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The 12 Worst Cancer-Causing Ingredients In Everyday Products

Emma Loewe
Author: Medical reviewer:
Emma Loewe
mbg Sustainability + Health Director
By Emma Loewe
mbg Sustainability + Health Director
Emma Loewe is the Senior Sustainability Editor at mindbodygreen and the author of "Return to Nature: The New Science of How Natural Landscapes Restore Us."
Bindiya Gandhi, M.D.
Medical review by
Bindiya Gandhi, M.D.
Dr. Bindiya Gandhi is an American Board Family Medicine–certified physician who completed her family medicine training at Georgia Regents University/Medical College of Georgia.
Photo by Getty Images

The EWG’s annual Dirty Dozen breaks down which fruits and vegetables have the most pesticides and which have the fewest. This year, they’ve taken their list a step further and tackled the toxins that lurk outside grocery stores.

In response to years of research linking environmental toxins and cancer, the EWG just released their Cancer Prevention Dirty Dozen, which lists 12 carcinogens that lie in everyday products like packaging, cosmetics and furniture.

“Given that we live in a sea of chemicals, it makes sense to begin reducing exposures to ones we know are bad actors,” the report reads.

Here’s a list of EWG’s top offenders, what they can do to your body, where to find them, and how to avoid them.

1. Bisphenol A (BPA)

You’ve probably heard talk of the dangers of BPA before — it’s a chemical used in the plastic lining of food and beverage containers and it’s been linked to a slew of cancers. Though a few major companies are phasing BPA out of their packaging, it’s still in plastics marked “PC” and “recycling #7.” Avoid these, and opt for fresh foods over canned ones whenever possible.

2. Atrazine

Atrazine is of the most widely used herbicides in the US and a study by the NRDC found that it has made its way into more than 80% of our drinking water. Filter your tap water to avoid this endocrine disruptor and potential carcinogen.

3. Organophosphate Pesticides

Major food corporations like Monsanto use organophosphates to destroy the nervous system of pests, but they’re not so great for humans either. Buy organic to avoid produce that could be contaminated with residue from the pesticide.

4. Dibutyl Phthalate (DBP)

DBP is linked to cancer and fertility struggles and it’s been banned in most personal care products like nail polishes and perfumes. You can still find it in some flexible plastics like shower curtains and raincoats, so it’s a good idea to look for natural alternatives to soft plastics.

5. Lead

Lead harms almost every system in the body, so be careful when removing that stubborn old paint from walls, as it could hold traces of the dangerous chemical.

6. Mercury

Mercury exposure is super dangerous during pregnancy, but it’s important for everyone to keep their levels in check. Monitor your intake of large fish like tuna and swordfish — they’re the ones that usually have the highest mercury buildup in their system.

7. PFCs

PFCs are used in grease and stain-repellent coatings. The EWG recommends avoiding pre-treated carpets and furniture that have been treated with repellents.

8. Phthalates

Phthalates are often added to perfumes to help them cling to the skin longer, but they’re really not something you want on your body. They’ve been shown to screw up hormone levels and disrupt brain function. Avoid products that have the word “fragrance” on the ingredient list — this is usually code for phthalates, which don’t have to be explicitly labeled.

9. Diethlyhexyl Phthalate (DEHP)

DEHPs are the most commonly used class of phthalates, and the same rules of avoidance apply for them.

10. PBDEs

This type of fire retardant was used to treat upholstered furniture, mattresses and pillows until it was pulled from the market for high toxicity levels. Invest in some new furniture and consider getting rid of those vintage pieces manufactured before 2005.

11. Triclosan

Triclosan has been linked to cancer and heart disease, but it’s still an ingredient in many antibacterial products. Soap alternatives like essential oils and DIY cleansers offer a safer approach to cleaning.

12. Nonylphenol

Nonylphenols are everywhere — from laundry and dish detergents to paints and personal care products. Follow the EWG’s Healthy Cleaning Guide to learn how to nix them from your everyday routine.

Emma Loewe author page.
Emma Loewe
mbg Sustainability + Health Director

Emma Loewe is the Sustainability and Health Director at mindbodygreen and the author of Return to Nature: The New Science of How Natural Landscapes Restore Us. She is also the co-author of The Spirit Almanac: A Modern Guide To Ancient Self Care, which she wrote alongside Lindsay Kellner.

Emma received her B.A. in Environmental Science & Policy with a specialty in environmental communications from Duke University. In addition to penning over 1,000 mbg articles on topics from the water crisis in California to the rise of urban beekeeping, her work has appeared on Grist, Bloomberg News, Bustle, and Forbes. She's spoken about the intersection of self-care and sustainability on podcasts and live events alongside environmental thought leaders like Marci Zaroff, Gay Browne, and Summer Rayne Oakes.