Personal care products

About 89% of the ingredients in personal products—more than ten thousand ingredients in all—have not been fully evaluated for health safety. The FDA doesn’t require a safety assessment before a cosmetic product goes to market. We do know, however, that some chemicals in cosmetics can be toxic.

A single ingredient on labels that says “fragrance” can contain any of more than a thousand chemicals. Some of those ingredients can be irritants, sensitizers. or hormone disruptors. Many people are sensitive to fragrance and can get headaches. Fragrance can trigger allergies.

  •  Check ingredients to ensure that a product contains no fragrance. Even “unscented” products may contain a fragrance to mask the scent.
  •  Essential oils are a better alternative. Essential oil scents are single ingredients. However, they can still trigger allergies in some, so should be used with caution.

Using mild soap that’s easy on your skin means you can cut down on lotion and other products. Look for soaps with a small number of ingredients and without sulfates.

  •  Avoid “antibacterial” triclosan. This ingredient is intended to kill germs. But studies show that it doesn’t really work to prevent illness. It may lead to development of allergies, and to bacteria that don’t respond to antibiotics.
  •  Avoid microbeads. These tiny pieces of plastic wash down drains and into waterways, where they can pick up pollutants. They harm fish and wildlife, and could end up in our food and water.
  •  Look for castile soap (vegetable-based soap). Castile soap is made from vegetable oils that nourish skin as they cleanse.
Ingredients to avoid
  •  Parabens. These preservatives can be absorbed through skin and the digestive system. Some are linked to endocrine disruption.
  •  Formaldehyde-releasers. Some ingredients cause toxic formaldehyde to be released over time and when heated. Ingredients to avoid include quaternium-15, DMDM hydantoin, imidazolidinyl urea, diazolidinyl urea, sodium hydroxymethylglycinate, and 2-bromo-2-nitropropane-1,3-diol.
  •  Phthalates. These chemicals, whcih can interfere with hormones, aren’t always listed on the label. Look for products that are promoted as phthalate-free.
  •  Certain sunscreen ingredients. Avoid vitamin A, retinol and oxybenzone. Safer ingredients include zinc oxide, 3% avobenzone or Mexoryl SX. Check out the sunscreen guide from Environmental Working Group.
Good habits to reduce exposure
  •  Look for hair and nail salons that are committed to using safer products.
  •  Look for web sites and tools such as ThinkDirty, EWG’s Skin Deep, and the Good Guide to find safer cosmetics.
  •  Use fewer products, less often, an in smaller amounts to reduce exposure.
  •  Minimize your use of dark hair dyes, eyeliner and mascara that contains toxic coal tar or carbon black.

The way you maintain your home can make a big difference to your family’s health. Get a healthy homes checkup with our guide and tips.