Ignorance can be bliss, except when it pertains to your health. If you’re paying your hard-earned dollars on products intended to improve your quality of life, then surely you’d expect honestly. But, too often, we find toxic lies wrapped in a healthy disguise.
Here are ten common "healthy lies" that you've probably been told (and probably believe). Keep a cautionary eye out for these as a surefire way to hedge your investment, protect your purse and guard your health.
1. "Fragrance-free products are free of added chemicals."
The “fragrance free” label is not meaningful and may even be deceptive. “Fragrance free” is a general claim that implies that the product does not contain any fragrances, but according to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), there is no standard definition that governs the use of the term “fragrance free.”
Moreover, products labeled “fragrance free” can contain fragrances that are used to cover up the chemical smell of the other ingredients in the product. Be wary of this claim, as you may not be avoiding all the toxins that you think.
2. "All air purifiers clean your air."
While there are quality air purifiers on the market that do a great job of cleaning your air, it’s important to note that all “ionic” air purifiers emit some ozone.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), ozone can damage the lungs when inhaled. Even relatively low amounts of it can cause chest pain, coughing, shortness of breath and throat irritation. Ozone may also worsen chronic respiratory diseases such as asthma and compromise the body’s ability to fight respiratory infection.
Be wary of any vendor that suggests that ozone devices have been approved by the federal government for use in occupied spaces. To the contrary, NO agency of the federal government has approved these devices for this use, according to the EPA.
3. "'Natural' always means the product comes from nature."
This claim is often used on products that are not independently verified. The claim is placed on the product by the manufacturer and can mean "natural" in color, or something else relatively superficial. I f a product truly is “natural” in the sense that it comes from nature, it should have a detailed ingredients list to back up the claim.
4. "'Biodegradable' is good for the planet."
Contrary to what most of us think, everything is biodegradable at some point. Even things that are inarguably bad for the environment. Take plastic bottles, for instance; they can take up to 500 years, while diapers take up to 1,000 years.
In other words, just because a product or ingredient is biodegradable does not mean it is healthy and safe for you or the environment. For example, DDT biodegrades to the compounds DDD and DDE, both of which are more toxic and more dangerous than the original DDT.
Of course, many products that are marketed as biodegradable also assert other claims and are genuinely "green." But be wary of this label in and of itself.
5. "'Zero VOC' paint is totally free of chemicals."
Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) pollute the air and have been linked to respiratory and memory problems. As people gain awareness of this, more and more paint companies offer “Zero VOC” nowadays.
However, it’s important to remember that “zero” is not exactly true. Federal VOC limits are now set at 250 grams per liter (g/l) for flat paints and 380 g/l for others. Some states have been progressive on this issue and lowered the allowable VOC levels for paints. For example, California’s standards are now 150 g/l for nonflat finishes and 100 g/l for flat (and even lower at 50 g/l around Los Angeles). In other words, "zero" is an exaggerated measurement.
Finally, remember, your nose doesn’t always know best. “Low Odor” paint and “Low VOC” paint are not created equal since odors from off-gassed VOC fumes may utilize chemicals to mask the smell. And even these greener paints can still contain toxic ingredients such as toluene, ammonia, phthalates, heavy metals and glycol esters.
Of course, it’s still a better idea to choose paints and finishes labeled low or no VOCs, but all the usual precautions while painting should be taken. Make sure your space is well ventilated and do the painting when kids and pregnant women are not in the house.
6. "Candles made with essential oils only use natural scents."
Some candle products that claim to be scented with essential oils may contain only one drop of oil, which could be diluted with other synthetic fragrances.
Candle manufacturers are not required by law to list their ingredients, so you have no way of knowing what you’re actually breathing when you light your candle.
In fact, words like "fragrance" or "parfum" in the ingredients list often masks hundreds of hidden chemicals. Plus, even if a regular paraffin candle is scented with essential oils, it’s still a petroleum-based candle that pollutes your air as it burns. Look for beeswax or soy candles that are unscented or that use 100% essential oils.
7. "'Organic' labeled products never contain toxins."
Many products use the word “organic” on their packaging. But unless the label is verified by a certifier or another independent inspection organization, the term is not a reliable indicator of a necessarily safe and "green" product. That’s because there is no way to guarantee that it was cultivated without pesticides or doesn’t contain harmful chemicals.
In fact, according to current guidelines, the FDA doesn’t define or regulate the term “organic,” as it applies to cosmetics, body care, or personal care products. USDA regulates the term “organic” as it applies to agricultural products through its National Organic Program (NOP) regulation.
8. "BPA-free is safe."
Unless you’ve been living under a polycarbonate baby bottle, then you are aware of the health dangers of Bisphenol A (BPA). But, before you naively binge from a BPA-free container, you may want to be aware of Bisphenol S (BPS) — BPA’s evil twin.
New studies reveal that BPS could be just as — if not more — dangerous to the development of our brain. With most plastics revealing some endocrine disruption, we advise steering clear of plastics whenever possible.
9. "Air-freshener can clean the air."
There are four basic ingredients in most air-fresheners: formaldehyde, petroleum distillates, p- dichlorobenzene, and aerosol propellants, according to the EPA. In fact, air fresheners are created with any of over 3,000 synthetic chemical ingredients.
Moreover, manufacturers are not required to list ingredients on the label, using instead the generic term “fragrance.” Spraying toxins in the air is hardly anyone’s idea of “freshening” it. In fact, many of these chemicals are not targeting the air but your nose’s ability to smell.
Others simply mask an existing smell with another.
10. "You can find all ingredients listed on the label of cleaning and personal care products."
Since manufacturers are allowed to consider fragrance a trade secret, the government does not require them to list the specific ingredients in a fragrance.
As a result, consumers may not be able to identify the specific agent causing an allergic reaction from a product. Look for products that list and even explain all of their ingredients in clear view on their labels.
When it comes to making sure the products you buy are "green," it's a good idea to be on guard for the corners many companies cut in order to market their products as environmentally sustainable. Keep these "healthy lies" in mind next time you are at the store, and you (and those around you!) will be much better off.