Many personal care products contain harmful chemicals, here’s what to do about it

Written by Knvul Sheikh


Every day, we use soaps, lotions, deodorants, hair products and cosmetics on various parts of our bodies. But in recent years, an increasing number of reports have raised concerns about many of them.

Researchers have found dangerous levels of mercury in skin lightening and anti-aging creams; they’ve linked chemicals in hair dyes and straighteners to breast and uterine cancer; they’ve traced fragrances in soaps and shampoos to poor semen quality and fertility issues. Most American children are also exposed to toxic chemicals — from a wide variety of sources — that may be a cause of learning and developmental disorders, obesity and asthma.

To be sure, not all chemicals are bad for your health. And you’re just as likely to encounter unsafe chemicals in processed foods and drinks, home furnishings and even prescription medicines as you are in personal care products. But low doses of iffy chemicals can add up over time and with exposure to multiple products, said Dr. Shruthi Mahalingaiah, an assistant professor of environmental, reproductive and women’s health at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

Cosmetics and personal care products are notoriously under regulated. Companies often spruce up labels with words like “naturally derived,” “nontoxic” and “clean” — which sound good but are basically just marketing terms. How is the average consumer supposed to sort through which chemicals might do them harm?

Even experts do not always agree on how much exposure to a chemical is too much. And tests to check individual exposure levels are extremely limited. But researchers say that people should choose products that don’t increase overall exposure to toxins when and where they can. This is particularly important when the body is undergoing crucial cellular and hormonal changes, like

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