Personal Care and Cosmetic: affects more than skin deep

Rows of brightly colors nail polish

Photo by Katie T


As women, we usually start our days primping with our favorite personal care products and cosmetics. This part of our daily routine has become second nature to us, without much thought about what we are putting on our bodies. Our skin is our biggest organ, and what we put on it may be absorbed, affecting organs much further than skin deep.

Many personal care products and cosmetics contain harmful chemicals, including carcinogens and endocrine disruptors. These products are still found on our grocery store shelves, regardless of the dangers behind their toxic ingredients.

According to the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, the FDA has no authority to perform pre-market safety assessments on cosmetics before they are sold for salon and consumer use. An astonishing 89% of all ingredients in cosmetics have not been evaluated for safety by a publicly accountable institution1. So the question becomes, how do we know that what we’re putting on our bodies is safe?

Chemicals in Our Personal Care Products

Many shampoos and lotions contain a group of chemicals known as parabens, which act as a preservative and antimicrobial agent. These chemicals are not only in these products but have been found in biopsy samples of breast tumors2.

Parabens, along with other harmful chemicals are also found in many deodorants. Aluminum in deodorant is used as an antiperspirant. This ingredient may help prevent sweat, but concentrations of aluminum have been found in mammary tissue where breast cancers have been originally diagnosed2.

Another harmful chemical found in deodorant is triclosan. This ingredient is found in other personal care products such as toothpaste and antibacterial soaps. Triclosan is used to limit the growth of bacteria and mold to give these products a longer shelf life, but it is also classified as both a pesticide and an endocrine disruptor2.

Chemicals in Our Cosmetics

There are a number of chemicals listed as ingredients in your cosmetics. Many of our favorite products, including our favorite perfumes will likely have the word “fragrance” listed as one of those ingredients. Companies do not have to disclose what is in their “fragrance” because it is protected under trade laws.

However, fragrance can contain dozens of toxic chemicals, including endocrine disrupting compounds. For example, phthalates are a class of endocrine disrupting chemicals found in many fragrances, and are commonly used as a plastic softener.

Harmful chemicals can also be found in your nail polish and are known as the “toxic-trio.” The toxic trio is made up of formaldehyde (a known human carcinogen), dibutyl phthalate and toluene (both reproductive and developmental toxins). These chemicals are put in the nail polish to harden, smooth, and shine the nail.

If you are worried about the chemicals in our cosmetics and personal care products, there are tools to help us find safer alternatives. Environmental Working Groups Skin Deep Database allows us to search over 70,000 products which are evaluated on their safety and recommends products that are free from these harmful chemicals.

Making the commitment to safer alternatives, you are giving yourself and your loved ones a chance for a healthier future. Join the conversation with Protect Our Breasts on Facebook, download our free tip card and learn how to practice safer habits at the grocery store shelves.

Refuse breast cancer – before it starts!


Breast Cancer Fund

Published on: December 03, 2014
About the Author
Photo of Alysse Foley

Alysse Foley is the Head of Chapter Development for Protect Our Breasts, and focuses her research on Cosmetics and Personal Care products.

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