Usually when we talk about toxins in personal products, we focus on women. After all, they typically use more personal care products on a daily basis. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) noted in one study that exposure to phthalates (a plastic chemical linked to hormone disruption) was widespread, but higher in women than men. The researchers stated that women had more phthalates used in “soaps, body washes, shampoos, cosmetics, and similar personal care products.”
According to the University of Illinois, the average woman in the United States uses 12 products a day. But women aren’t the only ones. The average man uses six.
In July 2013, a new study published in Environmental Health Perspectives reported that women with the highest level of “phthalates” in their urine were twice as likely to have diabetes as those with the lowest.
Phthalates are chemicals used to make plastics, and they’re also common in fragrances and personal care products like hairspray. You’re likely exposed to these chemicals every day from the products you use, and particularly when you go to the salon to have your hair done.
Look at the back of most skin care and cosmetic products and you’re likely to see long, convoluted chemical names that you can’t pronounce. But no worries, right? The beauty industry assures us they don’t use much of each of those ingredients. There’s just a tiny bit in each product, and they assume that such small amounts are safe for our skin and for our health.
In fact, they often say they’re using the amounts recommended by such agencies as the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which has tested some (but not nearly all) of these individual ingredients for safety.
A new study suggests that all these assumptions may be wrong.
What's that smell? Unfortunately, there's no way to know. “Fragrance” is considered a trade secret by law, so companies are not required to disclose the chemical components that add scent to a wide range of personal care products. According to the Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep database, an estimated 80% of products – everything from colognes and body sprays, to shampoos, deodorants, and even make-up – contain fragrance. Even "unscented" products may contain masking fragrances, which are chemicals used to cover up the odor of other chemicals.