Common Personal Care Products Contain Chemicals of Concern

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Consumer group identifies chemicals linked to cancer, reproductive problems in common products

MASSPIRG Education Fund

Boston – We should be able to trust that the products we buy are safe — especially ones our families use every day, directly on our bodies. However, chemicals of concern are routinely found in many of our day-to-day personal care products, ranging from Dial bar soap to Suave kids’ shampoo, according to Massachusetts Public Interest Research Group Education Fund’s investigation of common consumer products.

MASSPIRG’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. MASSPIRG’s researchers found several popular products containing chemicals linked to negative health effects. While these findings are certainly concerning, they are not necessarily surprising, given that 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.

To create the consumer guide, MASSPIRG 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. Our 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 that are harmful to public health. 

“We shouldn’t have to choose between smooth skin and safe skin,” said Janet Domenitz, Executive Director with MASSPIRG.  “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. 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. However, 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 any laws, consumers should pay attention to products containing ingredients that are linked to negative health effects, and how to avoid those chemicals in their personal care routine.

“Consumers should not have to be toxicologists to purchase safe products for themselves and their families,” said Elizabeth Saunders, Massachusetts Director for Clean Water Action and coordinator of the Alliance for a Healthy Tomorrow.  “Manufacturers, retailers and state and federal governments should be the ones to ensure that all products on store shelves are made in the safest way possible.”

The full guide can be found here.

Some common personal care products to avoid are:

1. Shampoos and conditionersSuave 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

2. Bar soap: Dial Gold Antibacterial Bar Soap (Henkel)

▪       Chemicals of concern: fragrance, PEG compounds

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

3. Deodorant: Degree Men Extra Fresh Sport Defense Deodorant (Unilever)

▪       Chemicals of concern: fragrance

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

4. 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 

5. 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 disruption 

5. Baby 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

Researchers also provided some examples of safer alternative products that consumers can use to avoid common chemicals of concern:

  • 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

We can’t definitively say that any 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. Of course, 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 depending on genetic or environmental factors. 

It’s best for consumers to look for products with low-hazard ingredients, like the ones we highlight on our list. We also suggest that consumers call the companies who make their favorite products, and tell them they want their products made without toxic chemicals.

Access our full safe shopping guide, here.

staff | TPIN

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