In Your Personal Care

Safety experts have long cited the bathroom as one of the most treacherous rooms in a home. But wet, slippery surfaces and water heaters set too high aren’t the only dangers bathrooms pose; there you may be absorbing toxics from your shampoo, your deodorant, and even the steam from your shower.

  • Read the labels of personal care products, taking care to avoid phthalates in particular. Phthalates are endocrine disrupting compounds that have been associated with cancer, impaired fertility, and male birth defects. They are found in hundreds of products, including shampoo, lotion, perfume, and cosmetics. The most common phthalates are dibutyl phthalate (DBP), diethyl phthalate (DEP), and diethylhexyl phthalate (DEHP). Look for labels that say “phthalate-free” and ask retailers and manufacturers whether products are phthalate-free. To learn more, visit the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics website or the Coming Clean website.
  • Avoid wearing perfume and using other products with fragrance. Phthalates not only often appear as an ingredient in fragrance, but they also often hide behind the term “fragrance.” In one ironic example, the popular perfume Poison contains ingredients that have been linked to cancer, developmental and reproductive toxicity, and immunotoxicity, according to Skin Deep, the online cosmetic safety database. Fragrances also often include chemicals that are allergy triggers or irritants.
  • Avoid using nail polish and hairspray, as they often contain phthalates. Dibutyl phthalate, for example, which is used to keep nail polish from chipping, has been found to increase the likelihood that laboratory animals will give birth to offspring with birth defects, especially of the male reproductive system. Other common ingredients in nail polish, such as toluene and xylene, are neurotoxins. If you do choose to wear nail polish and use hairspray, select brands with the least toxic ingredients, and remember to apply the polish and hairspray outside or in a well-ventilated area. If you frequent a nail salon, consider taking your own nail polish, one you know to be less toxic. For information about less toxic brands, visit Skin Deep, the online cosmetic safety database, or the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics website.
  • Avoid products whose content labels list placenta, placental extract, estrogen, or other hormones. Many personal care products—including cosmetics, shampoos, and styling aids—that are widely marketed to African Americans contain hormone-rich ingredients. To learn more, read "The Environmental Injustice of Beauty: Health Repercussions of Chemical Hair Products For Black Women."
  • Beware of deodorants and other personal care products that are marked “unscented”. The cosmetics industry is woefully unregulated, and companies often use reassuring labels that carry little meaning. Many of these products contain masking fragrances to cover up a chemical smell; these fragrances in turn may contain phthalates, which are endocrine disrupting compounds that have been associated with cancer, impaired fertility, and male birth defects. Look instead for products marked “fragrance-free.”
  • Avoid personal care products that list parabens as ingredients. Identified as endocrine disrupting compounds, parabens have been found in the urine of almost everyone tested. These chemicals, which are commonly found in commercial products, are also often used as preservatives in cosmetics and such personal care products as deodorants, shampoos, conditioners, hair styling gels, shaving gels, and lotions. Common names for this class of chemicals include butyl paraben, ethyl paraben, methyl paraben, and propyl paraben.
  • Learn which cosmetics companies eschew or are phasing out harmful chemicals. The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics is encouraging cosmetics companies whose products meet or exceed current European Union formulation standards to sign the Compact for Safe Cosmetics. To learn more about the compact and other cosmetics-related issues, visit the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics and Think Before You Pink websites.
  • Take shorter showers. During warm showers, you not only inhale airborne toxics from the water streaming over you, but you also open your pores to more easily absorb toxics from your personal care products. Keep your showers short and sweet. And if your water supply is highly chlorinated, you might consider a charcoal filter for your showerhead.

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