Chemicals in personal care products and home cleaning supplies

Most of us realize that shampoos, conditioners, cosmetics, soaps, and other personal hygiene products contain chemicals, but we might assume that someone out there is watching out for us and making sure they’re safe. Not so. Some might think that products labeled “natural” and sold in health food stores must be safe. Wrong again. It’s just marketing and has nothing to do with the safety of chemicals in a product.

In fact, the FDA has made it very clear that “a cosmetic manufacturer may use almost any raw material as a cosmetic ingredient and market the product without an approval from the FDA.” FDA sources also indicate that roughly 90% of ingredients used in personal care products have not been evaluated for safety (for references see the website below).

It’s clearly a mistake to think that since we don’t eat or drink these products it doesn’t matter what’s in them. Consider that many chemicals readily cross the skin and gain access to our bloodstream. When it comes to a fragrance, once you smell it it’s in your lungs and a second later it’s in your blood. That’s why so many people get headaches when they smell strong perfumes. In children, hyperactivity is a common reaction to these volatile chemicals.

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The Environmental Working Group (EWG) has studied more than 10,000 personal care product ingredients and ranked them according to what is known about their safety and the potential health risks in the absence of any relevant data.

According to the EWG report, about 1% of products on the market contains ingredients that are known or suspected to be human carcinogens. Some hair dye products contain coal tar derivatives for which the FDA issued a consumer alert on the benefits of limiting their use to “reduce the risk of cancer.” In addition, as many as half the products on the market contain impurities with varying degrees of potential toxicity.

Once you’re at the EWG website you can click the link “Find Products You Use” and search under various categories. For each category the EWG lists products they consider the best and worst choices. I was shocked to find a well-known health food store’s hair conditioner listed among the most toxic.

If personal care products are toxic, you can imagine what might be contained in the cleaning supplies, disinfectants, polishing agents, and pesticides we use around the house on a daily basis. A recent study reveals that many of these chemicals can have a damaging effect on the nervous system, the reproductive system, or other systems of the body. Besides, when it comes to home supplies, chemicals are not even listed on labels (see

One thing we can do is rid our homes of most – if not all – these products. Skillful marketing campaigns have convinced us that we need a different brand-name product for each housekeeping task, while in reality we might do just as well with a few simple and non-toxic ingredients. The excellent book “Clean House Clean Planet” by Karen Logan tells us not only about the dangers of home chemicals but also teaches us how to replace them with safe and effective substitutes.

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