Forget Christmas—for many of us, summer is the most wonderful time of the year. Beach days, lazy cookouts, family time… what could go wrong? Just ask a neurotic (that’s me). Where some may delight in the faux-coconut smell of their suntan lotion, my mind is flashing “phthalates”! Foodies savor the gritty patina of a well-grilled steak, but all I taste are carcinogens! Itch-less wearers of fragrance-free insect repellent may now use their hands for something other than mosquito swatting, but the words “Silent Spring” won’t stop buzzing through my brain.
All kidding aside, so much danger can lurk in summer fun. Here, a serious roundup of the environmental hazards keeping me up at night this summer, along with solutions as calming as a low-glycemic, 100 percent organic, fair-trade margarita.
The Worry: All the bad things in plastic are going to get heated by the sun and will subsequently leach into my water, soda, cosmetics… and then my brain.
Get rid of as much plastic as possible. Make like San Francisco and ban disposable water bottles from your life. Aluminum is just as portable as plastic. And as a bonus, it keeps water cooler longer.
LivingHealthy recommends: The Wirecutter blog did a great roundup of aluminum water bottles.
Trade your styrene and polypropylene (sorry, Brita) water-filtering pitchers for glass ones.
LivingHealthy recommends: The Soma water filter is chic enough for design snobs and detoxifies H2O at the speed of light.
Seek out personal care items that are packaged in glass. You can justify their fanciness and price because of the health benefits.
LivingHealthy recommends: Aesop.
Try to wean yourself off soda and canned goods, as their seemingly safe metallic packaging is actually lined with plastic that’s just scheming to disrupt your endocrines. If you can’t avoid the allure of those shiny cans, at least promise you won’t leave them in a hot car before consuming them. And on that note, don’t buy discounted water from a pile of plastic wilting under 150-degree heat in a warehouse parking lot.
Just (Don’t) Breathe
The Worry: I’m going to inhale my spray sunscreen and soon my lungs will be so messed up, I’ll have to dial that late-night mesothelioma class-action hotline as I toke on my oxygen tank.
The Fix: Ditch all aerosol sunscreens for lotion or stick formulas. Better yet, choose a physical block (zinc oxide, titanium dioxide) instead of a chemical one so you can avoid scary newfangled ingredients such as oxybenzone, which has been found to alter sperm production and encourage endometriosis, and octinoxate, which affects both the reproductive system and the thyroid.
LivingHealthy recommends: The Environmental Working Group’s brand-new guide to safe sunscreens.
Going up in Smoke
The Worry: Forget secondhand smoke—what about the industrial waste emanating from the BBQ grill? After making my famous grilled chicken, I feel like a chimney sweep.
The Fix: Go for gas over charcoal. Foods cooked over charcoal have been found to contain higher levels of PAHs (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons) than those prepared on a propane grill. Better yet, steam, blanch or poach food first, then grill just for the marks (foodie snobs who object to this method can sous-vide first, then grill).
The Worry: I was so freaked about sharks that I moved the family vacation from the shore to the desert. Now that we’re here, I found out the pool is chlorinated, not saltwater! What can I do, short of buying an inflatable kiddie pool for the patio?
1. It’s true that saltwater pools are (somewhat) healthier than chlorinated ones, but good luck convincing the resort to switch—they’re notoriously difficult to maintain. Also worth noting: Saltwater pools still require chemicals, and they’re nowhere near as salinized as the ocean (nor do they offer ocean water’s healing benefits).
2. It’s important to know that not all chlorinated pools are created equal: Indoor ones offer much more chemical exposure than outdoor ones because the gas they emit is trapped in the air that swimmers breathe. Also, pools with lots of bathers tend to have higher levels of toxins than private watering holes, because it’s the chemical reaction between pool water, human grime and personal care products that’s the problem, not the chlorine itself.
3. To minimize exposure to pool chemicals, shower just before jumping in—skin and hair can absorb only so much water—and again immediately upon getting out, before chlorine has a chance to dry on the skin’s surface. If you’re an underwater person, wear goggles or a mask to avoid eye irritation.
Agony of the Feet
The Worry: There’s nothing I love more than being barefoot, but with the dangers posed by pedicures and plastic flip-flops, I’m planning to wear my UGG’s all summer long.
1. With the number of “green" spas and products on offer, there’s no need to forgo pedicures entirely, even after reading that horrifying New York Times exposé on the dangers of nail salons. Opt for a buff ‘n’ shine instead of polish, and look for spas or hotels that offer nail services in the open air so you’re not breathing any fumes.
2. Plastic flip-flops are perfect for wearing around the pool. They deter fungal growth and offer a non-slip surface. But don’t make them your only summer footwear. Besides being the bane of podiatrists (since they offer no arch support and encourage an unnatural gait), plastic flip-flops can be made from toxic materials you’re then exposing your feet to all day long. A good rule of thumb: Pass up shoes that smell like a chemical factory and opt for thongs made from natural materials such as rubber, hemp, cotton or leather
LivingHealthy recommends: Planet Flops, designed by a podiatrist, are made of natural Brazilian rubber.
This Bugs Me
The Worry: Whatever chemicals those bugs are smart enough to run away from surely can’t be good for me. I’m going to spend the whole season covered in insect bites!
The Fix: Even though the FDA has deemed chemical repellents relatively safe, there’s no reason to expose yourself and your family to them. Just plant the magical herb citronella and enjoy a skeeter-free garden. If you’re on the move, try DEET-free sprays such as Bite Blocker or Buzz Away. Even better, apply oil of lemon eucalyptus to pulse points. It’s totally natural and the Centers for Disease Control says it works (but should not be used on children under 3).
LivingHealthy recommends: Essential oil of lemon eucalyptus is inexpensive and can be purchased online here.
- Natural Resources Defense Council: Water
- Natural Resources Defense Council: This Green Life
- USA Swimming
- CNBC: 10 Things Your Pool Guy Didn't Tell You
- New York Times: At Nail Salons in NYC Manicurists are Underpaid and Unprotected
- Occupational Safety and Health Administration