20 Harmful Toxins You’re Exposed to Every Day

One major reason to do a detox water diet is to help the liver and kidneys flush out toxins. However, many people are unaware of just how many potential toxins they encounter every day.

Through the rise of mass production and commercial agriculture, there has been a massive rise in the number of chemicals, preservatives, and pesticides used in the preparation and preservation of foods and other products.

This means that your exposure to each of these chemicals rises exponentially, whether you’re aware of it or not.

This can be an issue, as many pesticides and other chemicals lurk in items like food, beauty products, and toiletries. They can act as toxins in the body and can cause serious health issues if taken in excessively.

Some can cause long-term issues, even in small amounts over long periods of time. (1)

To help you identify some of these chemicals and toxins, we’ve put together a list of the 20 most common harmful toxins that you can run into in your daily regime. We also list where these toxins are usually found, along with the problems they can cause with excessive exposure.

20 Harmful Toxins You’re Exposed to Every Day

1. Lead

This is a particularly nasty toxin that can cause numerous health issues. These include abdominal pain and nausea, headaches and even problems with memory. Lead is also very easy to consume as it can be absorbed, inhaled, or ingested. (2)

Not only can lead be very harmful, but it is also very easy to accidentally take into your body. The good news is that it is also heavily restricted in developed countries, though exposure is still possible. (3)

Lead can be found in some paint, equipment that is manufactured with the metal (such as bullets and ammunition) and in polluted soil and water. Many toys that were made in China prior to 2007 also may have lead in them; these were recalled for this exact reason after the contamination was discovered.

2. Polychlorinated biphenyls

This awkwardly named chemical is another nasty toxin that can cause some health issues if you’re exposed to it. Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) are used in many lubricants and electrical equipment to protect them from damage and keep them stable.

However, their use was discontinued in the U.S. after 1977 when it was discovered that they could build up in the environment and humans could easily be exposed to them. (4) The negative health effects of exposure include problems with the immune system, behavior and skin problems. They may also increase the risk of cancer. (5)

3. Chlorine

You may know this chemical from its popular use in keeping pools disinfected. Unfortunately, excessive exposure to this chemical can turn it into a pretty potent toxin.

This is one of the reasons that you should shower after swimming, as the chemical can irritate the skin with prolonged exposure.

Chlorine can cause some health issues when you are exposed to too much of it, including sore throat, stomach discomfort, and kidney problems. (6)

4. Fluoride

You might know fluoride as a common ingredient in toothpaste. However, it’s also used to treat water. Despite its many benefits, excessive exposure to fluoride can bring its own health problems; these include headaches, nausea and gut problems. (7)

This can happen quite easily. Something as simple as swallowing toothpaste can be enough to cause the above issues. (8) Great care should be taken when around this chemical.

5. Cyanide

Cyanide is a popular method of poisoning in literature; however, this chemical is far more prevalent in your daily routine than you might think.

Cyanide can be found in fruits like apples, nuts and seeds, and even vegetables like Lima beans.

This doesn’t mean that you must stop eating these foods, but be aware that overexposure may be easier than expected and that cyanide can prevent cells from receiving oxygen, which can cause cell damage and death. (9)

This can impact every system and organ in the body, including the brain and nervous system, which makes it such a great poison. Being aware of foods that can cause high cyanide levels in the body is worth consideration.

6. Formaldehyde

Formaldehyde is commonly used in embalming dead people to preserve their bodies.

However, living humans can accidentally be exposed through air fresheners, furniture, e-cigarettes and even some clothes. (10) This is a big problem, as it is known to increase the risk of cancer and decrease air quality. (11)

7. Pesticides

Pesticide residue has become all too common in many food products on the shelves of grocery stores. (12) This is a cause for concern as pesticides can also increase the risk of cancer as well as cause stomach discomfort with higher exposures. (13)

For added health and well-being, consider going organic.

8. Steroids

Along with pesticides, steroids have also become a common addition to many meats, as a lot of farmers use the hormone to increase the amount of meat they can get out of their livestock. (14)

This can be a problem as the steroid levels can build up in your body, which means that they can exert the same ill effects personal steroid consumption.

These effects include damage to the nervous system, liver and skin issues. (15) Be sure to check out if the meat you’re buying is steroid-free.

9. Antibiotics

Another addition to many meats is antibiotics. These are given to prevent animals from getting sick, usually because they are being kept in unsanitary quarters under inhumane conditions. (16)

While antibiotics are great for helping to fight illness when we’re sick, taking too much of them can cause antibiotic resistance. (17) This means that the next time you get sick, antibiotics might not be able to help you.

10. Copper

Copper is an essential nutrient for the human body. (18) However, like with any chemical, exposure to excessive amounts, whether through using copper cookware or drinking water containing the metal, can turn this helpful nutrient into a harmful toxin

Copper toxicity can cause issues like vomiting, liver and kidney damage, zinc deficiency and an increase in systemic inflammation. (19)

11. Mercury

This may be a chemical that you’ve heard of before. This is because mercury can easily be found, and consumed, in small fish like tuna or mackerel. (20) Excessive exposure to mercury can cause mercury poisoning.

Mercury poisoning is particularly troublesome as it can cause permanent damage to mental health. (21) Limiting the intake of some fish, as well as handling items like batteries and thermometers, with care should be a priority.

12. Ethanol

This is the primary chemical in alcohol, and it shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone that it can be a potent toxin. Consuming too much ethanol can cause a host of health problems, including vomiting, liver and kidney damage and even death. (22)

Limiting alcohol intake or undergoing a strict alcohol detox, particularly with some detox waters or a detox diet can increase ethanol excretion and help protect your health. (23, 24)

13. Sunset Yellow

Sunrise yellow is a chemical that gives many red, yellow or orange soft drinks their color. However, it can also cause problems with attention and focus. (25) This may lead to further issues with cognition.

When you’re purchasing soft drinks, be sure to check the label for this chemical, especially if you’re buying it for children.

14. High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS)

A lot of people will see high fructose corn syrup on their Coca-Cola bottles or in other soft drinks in the U.S. However, it’s not as commonly seen in Europe.

This is because, while the U.S. has allowed it as an alternative to sugar, Europe has banned the substance because it has been linked to a number of diseases like diabetes and cancer. (26) If you think that sugars and syrups can’t act as toxins in the body, think again.

15. Hydrogenated Fats and Oils

The principles above can also be applied to hydrogenated fats and oils. These are fats and oils that have been treated with hydrogen to strengthen them and make them harder to break down in the body.

This causes a range of health problems, including increased inflammation, higher risk of cancer and diabetes and weight gain (27, 28).

16. Arsenic

Arsenic is most popularly known and used as rat poison, but it can be found in contaminated water, although this is very uncommon in developed countries. (29)

However, cigarettes are also a source of exposure to harmful levels of arsenic, which can cause vomiting and stomach pain as well as increase the risk of skin cancer.

This, along with the formaldehyde found in e-cigarettes, should give you reason enough to avoid smoking.

17. Triclosan

Triclosan is a potent anti-bacterial chemical. As such, it’s added to many health and beauty products like soaps, toothpaste and shampoos. However, this chemical can cause the same issues as the inclusion of antibiotics in foods. (30)

Namely, triclosan can potentially lead to antibiotic resistance, decrease in hormone levels and increase in cancer risk. (31)

All of these effects mean you should check to see if any of your toiletries contain this anti-bacterial chemical and consider it carefully when buying these items.

18. Phthalates

Phthalates are another chemical found in cosmetics, healthcare products and other items like soaps and toiletries. However, these have been linked to far more sinister health issues.

Phthalates have been associated with asthma, diabetes, some cancers and issues with fertility and development. (32)

Fortunately, the FDA in the U.S. has started to restrict the usage of the chemical in these products, but they are still common, so take care when buying to make sure phthalates are not present.

19. Perchlorate

Perchlorate is a crystallized or clear, liquid chemical that can sometimes be found in water or chemically treated solutions. This chemical can cause issues with your digestive system and skin irritation. (33)

It can also be bad for the environment and is found in explosives, flares, fireworks, and even missiles and rocket fuel. However, you may be surprised to find it in certain fertilizers and bleach.

20. Dioxins

Dioxins are a group of chemicals found naturally in meats and fish. However, excessive processing of foods can increase its amounts.

This can then lead to excessive exposure to the chemical and cause health issues like immune system damage, hormonal interference and an increased risk of cancer—another reason to avoid overly processed meats. (34)

5 Negative Effects of Excessive Exposure to Harmful Toxins/Chemicals

1. Toxin exposure can lead to increased risk of disease.

As noted above, one of the biggest issues related to exposure to toxins is the increased risks of acquiring long-term diseases. These can come in the form of cancer, diabetes, endocrine disruption, and more.

Keeping away from harmful toxins will not only improve your health in the short-term but in the long-term, too.

2. Toxin exposure can lead to higher risk of antibiotic resistance.

Another problem with the exposure to the toxins discussed above is the higher risk of developing antibiotic resistance when using products that are treated with antibacterials or antibiotics.

These can have drastic consequences if you fall ill, and this exposure is one of the factors behind the rise in antibiotic resistance worldwide. (35)

3. Toxin exposure can lead to an increased risk of infection or illness.

To make the above issue worse, the constant exposure to harmful toxins can also compromise immune system function and lead to a higher chance of you getting sick in the first place.

Or for instance, those who are afflicted with HIV/AIDS or Crohn’s Disease already have a deficient immune system. Further exposure to toxins can result in the manifestation of more serious symptoms.

4. Toxin exposure can lead to lower quality of life.

As mentioned above, the impact toxins can have on your immune system and the increased risk of illness means that your quality of life can suffer from exposure.

This can affect your mood and mental health, meaning that avoiding these toxins can provide both physical and psychological benefits.

5. Toxin exposure can lead to positive drug tests.

For athletes, exposure to toxins like the steroids listed above can also have a detrimental impact on their athletic career. Exposure to this toxin has been shown to be enough to cause a positive drug test. (36) 

This can mean disqualification or a ban from sports, meaning athletes, in particular, should take care to limit their exposure to certain toxins.


There are many potentially harmful toxins that you can be exposed to in your daily life. Whether this is through food, liquid or health care products and toiletries, care should be taken to limit your exposure to these chemicals.

This can help prevent a range of health issues both in the short- and long-term and help you live a much healthier, happier and more productive life.


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