Plastic is one of those inventions that has made our lives massively easier. It’s transformed and even saved lives in its many applications in the medical world. But like so many other good things, there can quickly become too much of it. Look around at your environment and scan through your daily routine for plastics. Do you see them popping up again and again—and again? In food and drink products, utensils, cookware, personal care, waste removal, laundry, home cleaning, clothing, accessories— maybe even your kids’ or pets’ bath or playtime? The number of times we’re exposed to various types of plastics day to day is pretty mind-blowing.
Now consider that we know many types of plastics (especially those labeled 3,6, and 7) leach hormone-disrupting compounds into your food, water, and products—those same foods and products that you eat and apply, countless times as the weeks and months go by. Many of these compounds act like estrogens in the body, or otherwise affect and disrupt the healthy balance of our hormones. When your hormones are out of balance, you might see breakouts, redness, and issues with skin texture, your body may hold onto excess weight or water, and you may have reproductive or fertility issues. Hormones have a major impact on our beauty and health!
So how can you get smarter about plastic for healthier skin and hormones?
Start with the big picture of your exposures, like I do with my clients who are just beginning to incorporate safer personal care. The goal is to raise consciousness (so you get smarter about the occasions when you choose plastics), and to cut back in areas that will make a big difference, without stressing you out. I’m going to guess that your food and drink is your biggest regular source of plastic exposure, whether you are conscious of it of not.
One important thing to know: many compounds in plastic are lipophilic, meaning that they tend to combine with or dissolve readily in fats. This is why dairy products (even super high-quality ones!) and other naturally fatty foods (even if they're healthy fats) are not good to store in plastic. The recent news that powdered cheese is a major source of exposure to phthalates (one type of plastic compound) is not surprising, given that harmful compounds in plastics can concentrate in these types of foods during their production process.
Here are 9 ways to make simple swaps that will reduce your exposure to hormone-disrupting compounds in plastics:
1. Swap plastic storage containers for glass or unlined stainless steel. Do this today! And never, ever put warm food in plastic or reheat food in plastic containers, which can cause plastic to break down and leach harmful compounds more quickly. If you must, put only cooled food into plastic, and get rid of plastic containers that are scratched and worn, since they may leach chemicals even more readily. Personally, I’ve made an effort to skip takeout from places that dump hot soups and curries into plastic or styrofoam— those can be a big source of hormone disrupting chemicals. And I use mason jars for a lot of my portable storage! For at home storage of leftovers, I use Snapware and Frigoverre glass containers, which are glass with plastic lids.
2. Cut back on plastic wrap. Plastic wrap is super convenient, so we may never be able to ditch it 100%, but consider how often, and for how long, it comes into contact with your food. I don't like closely wrapping halves of veggies or fruits in plastic wrap, and I especially try to avoid wrapping products with fats (avocados, cheese and other dairy, etc.) with plastic wrap because of the tendency for those foods to store hormone-disrupting chemicals.
3. Choose personal care in glass or in BPA-free plastic labeled #1, 2, 4, or 5. Yes, your personal care products can be a concentrated source of plastic chemicals too, especially if they’re stored in plastic, and in hot environments like your bathroom. Opt for personal care stored in glass when it’s available, and then look for companies that consciously choose safer plastics for their products (Acure Organics is one company that I know of that aims to use safer plastics for this reason).
4. Toss your vinyl shower curtain in favor of cloth. Every time that soft plastic shower curtain heats up (every time you take a shower!), it releases plastic chemicals into your environment. A cloth shower curtain is a simple swap that’s also easy to clean (just throw it in the washing machine).
5. No more plastic water bottles. This is a big one. Plastic water bottles are a major source of chemical exposure— not to mention their awful impact on the environment. Treat yourself to a really nice glass or unlined stainless water bottle. If you forget your water bottle and need to grab a plastic one on occasion, don’t stress. But buying plastic water (or other beverage!) bottles by the case, drinking from them regularly, and reusing them again and again is a big don’t for beauty and health. One important thing to note: ‘BPA-free’ plastic doesn't mean ‘free of hormone disruptors.’ It just means that it has no BPA. Other compounds used as BPA substitutes may be just as harmful as BPA, so it’s best to minimize whenever you can.
6. Be careful with fragrance. Synthetic fragrance is a major source of phthalates, plasticizing chemicals that are hormone disrupting compounds in the body. They’ve also been implicated in fertility and reproductive issues, autoimmune diseases, and asthma. Skip items fragranced with synthetic scents, and opt for natural scents—or none at all—instead.
7. Check your cooking tools. Plastics abound in the kitchen, from rubbery spatulas to plastic cutting boards and mixing bowls. Be careful which of your plastics come into contact with hot foods, and throw away old or worn plastics, which can leach harmful compounds more readily. Keep a stack of glass and stainless steel bowls for mixing, and use glass, metal, and ceramic for serving.
8. Skip canned foods with BPA. Cans that contain BPA in their lining are Beauty Betrayers called out in Eat Pretty, since BPA mimics estrogen in the body and can alter our healthy hormone balance. Choose canned foods that are labeled BPA-free to support your best skin and hormone balance, and learn a few simple ways to make foods from scratch and skip cans altogether when you have time.
9. Buy fewer foods stored in plastics. This one is hard—it takes consciousness, and effort. But I'm working hard to implement this in my life as well! Opting for more whole foods, especially those stored without plastic containers and wraps, can be more beautifying for us all.