Answers to Your Questions About Toxic-Free Living

A Pretty Comprehensive Overview of Nail Polish—Both Bad and Better

Last week I received an email from a “nontoxic mommy blogger” asking if I would take a look at her upcoming post about nail polish.

I was impressed with her thorough research into the toxic chemicals used in nail polish and her review of the safer brands.

What I didn’t agree with was I felt that she didn’t give enough emphasis to the fact that even the “safe” brands aren’t really safe.

And you know what? She edited her post to include my viewpoint.

I’m really pleased she reached out to me and hope others will too. I’m happy to discuss and review because I want accurate information out in the world.

I’m very happy to see there is a new generation of nontoxic writers coming up who can continue to carry the torch when I’m ready to pass it on.

This is a great piece on nail polish. Well done, Lotus!

MOMMY TO MAX: Best Nontoxic Nail Polish Guide

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Stuffed GUND Elmo Plush Toy


Question from Maggie

Hi Debra,

I just noticed the materials in my son’s plush Elmo that he sleeps with. Should I be concerned? They consist of “polyester fibers, polyethylene beads, polyethylene stiffener, polyurethane foam.”

Debra’s Answer

I’m not so concerned about polyester fibers, polyethylene beads, and polyethylene stiffener, but I am concerned about polyurethane foam.

Polyurethane foam is extremely flammable, which is why products like upholstered furniture and mattresses have in the past contained chemical flame retardants. But polyurethane foam in children’s toys is just as flammable.

A 2011 study in Environmental Science & Technology “Identification of Flame Retardants in Polyurethane Foam Collected from Baby Products” says, “PBDEs have also recently been identified in children’s toys…It is less well-known that some baby products are considered juvenile furniture and that the polyurethane foam used in baby products must also comply with TB117. However, the extent of baby product compliance with TB117 and whether or not the types of chemicals added to the polyurethane foam are similar to those in nonjuvenile furniture is unknown. Flame retardant additives can escape from products over time, accumulate in dust, and are a primary route of exposure to humans.10 13 Exposure to children is a particular concern due to their frequent hand to mouth behavior and higher contact with floors. Exposure to chemical additives in baby products is of even greater concern for infants, who are in intimate contact with these products for long periods of time, at very critical stages of their development.”

I would conclude that the likelihood that fire retardants are in this toy is high and the dangers of these possible fire retardants are also high. I always follow “better safe than sorry” and choose to not use products where the presence of chemicals such as fire retardants may be present.

Browse the Toys page on Debra’s List for companies that make and sell stuffed toys that do not contain flame retardants.

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Cotton Compression Hose


Question from Bonnie Johnson

Hi Debra,

I was just told by my cardiologist that I need to start wearing compression hose to help with a heart issue. Are there any safe ones? Cotton? I have seen some but they are nylon and spandex. Not sure what to do.

Debra’s Answer

There IS cotton compression hose. Here’s one example:

There are also cotton hose liners specifically to wear inside compression hose for comfort.

They are easy to find online

Just search on “cotton compression hose and websites will come up that sell both.

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Toxics Issues Move Forward and Backward in the World

In this morning’s email I received two announcements. One showing progress on the toxics front and then other…what’s the correct word for “opposite of progress”?

Bad news first. The New York Times reported that the federal government is scaling back the way health and safety risks associated with the most dangerous chemicals on the market will be determined.

Under The Frank R, Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act (signed into law in 2016), the E.P.A. was required for the first time to evaluate hundreds of potentially toxic chemicals and determine if they should face new restrictions, or even be removed from the market. The chemicals include many in everyday use, such as dry cleaning solvents, paint strippers, and substances used in health and beauty products like shampoos and cosmetics.”

“But as it moves forward reviewing the first batch of 10 chemicals the E.P.A. has in most cases decided to from its calculations any potential exposure caused by the substances’ presence in the air, the ground or water…Instead, the agency will focus on possible harm caused by direct contact with a chemical in the workplace or elsewhere.”

On the brighter side. the State of New York now has a Household Cleansing Product Information Disclosure Program, that requires manufacturers of cleaning products to post their product ingredients on Internet web sites by July 2019, with further details to be added by July 2020 and January 2023. Exceptions are allowed for trade secrets.

California already has a similar program SB-258 Cleaning Product Right to Know Act of 2017. This law requires known hazardous chemicals in home and commercial cleaning products to be listed on labels and online.
Manufacturers have until 2020 to disclose ingredients online and until 2021 to list them on labels.

While all of this study of chemicals and disclosure of toxic ingredients is good to do, in the meanwhile each of us can take action to choose products that are not made with these chemicals right now, today. The toxic-free products exist, we just need to choose them.

THE NEW YORK TIMES: The Chemical Industry Scores a Big Win at the EPA

TIMESUNION: Home cleaning products must reveal chemicals, potential health impacts to state

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Natural Sunscreen 2018



Every year about this time everyone writes about sunscreen, so I I write a new post about sunscreen, too. And I received a question about it this week, so…

sun-protection-coverFirst, please read Debra’s Guide to Choosing Natural Sun Protection. Though I wrote it some years ago, it still has the best advice I can give on this subject: don’t wear sunscreen, and don’t wear sunglasses. But there other things you can do that are very effective. I lived in Florida for sixteen summers and I never had a sunburn.

Every year I also take a look at EWG’s Guide to Sunscreens. There is a lot of good information here about what’s wrong with sunscreens, but I just don’t agree with many of their recommendations.

I suggest listening to a show I did on Toxic Free Talk Radio called Things You Should Know About Sunscreen, But Probably Don’t. My guest was Michael J. Russ, President of Oceana Naturals, author of Sun Care Decoded . At the time of this interview he was the authorized US distributor for MelanSol 100% natural sunscreen (his website is no longer up, but you can still purchase MelanSol here. Still titanium dioxide, but the rest of the ingredients are 100% natural. If you want to use a lotion, this is the most natural I’ve found.

If you don’t want to use lotion, see  Q&A: Natural Sun Protection Without Lotion.

Even Dr Oz says don’t use sunscreen.

And now, scientists warn that wearing sunscreen is “not a reliable way to prevent getting skin cancer.”

Read my guide for sun protection that is both safe and effective.

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Is there a PVC-free Kid’s Pool?

YES! They have hard sides and are made of my favorite plastic—polyethylene!


Question from Romina

Hi Debra,

Do you know of any PVC-free kids pool besides the small hard side baby pools?

My kids are 3 and 5 and looking at a small to medium inflatable pool, but cannot find any option that doesn’t have PVC.


Debra’s Answer

I don’t have kids, but some moms who do have been asking and answering this very question.

I actually found a blog post that said they found a kiddie pool made with one of my favorite plastics—polyethylene! Polyethylne pool toys too! DAILY PEA: A Wading Pool Free of BPA, PVC and Phthalates—Affordable Too.

I had a difficult time finding these online, maybe because they are like an elephant to ship, but I’ve read they are sold at places like Walmart, Target, and Toys R Us, so call around.

Here are more posts about finding PVC-free pools.


RAISING NATURAL KIDS: Safer Pools and Water Toys

NATURALLY MINDFUL: How to Pick a Safe Kiddie Pool

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Aerotoxic Association Calls For International Investigation Into Health Effects Of Toxic Air In Planes

In July 2015 I interviewed a former flight attendant on Toxic Free Talk Radio regarding aerotoxic syndrome—a condition caused by toxic chemical exposure during airplane flights. TOXIC FREE TALK RADIO: Aerotoxic SyndromeL How Flying in Airplanes can Affect Your Health.

Then in January 2017 I posted a link to the GreenMedInfo investigative report on toxic exposures in the aviation industry and other related documents in Q&A: More on Aerotoxic Syndrome.

In June 2017 I posted even more about the subject in Q&A: More on Toxic Air in Airplanes.

And now, this week, the Aerotoxic Association called for an independent public inquiry into the possible technical solutions to contaminated air on planes. An “Independent Public Inquiry at the International Criminal Court in The Hague into all the evidence, for and against, of the impact of toxic cabin air in aircraft.”

““Our hope is that the court will consider all the evidence on this matter and realise that, based on the precautionary principle, it is vital that the known solutions to this problem in terms of air filtration systems are made mandatory in all aircraft that use ‘bleed air’ for their pressurised cabin air.”

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Misleading Claim Number 01350

Our United States government has been quite clear that they don’t want false and misleading statements or impressions made about alleged health or environmental benefits of products. So I’ve been keeping an eye out for misleading communications about the safety of products so I can point out examples to you and we can all learn to be more vigilant about them, and not make misleading claims ourselves.

I found this one today while I was helping a client with some research on an underlayment product. She’s building a new house and her contractor told her that they would be using a specific brand of underlayment beneath the hardwood floors as a moisture barrier. So I went to the website to see what it was made of, and if it would be a problem for my client.

The website clearly stated that the underlayment was make from two pieces of kraft paper laminated together with asphalt. Now asphalt has an extremely strong and toxic odor.

And then I saw the seal above. This website is claiming this product PASSED the CA 01350. I couldn’t find CA 01350 with a quick search, so I called the company. As it turned out I had a typo in my search request and when I later searched using the correct numbers I DID find CA 01350 right here.

I spoke with a manager and asked him, “How does a product that contains asphalt pass an indoor air quality test?”

“It passed for the chemicals that they test for. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have an odor,”

“Well, does it have an odor?”

“I can’t really answer that. Some people smell it and others don’t.”

The thing that is misleading about this is not that it didn’t pass the test (although we have no evidence of that, it’s just a claim), but that making the claim that it passed the test gives the impression this is a safe product.

To see if, in fact, indeed somehow a product containing asphalt is nontoxic,  I went looking for the list of chemicals CA01350 tests for.

I found Standard Method for the Testing and Evaluation of Volatile Organic Chemical Emissions from Indoor Sources Using Environmental Chambers, Version 1.1 (2010) on the above-referenced page but there was no link to it. I had to cut and paste the title into a search engine to find it. Here it is.

Here’s a list of products that passed CA 01350 for a specific project.

So let’s see now.

The list of products that this applies to begins on page 21: paints, adhesives, caulks, and various products applied with adhesives.

And here is the list of chemicals they test for and their maximum allowable concentrations:

Here’s a short, incomplete list of Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) chemicals emitted by asphalt plants

Just read the first few and you’ll see the lists don’t match. And this isn’t the complete list of asphalt emissions.

So we really can’t say that passing CA 01350 means that asphalt doesn’t emit toxic chemicals. It just means that the level of chemicals tested is below the maximum allowable concentrations.

So I’d like to know from you, does the seal at the top of this post make you think this product is safe? And is that misleading?

All of this aside, if they are going to make this claim, they should provide:

  • a link to CA 01350
  • a link to the actual test results for the product showing that they passed the test.

But even with these two links, I would still challenge this claim, given that the testing is incomplete for the list of chemicals known to be found in emissions.

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How Can I Get This Perfume Out Of My Hair?

Question from Alicia

Hi Debra,

I had my hair cut in a salon yesterday and the fragrance from the product they put in my hair will not come out. The scent is driving me crazy.

I spent most of the day yesterday trying to wash it out. I showered, I soaked in the tub. I submerged my hair in a 75% vinegar 25% water solution. I used everything from different non-toxic shampoos to dry shampoo, baking soda, orange juice, tea-tree oil + coconut oil, tomato juice, many different vinegar rinses, and a mint/alcohol tincture, among other things. The smell is only diminished about 50%.

It is musky and smells like a cheap men’s cologne from the 70’s. I fell asleep last night with baking soda in my hair and a winter hat covering my hair. Woke up this morning and tried again. It still stinks. My voice is scratchy from irritation. Help!

Debra’s Answer

Order EnviroKlenz Hand Soap and Deodorizer.

It’s a liquid Castile soap that utilizes the EnviroKlenz patented earth mineral technology to neutralize the odors at the source without the use of masking agents of fragrances.

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NEED Sensodyne Original toothpaste replacement!!!


Question from Anne

Hi Debra,

Sensodyne Original is being discontinued. I need a NON-MINT flavored toothpaste with the 5% potassium nitrate for sensitive teeth or another de-sensitizer that is just as effective. I live in constant sinus headaches and my teeth are super sensitive. Any specific help would be greatly appreciated!!!

Debra’s Answer

I don’t know of a toothpaste off-hand that meets these qualifications.

Readers, any suggestions?

NOTE: It’s in stock at today as I’m writing this. Might as well stock up while they have it. You might try other online sources too and compare prices.

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