How to Reduce Forever Chemicals from Your Life

It feels like every other week you need to be mindful of a new chemical with some long, hard-to-read name. A few years ago, it was benzene in sunscreens, then BPAs in your plastic water bottles, and in the past few years, a new contaminant has entered the field: PFAS.

PFAS is short for perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances, and there are about 9,000 chemicals within this class. They are a type of “forever chemical” that takes hundreds to thousands of years to break down. Because of their exceedingly long decomposition time, they build up in the human body and are linked to numerous health issues.

It’s estimated that a minimum of 200 million Americans have drinking water affected by PFAS. Other communities may have safer water, but PFAS are found in various cosmetic products as well. Even worse, PFAS can be released through different types of cookware. Other common products which use PFAS include firefighting foam, dental floss, water repellent clothing and stain resistant fabric, and other grease resistant or oil resistant products.

The reason they’re used so universally is the same reason they’re so harmful: they do not naturally break down. In a sense, they provide durability and keep products from breaking down under normal environmental conditions. From a chemistry standpoint, the PFAS compounds possess the carbon-fluorine bond, which is extremely strong. This is what keeps the chemical from losing its integrity, which, from a manufacturer’s perspective, can be helpful in packaging, durability, and product lifecycle.

Lost in this view is what occurs when this chemical leaches out of the product and into our skin, water, and bodies. PFAS exposure has been connected to a plethora of health issues, including but not limited to:

  • Thyroid Disease
  • Kidney Cancer
  • Breast Cancer
  • Bladder Cancer
  • Testicular Cancer
  • Preeclampsia
  • Hypertension
  • Immune Dysfunction
  • Liver Damage
  • Hormonal Disruption

PFAS are a serious health issue, and one that the current administration in the US is attempting to tackle. Six PFAS are currently being reviewed for regulation in drinking water; however, there are 9,000 of these contaminants, and the bureaucratic process can be slow.

As our government regulations work towards better protecting us against PFAS, here are some steps you can take towards reducing your PFAS exposure in three primary domains: water, cosmetics, and cookware.

1. Drinking Water

As mentioned earlier, many Americans have PFAS in their drinking water. Every time you hydrate, you’re ingesting PFAS directly and potentially incurring PFAS build up. There’s good news, however: special water filters can protect against PFAS exposure. Below, we’ve listed three recommended by the Environmental Working Group (EWG).

First is the Travel Berkey, which is a large, non-plastic basin that removes 100% of PFAS. It requires a high initial investment, but it does not require that you purchase new filters—its filter life is eight years (assuming you use two gallons per day). If you have the space in your kitchen and the capacity to invest, it is generally the most convenient and longest lasting choice!

For those who prefer a handheld water pitcher, consider the Clearly Filtered Water Pitcher. This looks similar to a Brita, and has water filters that last about 50 days. Similar to the Travel Berkey, it leads to 100% PFAS removal; however, the filtration can be lengthier than other options on the market. It’s a lower initial cost, but the filters over time add up price-wise.

Finally, there’s the Epic Pure Pitcher. This option leads to 98% PFAS reduction—not the whole 100, but still close! The filters last slightly longer than Clearly Filtered as well, leading to a lower annual cost.

Additionally, the classic Brita filters are helpful against PFAS, but don’t remove them completely. EWG found that Brita filters remove about 66% of PFAS—if you aren’t able to invest in a new filter right now, Brita provides an inexpensive filter with moderate efficacy. 

2. Cosmetic Changes

A recent study found PFAS in over 50% of the makeup brands they sampled; generally, these products contained anywhere from four to 13 different types of PFAS. Brands in the study included Ulta, Mac, Cover Girl, Clinique, Smashbox, Nars, and more.

Cosmetic exposure to PFAS is worrying because the chemicals can be absorbed through the tear ducts, skin, or ingested (as with lipstick). Because of the potential health risks, politicians are working to ban PFAS via the FDA.

In the meantime, try and avoid any products advertised as “long-wear,” “waterproof,” or “water-resistant.” These products were found to have the highest levels of PFAS, which makes sense, as PFAS help keep products from breaking down. 

2. Cookware Best Practices

Popular non-stick pans and Teflon cookware have been found to include high levels of PFAS. Unfortunately, nonstick cookware wasn’t properly engineered to sustain itself at high temperatures. When used in baking and cooking, the high temperatures release various PFAS chemicals and can contribute to negative health effects.

There’s a hierarchy of best options when it comes to cookware, but generally speaking, you should avoid aluminum (connections to Alzheimer’s), copper (it breaks down overtime and can lead to copper toxicity), and nonstick cookware with its PFAS risk.

Instead, opt for glass and ceramic cookware. These two are completely nontoxic and can stand the heat! They are also less sensitive to steel wool and metal utensils. Cast iron and stainless steel are also great substitutes for any nonstick pots and pans in your kitchen.

Here’s what’s in my kitchen: PFAS might feel like they’re everywhere, but if you can remove them from these three key areas, your long-term health will thank you. Think of this as a long-term change if that’s helpful—upgrading your water filter next time it runs out, getting new non-waterproof makeup as you need it, and investing in new stainless, cast iron, glass or ceramic cookware when you can!

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