The 8 Most Toxic Things On Drugstore Shelves

You can get everything from cheap beach toys to electronics at the pharmacy. Click through to see which products are better left out of your basket.

March 17, 2016
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1. Gum

Those familiar minty sticks are loaded with artificial sweeteners like aspartame, which has been linked to headaches, nausea, and weight gain. Even worse, a lot of popular chews actually use a base that contains plastic (and to think you used to swallow the stuff when you were a kid!). In the future, stick with the 8 Best Chewing Gums Not Packed With Chemicals for worry-free fresh breath. 

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squirt guns
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2. Water Toys

Consumer testing group Healthy Stuff ran some tests on plastic squirt guns from a national pharmacy chain and found they contained high levels of bromine, which indicates the likely presence of polybrominated diphenylethers (PBDEs). PBDEs are a type of flame retardant chemical that can build up in people and animals and may cause reproductive issues, brain damage, and cancer. Skip the cheap plastic toys and devise your own water games, like tag with a soaking sponge, or take a dash through the sprinkler.

energy drink can
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3. Energy Drinks

Packed with sugar and caffeine, not to mention artificial flavors and colors, energy drinks have been linked to health issues like insomnia and cardiovascular disease, and they were a factor in more than 20,000 emergency room visits in 2011. Plus, a study earlier this year found that teens who drank energy beverages several times a day had later bedtimes, trouble sleeping, and complained of headaches. Bypass them at the checkout and Make Your Own Organic Energy Drinks instead.

shaving cream
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4. Shaving Cream

It’s time to trade in traditional aerosol can for homemade shaving cream. The stuff in a can may be handy, but it likely contains isobutane or butane. They’re propellants added to aerosol products, and the Environmental Working Group gives them a toxicity score of seven (out of ten) for being strong irritants to the skin and eyes, as well as for posing a threat to internal organs. Plus, the artificial fragrances are known respiratory irritants, earning them a toxicity score of eight.

lip balm
5. Lip Balm

You may be inclined to pick up a couple of those convenient tubes on your way out of the pharmacy, but leave them be if they’re not organic. Popular brands contain harmful ingredients, like proplyparaben, a preservative associated with fertility problems. In balms containing SPF, look out for oxybenzone, which is a likely endocrine disruptor and may cause cellular changes. 

flip flops
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6. Flip-Flops

The kind of flip-flops you’re likely to see bookending pharmacy aisles are made from polyvinyl chloride (PVC), a type of plastic that contains high levels of chlorine and, usually, low levels of lead. All that chlorine means dioxins are present, a class of compounds known to be endocrine disrupters, carcinogens, and immune system suppressors. PVC is not recyclable, meaning those flip-flops are eventually headed for a landfill or incinerator where those dioxins will be released into the environment.

USB charging cord
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7. USB Charging Cords

Those convenient phone-charging cords you can pick up at the checkout counter are made from that infamous PVC plastic. In addition to high levels of chlorine, they test high for phthalates, a group of compounds used to make brittle PVC soft and flexible. Too bad one type of phthalate is “reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen” by the National Toxicology Program, while another is suspected to harm reproductive health, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine. Oh, and look out for the presence of heavy metals like cadmium and chromium.

plastic makeup bag
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8. Plastic Makeup Bags

Sure, they’re cheap and convenient, but they’re made with PVC, which means phthalates could leach into your favorite kabuki brush. Canvas cosmetic pouches are a cleaner and greener bet, and they’re less likely to crack, meaning you may not ever need to replace them.