According to a new survey, U.S. consumers are exposed on average to two ingredients linked to cancer from their daily personal care products. The survey was conducted by Morning Consult on behalf of the The Environmental Working Group (EWG), a consumer advocacy organization. Twenty-two hundred adults were surveyed.
Analyses of the survey, however, found that despite the rise in the use of products like skin and hair care, overall, chemical exposure has declined since EWG’s initial 2004 survey.
Homer Swei, EWG’s Senior Vice President of Healthy Living Science, said that companies are responding to consumers signaling they want better quality products with safer ingredients.
“There are some state regulations in Washington, California and New York and others, also putting the spotlight on certain chemicals of concern,” Swei said.
Harmful chemicals still found in products
Their analysis shows skin care products like sunscreen, eye cream and cosmetics are the largest sources of chemical exposure. Baby care products are among the lowest.
According to the survey findings, the average adult uses 12 different personal care products on a daily basis.
Swei says there are still ingredients in many of these products that concern him, like benzyl alcohol which can cause allergic reactions, and talc, which has been linked to ovarian cancer.
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Men vs. Women
Since 2004, men have almost doubled their use of personal care products. Swei said the ease of purchasing personal care products online has likely contributed to the trend.
“I think also the prevalence of video and picture taking. The phone that we use — smartphones —has raised the importance of looking your best,” he said.
Despite the rise in men’s use of personal care products, women still use more, on average 13 products a day, to mens’ 11. This also means that women are exposed to more unique ingredients per day, increasing their risk of exposure to harmful chemicals.
Ingredients in multiple products could be cause for concern
According to EWG’s analyses, consumers are not just exposed to the ingredients in one product, like deodorant, but in the combination of ingredients from multiple products.
Overexposure could also be a problem when multiple products contain the same ingredients.
“You have too many, too much of this one ingredient, and there are too many allergens, for example,” Swei said. “Maybe we should try to diversify your product and look at diversifying your ingredients.”
Using just a shampoo with the ingredient might create minimal exposure, he said, but using a shampoo, deodorant, and perfume, which all contain the same unique ingredient, triples the level of exposure.
How to avoid exposure
EWG recommends consumers use its Skin Deep Database to assess the risk level of the unique ingredients in the products they use.
“It’s very easy. It’s free,” Swei said. “You can look at your products, look at the ingredients. You can do the research there and find better products.”
The database is searchable and ranks the health risk of personal care product ingredients.