‘Getting Personal with Chemicals’

Media Contacts
Juliana Bilowich

Consumer guide identifies chemicals linked to cancer, reproductive problems in shampoos and baby wipes

Maryland PIRG

Baltimore, MD – A survey released today by the Maryland Public Interest Research Group (PIRG) found toxic chemicals in shampoos, baby wipes, moisturizers, soaps, and other hygiene and beauty products, calling into question the safety screening mechanisms for chemical ingredients. The new guide covers chemical hazards in ten commonly used personal care products by major brands like Unilever and Proctor and Gamble.

PIRG researchers found products containing chemicals linked to cancer, reproductive and respiratory problems, hormone disruption, and more. The consumer guide also includes a list of safer alternative products that do not contain common chemicals known to be harmful.

Maryland PIRG’s survey of popular products found that, despite the rise of the natural and non-toxic personal care products industry, consumers must still be wary when shopping for their everyday products. Chemicals of concern are routinely found in many of our day-to-day personal care products, according to the investigation. In particular, many products contain chemicals of concern linked to severe health effects.

While these findings are concerning, they are not necessarily surprising. The Food and Drug Administration does not require ingredients to be tested or approved for human safety before they are added into our personal care products, so manufacturers can use nearly any ingredient they choose to.

“We shouldn’t have to worry about dangerous chemicals in products we use every day,” said Juliana Bilowich, Public Health Organizer with Maryland PIRG. “In the absence of strong federal regulations, we need major brands to step it up and keep these hazardous ingredients out of their products.”

To create the consumer guide, Maryland PIRG researchers looked at the ingredients listed on the packaging of many common personal care products, cross-referenced them with cosmetic chemical databases and peer-reviewed studies, and developed a consumer guide listing 10 examples of popular products that contain chemicals of concern.

“We should be able to trust that the products we and our families use every day, on our bodies, are proven safe before they hit store shelves,” said Hannah LeManske, Public Health Intern with Maryland PIRG. “But, until that’s the case, buyers need to watch out for common chemicals of concern when shopping for personal care products.”

Due to consumer demand, the marketplace has already begun to move away from toxic chemicals, contributing to the growth of an $11 billion safe cosmetics industry. The Honest Company skyrocketed to a valuation of $1.7 billion just three years after its founding, and large, multinational manufacturers like Johnson & Johnson have also begun to respond to consumer demand to remove some chemicals of concern from their products.

Even leading manufacturers have much more to do to ensure transparency and safety of all ingredients in their products. While the products on the list may not necessarily violate specific chemical use laws, Marylanders should pay attention to product ingredients linked to negative health effects.

The full guide can be found here.

Some common personal care products to use with caution are:

  • Shampoos and conditioners:

Suave Kids Coconut 2 in 1 Smoothers Shampoo + Conditioner (Unilever)

Chemicals of concern: sodium laureth sulfate, fragrance, PEG compounds

Potential health effects: cancer, allergies, reproductive and respiratory problems

  • Bar soap:

Dial Gold Antibacterial Bar Soap (Henkel)

Chemicals of concern: fragrance, PEG compounds

Potential health effects: cancer, reproductive and respiratory problems, allergies

  • Deodorant:

Degree Men Extra Fresh Sport Defense Deodorant (Unilever)

Chemicals of concern: fragrance

Potential health effects: cancer, reproductive and respiratory problems, allergies

    • Shaving cream:

Edge Sensitive Skin Shave Gel (Edgewell)

Chemicals of concern: triethanolamine, fragrance, PEG compounds

Potential health effects: liver tumors, cancer, reproductive and respiratory problems, allergies

  • Moisturizer:

Neutrogena Oil-Free Moisture – Sensitive Skin (Johnson & Johnson)

Chemicals of concern: propylparaben, methylparaben, ethylparaben, diazolidinyl urea, PEG compounds

Potential health effects: cancer, reproductive toxicity, hormone disruptionBaby wipes:

Pampers Baby Fresh Baby Wipes (Procter & Gamble)

Chemicals of concern: phenoxyethanol, fragrance, PEG compounds

Potential health effects: nervous system problems in infants when exposed orally, cancer, eczema, allergic reactions, reproductive and respiratory problems

Examples of safer products that avoid common chemicals of concern are:

  • Shampoo and conditioner:

John Masters Organics Zinc & Sage Shampoo with Conditioner

  • Bar soap:

Toms of Maine Natural Beauty Bar Sensitive

  • Deodorant:

The Honest Company Deodorant – Lavender Vanilla

  • Shaving cream:

John Masters Organics Eucalyptus & Agave 2-in-1 Face Wash & Shave Foam

  • Moisturizer:

The Honest Company Face + Body Lotion – Calming Lavender

  • Baby wipes:

Seventh Generation Free & Clear Baby Wipes

No particular product is 100% safe for all users. We chose to highlight these products because they are formulated without major chemicals of concern that are found in many personal care products. In addition to the toxic concerns that we are raising, it’s possible for people to be allergic to particular ingredients, or have other kinds of sensitivities that may be triggered by general ingredients. 

Access our full safe shopping guide here.

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Maryland PIRG (Public Interest Research Group) Education Fund is an independent, non-partisan group that works for consumers and the public interest. Through research, public education and outreach, we act as counterweights to the influence of powerful special interests that threaten our health, safety, or well-being. We serve thousands of members in Maryland and beyond.