Detox Your Life, one thing at a time. | Breast Cancer UK

Detox Your Life, one thing at a time.

What with processed foods, pesticide residues in our fruit and vegetables and sugar laden snacks and treats, it’s easy to see how we could over load our bodies with synthetic chemicals.

But it’s hard to cut everything out, so start by making one change this month, start by swapping for a more natural substitute or cutting it out completely!

Do the same next month and by the end of the year you will have dramatically reduced your intake of harmful chemicals.

So choose just one thing and make that change. Your body will thank you for it.

Do you really need another body cream?

Not only do we ingest too many artificial chemicals in our food and drink but we also apply too many to our bodies.

Parabens have been used as preservatives for many years in an extensive range of cosmetic products.  They do not make the product any more effective but are used by manufacturers largely to extend a product’s shelf life.

Parabens are known Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals (EDCs) which can mess with your hormones and may increase your risk of developing breast cancer (1).

  • Opt for paraben free labelled products if possible
  • Look out for butylparaben, methylparaben, ethylparaben and propylparaben on ingredient lists.

For more information on parabens see here.

To sweat or not to sweat this is the question?

Aluminium salts are active ingredients used in  antiperspirants to reduce sweating.

Aluminium can be absorbed through the skin, especially if damaged, following application of antiperspirant.  Aluminium is not a natural component of our bodies and at high concentration has  adverse effects on human tissue.

Whilst evidence is not conclusive, there are some studies which link aluminium in antiperspirant to an increased risk of breast cancer For more info on aluminium salts in antiperspirants see here

  • Use natural fragrance deodorants which do not contain aluminium salts

Time to detox your bathroom cabinet.

Deodorant, toothpaste, cosmetics, hair products, nail polish and perfumes are often loaded with potentially harmful chemicals.

  • Replace your skin care and personal care products with less toxic options.
  • Learn how to identify them using our guide to Cosmetics and Beauty Products.  It lists some of the chemicals to look out for and can be downloaded from our website.

Why Fragrance can stink?

If you cut out just one unhealthy ingredient in your cosmetics and household cleaning products, make it synthetic fragrance sometimes labelled "parfum". Fragrances often contains phthalates, harmful endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs) (2).

  • Opt instead for unscented products.

Don’t mask that funky smell with air fresheners!

There are no safe commercial air fresheners, according to the Environmental Working Group.

So how can you keep the air clean in your home?

  • Keep your windows and doors open as much as possible to ventilate.
  • Use green house plants as natural air detoxifiers. Boston ferns, peace lilies, and mother in laws tongue are all good pollution absorbers.
  • Use bowls of herbs like rosemary and sage to add a pleasant fragrance to rooms.

How does your garden grow?

Glyphosate-based herbicides (weedkillers) are the world’s most abundantly used pesticides both in agriculture and domestically. Recently, WHO listed glyphosate as a probable cause of cancer in humans (5). So what are your alternatives:

  • Never apply glyphosate-based herbicides (e.g. Round-up) to soil where vegetables are grown.
  • Replace toxic lawn and garden pesticides and herbicides with less harmful natural ones and where possible pull weeds out by hand.
  • Look for websites offering organic gardening tips – your vegetables may grow in odd shapes and sizes but they’ll be better for you.

Breast Cancer UK funded research, carried out at King's College London, into the potential endocrine (hormone) disrupting effects of glyphosate and commercial glyphosate formulations. The research showed glyphosate was weakly oestrogenic at high concentrations. For more details of the research see here

Back to basic cleaning.

Until the 1950s we used natural ingredients to clean our homes. Then along came the big chemical companies with large marketing budgets who convinced us we needed products containing triclosan, phthalates and synthetic fragrances  to safely clean our homes. 

Now studies have shown the harm these chemicals may cause our health and our environments(3)– it’s time to switch back to greener household cleaners which don't damage our health or the environment. 

You can also use basic ingredients you have around the house, for instance:

  • vinegar in place of bleach
  • baking soda (and elbow grease!) to scrub your tiles
  • hydrogen peroxide to remove stains
  • or tea tree oil as a natural antibacterial cleaner.

Our friends at Mangle & Wringer have a great stain remove guide – using only natural ingredients you’ll find in your food cupboard!

Time to ditch the non-stick.

The majority of non-stick cookware and utensils are coated in perfluorinated chemicals (PFCs) which may be linked to cancer and other health problems(2).

  • Opt for 100% ceramic coated or PTFE- and PFOA- free non-stick cookware instead.
  • Use Pyrex, glass, silicon or stainless steel containers to cook and store food in.

Plastic is not always fantastic!

Find substitutes for plastics. When it comes to plastic, bisphenols such as bisphenol A and phthalates are the real baddies, but there is evidence that other plastics may leach hormone-disrupting chemicals too (1).

  • Opt for glass or stainless steel instead for food storage and drinking bottles.
  • If you must use plastic, don't microwave it, don't reuse water bottles, and avoid containers with #3, #6, and #7 recycling codes.

Read our briefing on BPA in our science section.

How safe is that sofa of yours?

Flame retardants (FRs) are widely used in consumer products, such as upholstered furniture and furnishings, electrical and electronic equipment and textiles, to make them less flammable.

However, there are growing concerns that the overuse of FRs could be linked to a range of adverse health effects including cancer(4). 

Be conscious of flame retardant additives in furniture, carpeting and soft furnishings, especially in products made from synthetic materials.

  • Choose natural fibres such as wool,silk or cotton for upholstery, carpets and rugs (these are naturally more flame resistant) .  
  • Use ceramic tiles or linoleum rather than PVC for flooring. Install using nontoxic glues, adhesives, stains and sealers.

Cheaper is not always better.

The demand for cheaper, easy care clothing, in particular in relation to school uniforms, has led to an increase in the number of synthetic chemicals now found in a lot of clothing.    

  • Avoid stain-guarded clothing due to the presence of perfluorinated chemicals (PFCs).
  • Wrinkle free and permanent press fabrics used for clothing and bedding commonly contain formaldehyde - use untreated fabrics where possible.

Make ‘LESS IS MORE’ your moto for 2016!

By the 1950s scientists were convinced that smoking cigarettes caused lung cancer (6), but public health policy was slow to react. Is history repeating itself with our overuse of potentially harmful and  toxic chemicals? 

The simplest way to detox your life is to use less stuff. If you can’t live without some bad stuff, fine - just try to use less of it.

  • Can’t live without your brand of detergent? Opt for the unscented version and skip the fragrance fabric softener.  
  • Not going out today, take a shower and give the antiperspirant a day off. 
  • Be particularly discerning about products that you use on your whole body on a daily basis (like the lotion you apply head to toe after every shower). Use natural skin moisturisers like shea or coconut oil.  Shop around, there are lots of great alternatives now out there.   

Remember you don't have to do all of this at once, Detox Your LIfe, one thing at a time.



(1) e.g. see Jenkins, S. et al. (2012). Endocrine-active chemicals in mammary cancer causation and prevention. Journal of Steroid Biochemistry and Molecular Biology 129(3-5): 191-200.

Weber Lozada, K. and Keri, R. A. (2011). Bisphenol A Increases Mammary  Cancer Risk in Two Distinct Mouse Models of Breast Cancer. Biology of Reproduction 85 (3) 490-497.

Niermann, S. et al. (2015). Prenatal exposure to di-(2- ethylhexyl) phthalate (DEHP) affects reproductive outcomes in female mice. Reproductive Toxicology 53: 23-32.

UNEP/WHO (2013). State  of the science of endocrine disrupting chemicals 2012. StateOfEDCScience.pdf

Westerhoff, P. et al. (2008). Antimony leaching from polyethylene terephthalate (PET) plastic  used  for bottled drinking water.  Water Research 42(3) 551-556.

Kotsopoulos, J. et al. (2012). Plasma micronutrients, trace elements, and breast cancer in BRCA1 mutation carriers:an exploratory study. Cancer Causes Control 23: 1065–1074.

(2) e.g. see Bitsch, N. et al. (2002). Estrogenic activity of musk fragrances detected by the E-screen assay  using human mcf-7 cells.  Archives of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology. 43: 257-264.

SNSCCNFP (2004). Opinion of the scientific  committee on cosmetic products and non-food  products intended for consumers concerning musk  xylene and musk  ketone. documents/out280_en.pdf

(3) e.g. see Bitsch, N. et al. (2002). Estrogenic activity of musk fragrances detected by the E-screen assay  using human mcf-7 cells.  Archives of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology. 43: 257-264.

SNSCCNFP (2004). Opinion of the scientific  committee on cosmetic products and non-food  products intended for consumers concerning musk  xylene and musk  ketone. documents/out280_en.pdf

Dinwiddie, M. T. et al. (2015) Recent  evidence  regarding triclosan and cancer risk. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health 11, 2209-2217.

Niermann, S. et al. (2015). Prenatal exposure to di-(2- ethylhexyl) phthalate (DEHP) affects reproductive outcomes in female mice. Reproductive Toxicology 53: 23-32.

(4) e.g. see National Toxicology Program (2014). Report on Carcinogens, Thirteenth Edition. Research Triangle Park, NC: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Public Health Service: 2,2-Bis(bromomethyl)-1,3-propanediol, CAS No. 3296-90-0

Chen et al. (2015) Environmental Toxicology and Pharmacology 40(1): 310–318

Kwieciñska et al. (2011) Pharmacological Reports 63(1): 189-9

Li et al. (2012) Environmental Health Perspectives 120(4): 541-546

(5) Guyton, K. Z. et al., (2015). Carcinogenicity of tetrachlorvinphos, parathion, malathion, diazinon, and glyphosate. Lancet Oncology, published online March 20, 2015. doi: 10.1016/S1470-2045(15)70134-8.

(6) e.g. see


Page last updated January 6, 2016

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