Go Green This Holiday Season This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

March 30, 2008
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December is finally here, and that means shopping. Americans flood stores and malls seeking the perfect gifts for family and friends. How­ever, while it is important to ensure that spending on gifts stays within your budget, it is just as essential to take care that you do not inadvertently harm loved ones with a gift that contains toxins. Protecting yourself and others from dangerous chemicals – whether in food, toys, or cosmetics – is critical.

Chocolate tends to be a common gift for family and friends. From Cadbury Caramel milk chocolate bars to bags of Hershey’s Kisses, everyone indulges in this treat. Yet it is extremely important to choose your chocolate wisely. The cocoa plant is one of the most heavily pesticide-treated plants in the world. Whether you like yours light or dark, make sure it is organic.

Also, try not to buy remote-controlled toys or other gadgets that require nickel-cadmium batteries; cadmium is a known carcinogen. If you must, use gloves when handling these batteries and wash well afterward.

And who doesn’t like to look nice during the holidays? You can still look good without exposing your body to dangerous chemicals by avoiding certain products. First, skip the perfume! Ninety-five percent of chemicals in fragrances are synthetic compounds, including toxins like phthalates that have been linked to reproductive and genital defects and interferences with the functioning of the hormone system. You can create your own scent using essential oils, which are cheaper and safer.

Your skin absorbs 60 percent of whatever you put on it. Try to avoid creams and moisturizers that contain harmful chemicals, and instead opt for almond, hemp, or flax oils to soften skin. Cosmetics made solely with organic plant oils and ­extracts are also a great alternative.

Also, avoid dry-cleaning your clothes this season. Most dry-cleaning processes use perchloroethylene and other carcinogenic chemicals. If you do dry clean, air the clothing outside for several hours before wearing. Better yet, look for cleaners advertising “wet cleaning” – a process that uses fewer chemicals.

Finally, make sure that your holiday dinners are prepared in a manner that exposes you and your guests to the least amount of toxins. Don’t use plastic in the microwave. Heating some plastics releases chemicals that mimic estrogen, like dioxin and bisphenol. Excess estrogen has been linked to breast cancer and other reproductive diseases. Rather, heat food in glass or other microwave-safe containers.

And, if you barbecue, don’t char or burn the food, as grilling adds carcinogens. Avoid vegetables and fruits that are known to contain lots of pesticides, like pears, cherries, strawberries, and spinach. And eschew types of fish that contain high levels of mercury – like tuna, swordfish, and shark. Finally, when it comes to washing dishes after that sumptuous dinner, you can make your own dish soap with lemon oil, water, and soap flakes, or use an organic product.

Don’t be overwhelmed when considering how to ­reduce your exposure to dangerous toxins. Just take a deep breath, be vigilant when shopping, and strive to do your best to have a safe and fun holiday season.

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.






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