiteCollectionDocuments/Wall%20et%20al%202015%20nature15744.pdf

15. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2846864/

16. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/pdf/10.4081/ijas.2009.175?needAccess=true





Real talk— polyvinyl chloride (or PVC for short), seems to be in practically everything, doesn't it? If you walk down a random aisle in a store, you can find this material in upholstery, shower curtains, toys and even school supplies. You might be thinking, if it's in so many things (including items for children), it should be safe right? In reality, the answer is no. BUT, don't fret, since there are simple, yet effective ways to avoid PVC in your everyday life.

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COVID-19

Worried about COVID-19 in the air?

Here's what you need to know about it

COVID-19. Just hearing the word may bring shivers down your spine. It's turned the world upside down, and definitely changed the way we live our lives. Luckily, we've learned from scientists that there are ways to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. Good hand hygiene (that means washing for TWO rounds of happy birthday, people!), staying 6 feet away from others, and wearing a mask. As we slowly learn how to adapt to COVID-19, there might be one question you're asking yourself. How does COVID-19 spread, and can it be transmitted through the air we breathe?As we winter is approaching and we spend more and more time indoors, this is definitely on the top of our minds. Sit tight as we break it down for you below.
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Science

The Health Impacts of Microplastics

These small pieces pose a big risk

In today's world, plastic is everywhere, buildings, cars, packaging, machinery - the list is nearly endless. There's really no place you won't find it. Despite its utility, there are a host of problems associated with plastics (1, 2). You've likely heard of the impact that larger pieces of discarded plastic can have - for instance plastic straws finding their way into the ocean.

Unfortunately, there are even smaller pieces of plastic in the environment that you can't see: microplastics. Approximately 50 trillion pieces of microplastics are estimated to be currently polluting the ocean (3). They have been found in seawater, freshwater, sediment, soil, and air. Microplastics have even made their way into our food and drinks, such as beer, tap water, and sea salt (4).

So what dangers do microplastics pose? And what simple steps can you take to limit their pollution? Read on and find out!

What Are Microplastics?

Microplastics are tiny plastic particles, less than 5 millimeters long. They can be generally separated into two categories: primary microplastics and secondary microplastics (5).

Primary microplastics are plastics that were originally manufactured to be, well, micro. Already less than 5 millimeters when created, they are found in textiles, medicines, and personal care products like facial scrubs or toothpaste (4, 5). Secondary microplastics, on the other hand, are fragments of larger plastics like fishing nets or household products. This fragmentation occurs due to physical, chemical, and biological interaction with the environment such as sunlight exposure (often termed photodegradation) or wind abrasion (5).

The microplastics found in the environment today originate from both land- and ocean-based human activity. Ocean-based sources, like commercial fishing and other marine-based operations, make up about 20% of the total microplastics found while land-based sources make up the other 80%. These land-based sources, like the personal care products mentioned earlier (e.g., toothpaste, facial scrubs), air-blasting processes, microfibers from synthetic materials, and improperly disposed runoff from landfills, bleed into rivers and find their way into oceans as well (5).

The health effects of microplastics are still being studied, but there is potential for harm

Microplastics can be ingested in drinks or food, inhaled through airborne exposure, or contact with particles on skin (5-7).

For animals, especially marine organisms, ingestion of microplastics represents the largest threat. A research team has suggested that there is a correlation between poor fitness of seabirds and ingestion of plastic debris (5). Zebrafish with accumulated ingested microplastics have had altered locomotion, intestinal damage, and change in metabolic profiles (5).

Humans can ingest microplastics in beer, bottled water, even sea salt. And when marine animals ingest it from the ocean, they can act as vectors, carrying it to humans when we eat seafood (5, 7, 8).

While ingestion affects both humans and animals, airborne exposure to microplastics is becoming more worrisome to humans. We can potentially breathe in microplastics through synthetic textiles, erosion of rubber tires, or city dust (5, 6).

No matter what route they take, we know these microplastics are indeed getting into our bodies. What we don't yet know is how long they stay, what accumulates in our systems if they do stay, and what the health effects of chronic ingestion might be. Although research is still ongoing, some potential health effects that may be linked to concentrations of ingested microplastics are metabolic disruption, immune dysfunction, neurodegenerative diseases, and chronic inflammation, which can lead to cancer (4-6).

Here's how you can help prevent microplastic pollution

Microplastic pollution within our ecosystems may seem impossible for us to stop on an individual level. But there are ways you can reduce your contribution to pollution of microplastics as well as your personal exposure!

Drink less bottled water

Research has shown that Americans who get their recommended amount of daily water from only bottled sources have almost 20 times the exposure compared to Americans who only drink tap water (7)! So here are some simple ways to reduce exposure:

  1. Leave the bottled water at the store and go with the tap at home.
  2. Invest in a simple screw-on water purifier for the faucet if the tap water taste bugs you.
  3. Get a reusable (preferable glass or stainless steel) bottle for tap water on the go.

Disclaimer: if there are major health issues with your tap water (like the lead for instance), those health effects should take precedent and bottled water is okay!

Reduce your use of plastics, especially the single-use variety

Since plastics are so cheap to produce, it often makes them an ideal material for single-use disposable devices (1). Unfortunately, less than 10% of all plastic is actually recycled (10). On top of that, plastics don't chemically degrade very well - instead they break up into smaller and smaller pieces (1, 5). Reducing your single-use plastics may seem difficult, but there are many ways to do it! Here are a few:

  1. Cook a few extra times a week instead of ordering takeout that comes in plastic containers.
  2. Leave the Ziplock bags on the shelf and store leftovers in glass containers.
  3. Switch to brands of tea that don't use single-use plastic!
  4. Buy less packaged or processed foods in plastic packaging.

Change your laundry habits

Another large source of microplastics are microfibers, the microplastics found in synthetic fabrics, like fleece (9). Even cotton jeans and t-shirts can have a lot of synthetics blended into them! Machine washing synthetic clothing is one of the easiest ways for microplastics to find their way into the water supply. During the wash cycle, microplastics siphon off through home drains which then runs into water treatment plants that are not yet equipped to catch microplastics. Once the water is released back into the environment, pollution occurs. We've talked through some of the ways to limit microfibers in your laundry before, but let's run through a few again! You can:

1. Wash with cold water and avoid delicate cycles that use high water volumes.

2. Use less detergent, and do not use bleach!

3. Fill up your machine and avoid washing bulky items like shoes with synthetic fabrics.

4. If you have the option, use a front loading washing machine! They require less water and less vigorous washing for the same cleanliness. Additionally, if you're in the market for a new machine, you can look for those with technological improvements that can trap these particles in the future.

5. Consider getting a laundry bag or Cora ball - each of these catches microfibers so particles cannot get into the water supply.

6. Purchase clothing made of natural materials like cotton or linen - these materials don't shed any microfibers and are often softer, more breathable, and last longer!



References:

1) https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23337043/

2) https://www.ciel.org/reports/plastic-health-the-hidden-costs-of-a-plastic-planet-february-2019/

3) https://www.sas.org.uk/our-work/plastic-pollution/plastic-pollution-facts-figures/

4) https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0048969719344468

5) https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0043135417310515

6) https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0269749117307686

7) https://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/acs.est.9b01517

8) https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s40572-018-0206-z

9) https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30368178/

10)https://www.epa.gov/facts-and-figures-about-materials-waste-and-recycling/plastics-material-specific-data
COVID-19

What You Need To Know About COVID-19

A straightforward guide to the novel virus

Imager header source: CDC

Updated June 17, 2020

COVID-19 has jumped from an obscure, local outbreak to a global pandemic in a matter of months. Its novel status and fast transmission rate have left many feeling anxious and worried about what the future holds. We break down everything you know about COVID-19 so far and the best ways to protect yourself.

What is COVID-19?

Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) is a novel coronavirus that was first reported in Wuhan, China in December 2019. There are many different coronaviruses, including the common cold, Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) (2). The virus has since spread worldwide and, as of June 17, 2020, has infected over 8,00,000 people. Estimates put the mortality rate between 1-3%, which is much higher than the mortality rate for the flu.

Symptoms

Since this is a new virus, we don't have a complete picture of all of the signs and symptoms of this disease. The most common symptoms of COVID-19 include a dry cough, fever, and fatigue; symptoms start appearing on an average of 5-6 days after infection (range is 1-14 days) (1). For most people COVID-19 is a mild illness and they can recover at home without any special treatment. About 1 in 5 COVID-19 cases become serious and require hospitalization (2). Older people and people with underlying health conditions are especially at risk of developing a serious case of COVID-19.

COVID-19 is thought to spread quickly from people who are in close contact with each other (within 6 feet) (3). The WHO states "the disease can spread from person to person through small droplets from the nose or mouth which are spread when a person with COVID-19 coughs or exhales. These droplets land on objects and surfaces around the person. Other people then catch COVID-19 by touching these objects or surfaces, then touching their eyes, nose or mouth. People can also catch COVID-19 if they breathe in droplets from a person with COVID-19 who coughs out or exhales droplets" (1). COVID-19 has also been shown to survive on surfaces. One study found that COVID-19 was able to survive on stainless steel, cardboard, and copper for at least 72 hours (5).

How to Stay Safe

If you're in the high-risk category, you should stay home as much as possible and avoid crowds. Everyone else should practice good hygiene techniques, implement social distancing, and wear a face mask when leaving the home.

Washing your hands frequently throughout the day is one of the best ways to stay protected against COVID-19. Normal soap is just as effective in protecting against COVID-19 as antibacterial soap. Make sure you're scrubbing your hands for at least 20 seconds every time you wash them and to follow this helpful graph from the WHO:

Source: WHO

A guide from the CDC on how to properly wash your hands Part 1
A guide from the CDC on how to properly wash your hands Part 2

Use hand sanitizer if you're out and don't have access to a sink. Make sure the hand sanitizer contains at least 60% alcohol; a higher alcohol content is better at killing germs. The CDC states: "when using hand sanitizer, apply the product to the palm of one hand (read the label to learn the correct amount) and rub the product all over the surfaces of your hands until your hands are dry" (6). But remember that hand sanitizer won't work well if your hands are visibly dirty or greasy.

It's important to use whatever soap or sanitizer is available while you're out and about, but we also like to have some non-toxic options at home. Our non-toxic hand soap roundup, non-toxic hand sanitizer roundup, DIY hand sanitizer guide, and non-toxic hand cream roundup will help keep you protected without the use of harmful ingredients .

Along with person-to-person contact, many counties are also experiencing community spread. Community spread means some people who have gotten COVID-19 aren't sure where or how they were exposed to the virus. During the early stages of the outbreak, it was really important to limit the spread of transmission. By limiting the spread of COVID-19, many places were able to "flatten the curve"... AKA avoid overwhelming healthcare systems to ensure that the sickest patients are able to receive the care they need.


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Today, many cities and states are easing restrictions and slowly coming out of shelter in place orders. Although the lockdown is easing up, please make sure to still follow all rules and regulations put in place by your local government or public health official. Check your local government's website for updates about the easing of your stage of shelter in place.

Even if you're not under a shelter in place order, you must practice social distancing. Since this virus is spread through close contact (within 6 feet), putting distance between you and others in your community can stop transmission. You can try social distancing by avoiding supermarkets during peak hours or watching a movie at home instead of going to the theater. Always wear a mask when you're in public.

Are Children More At Risk?

Most of the COVID-19 cases have been seen in adults and it doesn't seem that children are at higher risk of catching the virus. (4) Most children that tested positive for COVID-19 have only had mild symptoms, but there have also been some severe cases and fatalities. Any child over the age of 2 should wear a face mask out in public (4).

What To Do If You're Sick

If you're feeling mildly sick and you're worried you may have COVID-19, stay home and contact your healthcare provider to ask about next steps. Many testing sites are now available to the public. You may be asked to go to a local testing center before seeing your primary care physician. If you're experiencing serious symptoms like shortness of breath, you might want to head to your local ER. Make sure to always wear a face mask in public if you suspect you're sick- this will protect others around you and stop the spread of your illness.


While the outbreak of a new virus is scary, knowledge is power. It's important to stay informed and follow all recommendations from your local healthcare officials. Together we can limit the spread of COVID-19 and help protect the health of our community.

COVID-19 Resources

CDC: Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) Situation Summary

WHO: Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak

WHO: Coronavirus disease (COVID-2019) situation reports

WHO: Q&A on coronaviruses (COVID-19)

Johns Hopkins University: Coronavirus COVID-19 Global Cases by the Center for Systems Science and Engineering (CSSE)


References:
  1. https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019
  2. https://www.who.int/health-topics/coronavirus
  3. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/index.html
  4. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/specific-groups/children-faq.html
  5. https://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMc2004973?query=featured_home
  6. https://www.cdc.gov/handwashing/show-me-the-science-hand-sanitizer.html

It's almost the end of summer and time to start thinking about those back-to-school supplies. Backpack, lunch box, pencils, pens, crayons, notebooks, NSF/ANSI 53 certified water bottles to filter lead…wait, what was that last one? Yep, many children in this country will be attending school in a state where there is currently no requirement to filter and test school drinking water for lead. Even in states and counties where they do have laws on the books, there are still gaps that need to be addressed to better protect children. So, here is what you need to know and what you can do about it.

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