Personal Care Products

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Latest Edit: Iva Lloyd, ND 2013-06-03 (EDT)

Personal care products refer to those products that are used as cosmetics for beautification and those products used in personal and feminine hygiene.

Product Groupings

Article Toxic Chemicals in Personal Care Products, Vital Link; 2013 Spring
Article Chemicals in Personal Care Products, Vital Link; 2011 Summer

There are a vast number of personal care products. Some of the most common include:

  • Cosmetics including
  • eye makeup products
  • facial makeup products
  • fragrances
  • bath products
  • hair care products
  • hair dye and hair coloring products
  • nail products
  • oral hygiene products
  • personal cleanliness products
  • shaving products
  • skin care products (creams, lotions, powders and sprays)
  • sunscreen and suntan products
  • male & female hygiene products
  • baby products


The chemicals used in personal care products are, to a large part, unregulated and untested. In has only been within the last five years that even putting the list of ingredients on product labels was mandatory in Canada or the United States and even still the chemicals are listed, but not the amounts.[1]

  • It is estimated that more than 1/3 of PCP contain at least one industrial chemical ingredient linked to cancer and about 80% contain harmful impurities that include known or probable carcinogens, pesticides, reproductive toxins, plasticizers or degreasers.[2]
  • The average consumer (including teens) uses 15 to 25 cosmetic PCPs a day, which amounts to exposure to about 200 chemicals.[3]
  • Chemicals have replaced bacteria and viruses as the main threat to health.
  • In personal care products (PCPs), it is the low-level, long-term exposure to chemicals that is the main concern.

Health Considerations

Over 80% of the ingredients in PCPs are synthetic and have been shown to cause:[4]

Chemicals in Personal Care Products

The following chart is an overview of the main chemicals in PCP. The most concerning chemicals include those that have a name ending in acid or alcohol, parabens, phthalates, sodium laureth and its derivatives, propylene glycol and synthetic colours and fragances.

  • Propylene Glycol (PEG)
  • PEG is also referred to as propane-1,2-diol, 2-hydroxypropanol methylethyl glycol
  • It is an inexpensive glycerine substitute that is found in hair products, facial moisturizers and cleaners, body wash and sunscreen.
  • It is also used as an petrochemical industrial chemical and is found in anti-freeze, de-icer, latex paint and laundry detergent.
  • The concern is that PEG is often contaminated with 1,4-dioxane or ethylene dioxide which are suspected carcinogens. Although 1,4-dioxane can be removed from products easily and economically there is no way to determine which products have undergone this process as labels are not required to list this information.
  • PEG has been linked to decreased skin moisture, the weakening of protein and cellular structure, and irritation of nasal and respiratory passages. It has been linked to kidney disease, liver abnormalities, neurotoxicity and is an endocrine disruptor.
  • Sodium lauryl sulfate and sodium laureth sulphate (SLS)
  • (SLS) is used to make products foamy.
  • The concern with SLS is that it can form toxic nitrosamines. When sodium laurel sulfate is combined with ethylene oxide (ethoxylized) to create the milder sodium laureth sulfate, it may become contaminated with 1,4-dioxane, a suspected carcinogen.
  • It is found in shampoos, hair conditioners, body wash, facial creams and lotions and soaps. It is also found in car wash soap, engine degreasers and garage floor cleaners.
  • It has been linked to corroding hair follicles and impedes hair growth. It is a skin and eye irritant and can enhance allergic responses to other toxins and allergens. It can degenerate cell membranes, damages the immune system and can cause blindness and depression.
  • Diethyl phthalate (DEP), dibutyl phythalate (DBP) and butyl paraben (BP)
  • These products are man-made petroleum-based chemicals that are commonly found in lotions and creams.
  • It has been found that the concentration of the compounds peaked in urine 8-12 hours after application and that their absorption could potentially contribute to adverse health effects. The highest concentration of DEP was found in nail polish, but over ¾ of the products tested showed measureable levels.[5]
  • The concentration and dermal exposure to phthalates was high in many products, including those for infants and toddlers.[6]
  • The European Union has banned DBP, DEP and BP from use in cosmetics, but in Canada and the US there are no restriction on any phthalates in cosmetics. Except of nail polish, phthalates are not generally listed as ingredients on labels because Canada’s Cosmetic Regulations allow them to be included under the heading of “fragrance”.
  • Other concerns include:
  • Medicated soaps that destroy the “good” bacteria on the surface of the skin.
  • Many products have increased risk when used on infants and children. Special care needs to be taken when choosing products for this demographic.
  • Alcohol in products leads to skin becoming dehydrated. The alcohol content of some products, like mouthwash, can contain even higher concentrations of alcohol than beer, wine or liquor. Any product with more than 25% alcohol concentration can be dangerous the children and has been associated with seizures and brain damage. Also, the continual use of alcohol-based mouthwash has been linked to an increased risk or oral and throat cancer. Alcohol shows low acute and repeat dose toxicity and is related to mild liver toxicity.[7]
  • Oils in bathing products and moisturizers can clog the skin pores reducing perspiration and waste transport from the subcutaneous tissues.
  • Petroleum based ointments, such as Vaseline, coat the skin surface with an insulating and waterproof film which prevents evaporation of secretions and the release of heat. It also creates swelling on the top layer with a sustained hydration.

Choosing Personal Care Products

  • There is ongoing confusion and misbranding as there is no labelling criteria with regards to the terms “natural”, “organic”, “green”, “fresh”, “pure”, “eco-friendly” or “botanical”. The following are some guidelines on choosing healthy, environmental-sustainable, non-toxic personal care products:[6]
  • Become an expert at reading ingredient labels. The marketing labels on the front of the package seldom tell the whole story.
  • Keep the list of Chemicals and Synthetics to Avoid in Personal Care Products accessible when shopping for PCP to ensure that you avoid harmful chemicals.
  • Choose packaging that is designed to be recyclable and have the lowest impact on the environment.
  • Check with your naturopathic doctor concerning the products that are best suited to you.


The following agencies are responsible for regulation of PCP Industry

  • Canada is regulated by the Food & Drug Act and the Cosmetic Regulations.
  • Health Canada has an extensive list of chemicals in personal care products, referred to as the “Hotlist”, where caution or prohibition is advised.[8]
  • United States is regulated by the Food and Drug Association
  • The FDA has only reviewed the safety of 11% of the more than 10,500 chemicals, additives and fillers used.
  • The only ingredients that are prohibited by regulation under the FDA include: bithionol, chlorofluorocarbon propellants, chloroform, halogenated salicylanilides, methylene chloride, vinyl chloride, zirconium-containing complexes and prohibited cattle materials.


The following are some valuable resources:


  4. Lloyd Iva, Wilmes Stephan (2011) Chemicals in Personal Care Products Vital Link;Summer.
  5. Koniecki D, Wang R, Moody RP, Zhu J (April 2011) Phthalates in cosmetic and personal care products: Concentrations and possible dermal exposure. Environmental Research.;111(3):329-336.
  6. 6.0 6.1
  7. Veenstra G, Webb C et al. (May 2009) Human health risk assessment of long chain alcohols. Ecotoxicology and Environmental Safety;72(4):1016-30.