When I talk to families about how to keep kids safe from toxic chemicals, I focus on what I like to call the “3 Points of Entry”. These are the three primary ways that toxins enter our bodies:
- In our mouths
- In the air we breathe
- Absorbed through our skin
Even boiling it down to these three points of entry, there are still thousands of things we can do to make a positive impact. It sometimes feels a bit overwhelming to even know where to start. But there’s good news! There are some easy, low-cost, high-impact things we can do to make our homes and families a little healthier and safer!
Entry Point #1: What goes in our mouths
We’d all love to eat healthful, 100% organic, non-GMO foods all the time, right? Unfortunately, for most of us this is goal is limited by our budgets or other access to this type of product. But we can focus on the most important foods to eat organically to maximize our efforts to keep what goes in our mouths as free from toxins as possible.
Here are some key areas my family has chosen to focus when it comes to what goes in our mouths:
- Go Organic for Dairy: we look for USDA certified organic as much as possible, and if not organic then at least free from RBST or other artificial growth hormones
- Select the Safest Meats: we’ve decided we’d rather eat less meat so we can better afford to make the meat we do eat organic, free from nitrates/nitrites, antibiotics and growth hormones. We also eat wild caught Alaskan salmon and other sustainable seafood and avoid processed meats as much as possible.
- Choose Organic Fruits/Veggies: we focus on buying organic for Environmental Working Group’s dirty dozen and as many others as we can afford. Why is avoiding pesticides so important? Pesticide Action Network breaks it down.
Of course, babies and young children put more (much more!) than just food in their mouths. So it is also important to look for toys, feeding utensils and pacifiers that are free from toxins like BPA, PVC and Phthalates. Two of my favorite resources to find recommendations for non-toxic teething and feeding products are Mighty Nest and The Ultimate Green Store.
Entry Point #2: What we breathe
This one sometimes feels beyond my control since I can’t actually see, touch or hold the air that is filling my family’s lungs with each breath we take. However, there are some easy ways to reduce the amount of toxins our bodies take in via the air in our homes. There are a lot of suggestions in this list, but I find it comforting to know that making even one of the decisions below can make a huge difference in the quality of air my family is breathing. If you find this list overwhelming, try making a commitment to one change at a time and before you know it, you’ll be breathing sweeter, cleaner, “fresher” air!
- Remove those shoes! According to Healthy Child Healthy World, up to 85% of the dirt in our homes is tracked in on our shoes or on our pets’ paws. While we can’t take the paws off our pets, we can certainly remove our shoes and leave those toxins at the door, reducing our families’ exposure to toxins like lead, pesticides and even microorganisms like E. Coli that may be tracked in – eeewww!
- Open a window! Indoor air quality is worse than outdoor air quality, so opening a window for even 5 minutes a day can help improve the air inside your home.
- Bring nature indoors! Houseplants can help to reduce toxins in the air. Just be sure to place them out of little ones’ reach!
- Go Eco with your Flooring: Ready for a floor makeover? Carpet can off-gas formaldehyde, vinyl flooring can off-gas PVC…don’t make a hasty decision when it comes to replacing your flooring. Green America has some great resources to help you learn more about what to avoid and which options are the safest and healthiest for your home.
- Look for Low-VOC Furniture: Wood furniture can off-gas formaldehyde from particle board and other VOCs from finishes. Be sure and check with the manufacturer to make sure the wood furniture you buy is free from these toxins. When it comes to upholstered furniture, it is difficult to avoid polyurethane foam and flame retardant chemicals, but opting for natural materials like cotton and wool can make a big difference in the air quality in your home.
- Opt for Organic Mattresses & Bedding: I used to own and operate an organic bedding store and am VERY passionate about safe and healthy mattresses – especially for babies and young children who are especially susceptible to the effects of many synthetic and toxic materials used in conventional mattresses and bedding. Please read Making a Safer Bed on Any Budget for my detailed recommendations on this one.
- Avoid Pesticides: There are plenty of safe alternatives to chemical pesticides. Visit Beyond Pesticides for a comprehensive list of least toxic pesticide alternatives for your home and garden.
- Choose Paint Carefully: Use No-VOC Paint, Low-VOC really isn’t good enough
- Minimize Lead Exposure: If you live in an older home like I do, lead can be a concern not only in peeling paint chips, but in household dust as well. To minimize exposure, take shoes off when entering your home, be sure any home renovations are completed by contractors certified in proper lead-safe techniques, vacuum and dust often, and keep kids away from often overlooked areas that may harbor lead residue like painted windowsills and door frames. If in doubt, test it out! Get all the info you need from the Lead Safe America Foundation, a non-profit organization started by Healthy Child Healthy World’s 2011 Mom On a Mission, Tamara Rubin.
- Consider an Air Purifier: If you live in an area where there is a smoker, smoker, are bothered by allergens or chemical sensitivity, or just prefer to take the extra precaution, an air purifier can help! I prefer Austin Air Systems, as they are made with solid steel outer casings and medical-grade HEPA filters, and finished with no-VOC power coating.
- Even though outdoor air quality is generally considered better than what’s found inside most buildings, it’s still important to keep working toward cleaning up the air outside, too. Have a few minutes at naptime? Visit Moms Clean Air Force or EWG’s Action Center for some quick and easy “Naptime Activism” ideas!
Entry Point #3: What Goes On Our Skin
With so many unsubstantiated claims of “natural” in skincare products on the market today, it is tough not to become cynical about what “the good guys” have to offer. But those good guys are out there and can be found with a little bit of research. The hardest thing for me is wanting to just grab something off the shelf when I am out shopping with my kids and really don’t have time to stand there reading all of the ingredients. I am very comfortable with which foods/brands I shop for, so my grocery shopping trips look like the final round of supermarket sweeps – after all, if I stop long enough for my kids manage to wriggle out of the cart, we’ll be there for the rest of the day. If I pretend the cart is e a racecar, on the other hand, I can toss everything I need into the cart and save my sanity too. But when it comes to safe skin care, since I am more of an eco-novice, I still have to look most products up or consult trusted eco-experts before I’m ready to buy a new product. We locked in on Earth Mama Angel Baby for the kids ages ago, but some of my own products like deodorant and makeup are still on my “to find” list.
Here are some things to strive for in the skincare realm:
- Like food, the fewer ingredients in skincare, the better. And if you can pronounce them all…that’s best!
- Check out recommendations from trusted non-toxic resources like EWG’s Skin Deep Database or Practically Green before buying a new product/brand
- Read labels carefullyto:
- validate claims of “natural” ingredients
- avoid toxins like Phthalates (often labeled as “fragrance” or “parfum”, Parabens, Sodium Laureth/Lauryl Sulfate, Propylene Glycol, EDTA, 1,4 Dioxane, Phenoxyethanol and others. Lovely Safe Mama has a more exhaustive and detailed list of what ingredients to watch out for here.
- periodically ensure nothing has changed. Even trusted and well-known companies change their formulations from time to time and unfortunately they don’t always make it entirely clear when they do.
- familiarize yourself with the various certifications skin care products may have. Mindful Momma has an excellent article on this called Making Sense of Personal Care Product Labels
- If you have a little bit of a DIY streak, try making your own skin care products! MakeYourCosmetics.Com has some great tips and recipes to get you started!
As with all things, take it a little bit at a time to avoid non-toxic burnout. With all of the great resources and information out there to help parents make the safest and least toxic decisions for our families, it is hard not to be drawn into what feels like a never ending loop of discovery and shifting of what we thought we knew or could trust. But there really are excellent resources, passionate moms, dads, grandparents, businesses, organizations and yes, even politicians working hard every day to make things better so that hopefully our kids’ kids won’t have to sift through mountains of information just to determine which baby shampoo is safe for their kids. But until that day, I’m happy to be surrounded by other passionate greenies working to make the world a safer place to raise our little ones and watching the small steps we take together add up to big changes for our planet, our families and our health.