Chemicals in Personal Care Products

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Many soaps, shampoos, deodorants, cosmetics and other personal care products contain toxic chemicals. Chemical additives in personal care products are primarily absorbed through the skin or inhaled.

There is no legal requirement for cosmetic companies to test their products for safety before putting them on the market or to disclose all ingredients on labels. Also, if cosmetic products are determined hazardous, product recalls are voluntary. Even personal care products found in the natural foods section of stores may contain harmful contaminants. The claim that a product is ‘natural’ has no legal meaning.

As it stands now, U.S. chemicals policy does not adequately protect public health. Until we achieve the sweeping federal policy reform needed to protect environmental health, the burden of responsibility for protecting ourselves from exposure to harmful chemicals lies on us, the consumers.

Visit the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics to learn more.

 

Beauty Aisle and cancer, toxic chemicals
Learn more at the Campaign
for Safe Cosmetics

Selected Chemicals of Concern

The following synthetic chemicals are of particular concern because of the adverse health effects that have been linked to exposure.

  • Phthalates (pronounced ‘thal-lates’) are widely used as fixatives to hold fragrance. Phthalates have been shown to be developmental and reproductive toxicants. Phthalates are banned in Europe. Phthalates fact sheet pdf
  • Triclosan is an antibacterial chemical used in a wide range of consumer products including soaps, deodorants, cosmetics, cleansing lotions, toothpaste, plastics, and fabrics. Exposure to triclosan has been linked to skin irritation and eczematous rash and long term chronic exposures may be linked to thyroid disruption, increased allergies and asthma. Triclosan fact sheet pdf
  • Formaldehyde is a carcinogenic impurity released by a number of cosmetic preservatives used in nail treatment, hair color and hair bleaching products.
  • Lead acetate is a hair colorant used in hair dyes. Lead acetate is a known human reproductive and respiratory toxicant, a neurotoxin and a possible carcinogen. Lead acetate is persistent and bioaccumulative.
  • Butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT) is used as a fragrance ingredient to mask undesirable odors. It is persistent and bioaccumulative and is a possible carcinogen and endocrine disruptor.
  • Sodium lauryl/laureth sulfate is used as a foaming agent and is a possible carcinogen. It is suspected to be persistent and bioaccumulative.
  • Parabens are widely used as preservatives in personal care products because of their antibacterial and antifungal properties. There is strong evidence that methylparaben, widely used in moisturizers and make up, is a human skin irritant linked to allergies.

Steps to Reduce Your Exposure

  • Research the safety of products before you buy them.
  • Choose safer alternatives.
    • Choose products from companies that have signed the Compact for Safe Cosmetics, which means they have pledged to remove toxic chemicals and replace them with safer alternatives in every market they serve.
    • Choose products labeled ‘phthalate-free’, ‘paraben-free’ and/or “EU Compliant.”
  • Avoid products that list ‘fragrance’ as an ingredient. ‘Fragrance’ or ‘parfum’ is a red flag for the possible presence of phthalates and other harmful chemicals. Cosmetic companies claim that their fragrance formulas are trade secrets and therefore the FDA does not require them to list all of the ingredients.
  • Support federal chemicals policy reform that would require companies to test the safety of their products, to inform consumers if their products contain harmful ingredients, and to phase-out the most toxic chemicals and replace them with safer alternatives.

Thank Alaskan US Senator Mark Begich for co-signing the Safe Chemicals Act

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