Harmful Chemicals in Our Daily Personal Products

5 years ago

I recently spent some time on the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics website and came away surprised and concerned over the worrisome chemicals found in many of the personal care products that we put on our bodies every day.

Image: ☺ Lee J Haywood via Flickr


Here’s a short list of contaminants (and related health concerns) I have gleaned from the site:

  • Formaldehyde and formaldehyde-releasing preservatives: “used in many personal care products (i), particularly in shampoos and liquid body soaps. These chemicals help prevent bacteria from growing in water-based products, but can be absorbed through the skin and have been linked to both skin sensitivity and cancer.” 
  • 1,4-dioxane: “Most commonly found in products that create suds, like shampoo, liquid soap and bubble bath. Environmental Working Group's analysis suggests that 97 percent of hair relaxers, 57 percent of baby soap. 1,4-dioxane is considered a probable human carcinogen by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and The California Environmental Protection Agency also lists 1,4-dioxane as a suspected kidney toxicant, neurotoxicant and respiratory toxicant.”
  • Parabens: “preservatives used in lotions, shampoo and other cosmetics. Some parabens are classified as endocrine disruptors because they mimic estrogen in the body. Higher estrogen exposures are linked to higher risk of breast cancer.” 
  • Petrolatum: “a derivative of petroleum used in lip products and lotions. It can be contaminated with polyaromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), which are both endocrine disruptors and carcinogens.”
  • Triclosan: “commonly used in anti-microbial soaps. More research is needed to understand how triclosan relates to breast cancer, but evidence suggests it affects male and female hormones as well as thyroid hormone, which effects weight and metabolism.”
  • Toluene: ”found in some nail polishes- helps suspend the color and form a smooth finish across the nail. It also affects the central nervous system and can cause headaches, dizziness and fatigue. Toluene is a possible reproductive and developmental toxin.” 

I also learned that the US federal government doesn’t require manufacturers to perform health studies on their products. Instead, any testing is performed by a manufacturer-controlled entity called the Cosmetic Ingredient Review (CIR) panel.

So, what do I do with this disheartening information? Simple - change how I buy. I have decided to make every effort to now only buy personal care products that I know are free of dangerous chemicals. This may seem extreme, but i believe that, with repeated exposure over a lifetime, even trace amounts of these chemicals can do harm.

The way I see it, choosing to buy safe products for my family is something that I can easily control, and I am voting for change with my pocketbook. Every time I don't buy a product that contains dangerous chemicals and buy a "clean" product instead, I cast my vote for change.


Go to safecosmetics.org to learn more on this topic and find a list of companies that have signed the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics pledge “to avoid chemicals banned in other countries, avoid harmful ingredients whenever possible and fully disclose product ingredients.”

And check out EWG and C2C for additional information.




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