We all want to buy non-toxic consumer products that won't potentially harm our health and the health of our families. Supply meets demand and now a lot of companies offer non-toxic, green, safe products. As the market for safer, non-toxic products has increased, so as the number of companies making "green" or "safe" claims in an attempt to jump on the bandwagon.
I am going to share with you 5 simple techniques you can use to understand if their marketing claims are truthful and whether you are buying products of true value.
1. Pick up the phone
When you are on the manufacturer's website, you will read lots of information and some of that information can be misinterpreted.
For example, the statement "does not contain toxic fire retardants" might lead you to believe that there are no fire retardants at all in the product, while the manufacturer might be saying that there are no fire retardants that they consider toxic.
See the difference?
Another example would be if you see a product description that states "solid wood construction," do not assume that the product is made of 100% of solid wood and there is no engineered wood anywhere in the product. "Solid" could be another word for saying "sturdy construction." That would require another phone call.
2. Ask companies what they use instead
Another way some companies might mislead you is by emphasizing that certain harmful chemicals are not in their products. You have probably seen claims such as "paraben-free," "sulfate-free," "BPA-free," "no formaldehyde," and "chlorine-free" many times by now.
I agree that it is good to know that these bad chemicals are not in the products. But it is even better to know what is used instead.
For example, some manufacturers replace BPA with something else. Here is the huge problem - the BPA-replacement may not be any better. Recent research reveals that a common BPA replacement, Bisphenol S (BPS), may be just as harmful. A really astonishing number is that nearly 81 percent of Americans have detectable levels of BPS in their urine.
Thus, I encourage you to read past "no" and "-free" statements. Instead, ask them they use or do instead.
3. Read actual ingredients, not their marketing claims
You probably have heard and read words like "non-toxic," "natural," "organic," "hypoallergenic," "baby mild," "gentle," "pure," and "pediatrician-approved" many times. Unfortunately, these terms are neither defined by law nor regulated by anybody.
In other words, the manufacturers who make and sell products dare the ones who decide whether their products are non-toxic.
Do you see a conflict of interest?
I highly recommend asking them to be specific and give you their definition of "non-toxic." Don't assume that your definition of "non-toxic" is the same as theirs.
For example, even a claim that something is "organic" does not mean much on your shampoo bottle, unless you see the USDA Organic seal, or the seal of another organic certifying organization, on the product or its packaging.
Do not be swayed by these claims, but read the actual ingredients of products instead.
4. Be careful with ingredients derived from 'natural sources'
Some companies emphasize that their product ingredients are "plant-derived" or "plant-based" or "naturally-derived." Have you thought what that might mean?
Not always, but often, it means, that there was a plant ingredient to start with that was reacted with some chemical to produce the ingredient in your product. For example, there are a number of synthetic cleansers that are coconut-based. But cocamidopropyl betaine is also considered coconut-based, and it was nominated Allergen of the Year in 2004.
Let's just ask ourselves, "How did the coconut become this chemical with a fancy long name of cocamidopropyl betaine? Was the coconut squeezed really hard to get the juice out and that juice is called cocamidopropyl betaine?" Of course, the answer is no. The truth is that cocamidopropyl betaine is produced from fatty acids of coconut oil that is reacted with 3,3-dimethylaminopropylamine, a dermal allergen. At this point, coconut oil becomes less important. I am more concerned about the allergic properties of dimethylaminopropylamine and the fact that some small but potent amount of it might remain in the cocamidopropyl betaine that I will apply to my skin at least 5 times a day.
Here is another example of why "coconut-derived" is meaningless. Do you know that Cocamide DEA, another coconut-derived surfactant, is linked with an increased risk of cancer?
5. Verify products' certifications
There are lots of certifications various products can receive in the attempt to assure product safety. When a manufacturer claims that their product is certified, I recommend looking into the scope of the certification in question independently.
Here is a recent example. I have been looking into no or low VOC hardwood floor finish. So I inquired of company X about the content and emissions of VOCs. They were happy to emphasize that all their wood products are CARB II compliant.
However, CARB II regulates only the amount of formaldehyde emissions, not VOCs. Thus, while they sounded good, they did not provide the answer to my question.
Here is another example. Company Y makes a permanent hair color, and claims that it is certified organic. The certifying agency, 360BIOCERT, was not familiar to me, so I looked into it. With a little bit of research, I found out that the Company Y created its own certification, registered a trademark for the certification, created the standard for organic certification, and then failed to live up to its own manufactured certification, but . . . nevertheless, markets itself as being "certified organic."
So, if you are not familiar with a certification, do a little of homework to find out what it is.
This concludes our list of 5 simple techniques you can use to figure out the products you are interested in buying are truly safe. I hope I was to demonstrate that a little bit of independent research on your part goes a long way.