What You Need to Know About BHA and BHT

Potato Chips containing BHA on yellow background

If you are a conscious consumer and care about what you put in and on your body, you probably read labels. You’ve come across suspicious looking ingredients many times, wondering what the heck they all mean. You guessed it, some are potentially harmful chemical preservatives. Chances are you stumbled upon BHA or BHT, or even both on the same label. BHA (butylated hydroxyanisole) and BHT (butylated hydroxytoluene) are related synthetic antioxidants found in many common cosmetics, such as lipsticks and moisturizers, and are widely used as food preservatives. What kinds of foods you ask? A bunch. Cereals, snack foods, processed potatoes, drink mixes, gum, fast food, and more. They are also found in animal feed, plastics, pharmaceuticals and rubber.

Potential Risks of BHA and BHT Exposure

Now, you don’t have to worry about that one time you were binging on an unhealthy bag of chips or used a cheap soap in a hotel somewhere. However, it becomes problematic with long-term chemical exposure.

Studies on mice and rats have found long-term exposure to high doses of BHT to be toxic, causing thyroid, liver and kidney problems, as well as affecting blood clotting and lung function. In certain circumstances, BHT can promote tumor growth. According to limited evidence, high doses of BHT might mimic estrogen (female sex hormone), and prevent male hormones from being expressed, which can lead to adverse reproductive effects.

It’s also possible for BHA and BHT to cause allergic reactions in the skin. BHA is classified as a possible human carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer.

Based on evidence that BHA interferes with hormone functions, the European Commission on Endocrine Disruption has also classified it as Category 1 priority substances.

As per a United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) assessment, BHT can bioaccumulate in aquatic species (though it’s deemed safe for humans).

How to Avoid BHA and BHT?

Where does this information leave us consumers when BHA and BHT remain widely prevalent in the products we use? The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is lax about

a lot of food additives. Often the decision lies with individual companies which ingredients are chosen in their foods. In Canada, Europe, and some Asian countries, various harmful ingredients have been banned that the FDA still allows in our food. If you are lucky to live in California, by law, products that contain BHA are required to contain warning labels informing consumers that this ingredient can cause cancer. Outside of the US, international regulations are stronger. European Union regulations prohibit the use of BHA in cosmetics as a fragrance ingredient.

So, read your labels, you can also use our produce certification label guide and cosmetics certification label guide to stay out of trouble. Avoid processed foods as much as possible by eating a fresh, organic, natural and sustainable diet.

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