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Are women more susceptible to environmental illness?

It’s widely accepted among medical professionals that women are more likely than men to become sick from environmentally-related illnesses. No one knows the reasons for sure, but researchers and medical professionals point to a few possible explanations related to air quality.

Cleaning Products

While in this day and age women and men often share house cleaning duties, the job still tends to be done by women who, in the process, are exposed to toxic products. Home cleaning products can produce volatile organic compounds (VOCs)—gases emitted from various chemicals—and particulate matter, which are small, potentially unhealthy particles that can be carried by the air and inhaled. Some examples of harmful chemicals: perchloroethylene , which is found in dry-cleaning solutions, spot removers, and carpet and upholstery cleaners; and butoxyethanol, used in window, kitchen and multipurpose cleaners.

Cosmetics and Personal Care Products

Women are more likely to use products such as make-up, hair dye, and perfume—an estimated 12 a day—many of which may contain multiple potentially harmful ingredients. They include benzaldehyde, benzyl acetate, and ethyl acetate, among others, which can cause anything from fatigue and dizziness to kidney damage.

Female-Dominated Jobs

Many occupations that largely employ women also involve exposure to harmful ingredients. Hair stylists, estheticians, and nail technicians, for example, come in constant contact with many chemicals that can be unhealthy, especially for women of childbearing age. Nail polish, for example, often contains toluene, which has been linked to spontaneous abortion, as well as formaldehyde, which has been connected to reproductive and endocrine system disorders.

Physiological Differences

Women react differently from men when exposed to the same toxic substances in some situations. For example, studies have shown that when women and men both come in contact with potentially harmful chemicals in the workplace, women report having more symptoms. This may be due to women’s body weight, as well as hormonal differences that affect the way a person’s body responds to chemicals.

Socioeconomic Inequities

In North America, poverty rates are higher among women than men, potentially exposing women more frequently to environmental toxins, such as asbestos, lead-based paint, and mold. They also may be more likely to live in an area with contaminated soil or close to an air-polluting factory or a landfill site.

How can women protect themselves? One solution is to employ fewer potentially harmful products with more natural ingredients, when possible. Another is to use a smart air purifier with a HEPA filter, like the Coway Airmega, which can help eliminate unhealthy particles in the air.