The health food store is your go-to place for your favorite homemade shampoo ingredients, household cleaners that aren’t terrifyingly toxic, and Annie’s Organic Macaroni and Cheese. But just because a shop has “health” in its name doesn’t mean everything for sale is totally safe and good for you, even if all the packages are labeled “natural” and “organic.” Here are some items that could present a hazard to your health—proceed with caution.
Don’t get us wrong—we love essential oils. They’re great for using in homemade cleaners and DIY beauty products. But just because essential oils are natural doesn’t mean they’re completely nontoxic and safe. Aside from being strong skin irritants and organ toxicants if used incorrectly, essential oils can also bepoisonous to children and pets if ingested. Always dilute oils according to directions and keep them well out of reach of curious kids.
Ear candles may sound like an intriguing option, but don’t be fooled. Here’s how ear candling is supposed to work: a tapered candle is placed in your ear and lit from the top end. As the candle burns, it theoretically creates a suction that removes wax and other gunk trapped deep within the ear. But the real deal on ear candles is that experts say they don’t actually remove any wax—but can cause serious injury. Aside from burning yourself severely, you might also end up pushing earwax deeper into your ear, melting candle wax into your ear, or even puncturing your eardrum, according to the Mayo Clinic.
As with essential oils, herbal supplements have the potential for harm if misused. According to the Mayo Clinic, botanicals can have drug-like effects and they can interact with other supplements or prescription drugs in ways that can be dangerous, even life-threatening. The FDA also doesn’t regulate them as drugs—they actually fall into the category of dietary supplements, which means manufacturers can market them without approval from the agency. A studyfrom the University of Adelaide in Australia even found that herbal supplements may contain elevated concentrations of lead, mercury, and arsenic. The bottom line: always consult with your physician or licensed herbalist before taking any botanical supplements, and do your research on reputable brands before making a purchase.
Agave nectar—the natural sugar substitute you’ve been waiting for? Not so much, say food scientists. The truth about agave nectar is that it’s not really any better or worse for you than table sugar. In fact, it has even more fructose than corn syrup. Just because you buy your natural sweeteners from the health food store doesn’t mean you can get away with pretending they’re better for you.
Raw milk is all the rage right now. Some people like it for its rich, creamy texture, but others believe that raw milk’s health benefits trump those of its pasteurized cousin. Pasteurization uses heat to kill off bacteria found in milk—most notably E. coli—but the process may also result in an overall decrease in the milk’s nutritional content. Still, the trade-off is worth it, the CDC says, especially for kids, pregnant women, the elderly, and other people with weakened immune systems, who are more susceptible to foodborne illnesses. They even note that raw milk is one of the riskiest foods when it comes to bacteria contamination. (In some states, raw milk can’t even be sold in stores.) If you still want to drink raw milk, drink at your own risk.
Tea cleanses that are meant to rid the colon of toxins are simply unnecessary,according to the Mayo Clinic. Your kidneys, liver, and bowels don’t need any extra help to get the job done. In fact, detox cleanses can even be harmful, because they can lead to dehydration, cause changes in your electrolyte levels, and may induce bloating, cramping, and nausea.