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Exposure to chemicals in our daily environment is all pervasive. While some of these may be innocuous, others are potentially toxic. Therefore, these pose a big health threat. Approximately 13 million workers are believed to be exposed to chemicals in the US alone. These can be absorbed through skin. Everything around us is made of chemicals – our food, drinking water, our clothes, and most of our daily use products. You may be surprised, but this also includes some of your favourite skincare and makeup products!

How Do We Come Into Contact With Them?

We are exposed to chemicals in several different ways throughout the day. Various items we use contain ingredients that are toxic and very often unregulated. Consequently, their presence goes unnoticed, and they’re absorbed by our bodies as they come in contact. To illustrate, plastics, cosmetic products, self-care products, detergents, toiletries etc are all surreptitiously ingested thus. In fact, a study shows that most American children and adults carry inside them nearly 100 substances or chemicals and toxic compounds absorbed from substances around them.

The amount of product or chemical absorbed by our skin depends on variety of factors like-

  • Chemical Size: Large chemicals often cannot pass through our skin’s protective barriers
  • Skin Temperature: Higher skin temperature is correlated with greater absorption.
  • Exposure Length: The longer the exposure, the greater the risk
  • Area of Skin Exposed: Different areas of the body absorb more than others, depending on the thickness and temperature of the skin

Many chemicals are filtered relatively quickly into our liver, lungs, and kidneys. Others may remain in our bones or fat for several years. Alternatively, some may leave a toxic effect on organs or tissues purely due to coming in contact with them. The chemical’s inherent toxicity and body’s inability to respond or assimilate these chemicals are both responsible for damage caused to the body. For example, the body may not be able to metabolize the chemical rapidly enough to prevent spread of toxicity. In such a situation, one may start noticing some symptoms.

How Are We Affected?

Possible toxic effects of chemical exposure depend on many factors. These include the route of exposure, total dose, and time course of exposure. These can however only be estimated.

One such harmful substance widely studies is BPA, found in plastics. As per a National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, produced by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, BPA was found in 93% of urine samples taken from people above the age of six. BPA is an endocrine (hormone) disruptor, and can interfere with their function. In particular, BPA mimics the hormone estrogen, and can interfere with normal functioning of the body.

Some other effects of exposure to these chemicals include:

  • Interference with body’s natural hormones
  • impact on the reproductive system in women
  • Increased risk of diabetes and heart disease in adults
  • higher obesity risk
  • Increased risk of cancer
  • possible impairment of Brain Function

What Are Some Ways We Can Limit Our Exposure?

  • Find substitutes for products which contain high amount of chemicals in your daily routine, such as shampoos, conditioners, lotion, sunscreen etc. and switch to natural or organic brands
  • Check ingredient lists and look for any particularly toxic ingredients like Phthaltes, Parabens, TEA+DEA, Sulfates, EDTA, Aluminum, etc.
  • Understand the composition of various skincare and makeup products, and use them with knowledge of their potential drawbacks
  • Instead of using mass manufactured, chemically potent cleaning products, you can make your own cleaning products at home
  • Avoid canned foods when possible and opt for fresh or frozen fruits/vegetables instead. Don’t’ take paper receipts at ATMs, grocery stores etc. unless you need them
  • Choose alternatives to plastic wherever possible
  • Keep harmful chemicals aware from easy access
  • Take of your shoes before entering your house to avoid tracking in oils and chemicals from the street outside.
    • Use a door mat to catch dirt at the door
    • Dust with a micro-fiber cloth or wet cloth and vacuum your house regularly (with a HEPA-filter vaccuum if you can)

To conclude, awareness of our surroundings, of things we use, and responsible consumption are the only ways we can protect ourselves.

About The Author

Srishti Tiku

Srishti is a graduate in Behavioral Economic Science from University of Warwick, UK, and is passionate about using her knowledge to decipher sustainability challenges through research and analysis. As Economics attempts to explain the processes that shape lives and livelihoods, Srishti finds it fascinating to learn about emerging patterns while wading her way through issues engulfing people, planet and profit. When she is not at desk, she loves to read and watch movies.

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