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Your Environment. Your Health.

Cosmetics and Personal Care Products

Introduction

various cosmetics

Good hygiene, along with protecting ourselves from sunburn, insect bites, and other harms, is important to our well-being. There are numerous products on the market, in various forms, such as lotions, sprays, and creams, for cosmetic use or personal care.

The Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act regulates the cosmetics and personal care industry in the United States. The law mandates that manufacturers report the safety of their products to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). However, cosmetics do not undergo the same stringent level of premarket approval as drugs and pharmaceuticals, with the exception of color additives.1

Cosmetics and personal care products contain a mix of chemicals. Researchers are working to better understand if any of these affect human health. Some of the chemicals have already been classified as endocrine disrupting, which means they may interfere with the body’s hormones and cause adverse health effects.2

What is NIEHS Doing?

  • Testing of chemicals in cosmetics and personal care products – The National Toxicology Program (NTP), part of NIEHS, has conducted research on more than 300 chemicals used in cosmetics and personal care products, including:
    • Antimicrobials, such as triclosan, used in some soaps and other products, to kill or stop the growth of microorganisms, such as bacteria.
    • Engineered nanomaterials, like zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, commonly used in cosmetics and sunscreens to protect skin from harmful ultraviolet rays.
    • Parabens, used to preserve the shelf life of many cosmetic and personal care products.
    • Phthalates, found in many personal care products and plastics.
  • The NIEHS Sister Study – Using data from the NIEHS Sister Study, NIEHS researchers found women who douched had an increased risk of ovarian cancer.3 The study also found that among white women, those classified as moderate and frequent users of beauty products had increased risk of breast cancer relative to infrequent users. Frequent users of skincare products also had increased risk of breast cancer relative to infrequent users, and among black women, the number of participants in subcategories of product use were too small to draw firm conclusions.4
  • Salon workers and pregnancy – NIEHS-funded research found women working as cosmetologists and manicurists had an increased risk for gestational diabetes, or diabetes that develops during pregnancy. They also found a higher risk for placenta previa, a condition where the placenta partially or totally covers the cervix — the opening to the uterus — which can cause severe bleeding during pregnancy and delivery.5
  • Adolescents and endocrine disruptors – NIEHS-supported research found that Latina adolescent girls, who reported daily use of personal care products, had higher levels of endocrine-disrupting chemicals in their urine, which may impact reproductive development.6

Collaboration with Other Federal Agencies

  • Tox21 – In collaboration with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), National Institutes of Health, and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), NTP is conducting high-throughput toxicity testing of 10,000 chemical compounds, including those found in personal care and cosmetics products.

Further Reading

Stories from the Environmental Factor (NIEHS Newsletter)

Printable Fact Sheets

Podcasts

Additional Resources


  1. FDA (U.S. Food and Drug Administration). 2016. Does FDA approve cosmetics before they go on the market? [accessed September 26, 2018]. [Available FDA (U.S. Food and Drug Administration). 2016. Does FDA approve cosmetics before they go on the market? [accessed September 26, 2018].]
  2. Ferguson KK, Colacino JA, Lewis RC, Meeker JD. 2017. Personal care product use among adults in NHANES: associations between urinary phthalate metabolites and phenols and use of mouthwash and sunscreen. J Expo Sci Environ Epidemiol 27(3):326-332. [Abstract Ferguson KK, Colacino JA, Lewis RC, Meeker JD. 2017. Personal care product use among adults in NHANES: associations between urinary phthalate metabolites and phenols and use of mouthwash and sunscreen. J Expo Sci Environ Epidemiol 27(3):326-332.]
  3. Gonzalez NL, O’Brien KM, D’Aloisio AA, Sandler DP, Weinberg CR. 2016. Douching, talc use, and risk of ovarian cancer. Epidemiology 27(6):797-802. [Abstract Gonzalez NL, O’Brien KM, D’Aloisio AA, Sandler DP, Weinberg CR. 2016. Douching, talc use, and risk of ovarian cancer. Epidemiology 27(6):797-802.]
  4. Quach T, Von Behren J, Goldberg D, Layefsky M, and Reynolds P. 2015. Adverse birth outcomes and maternal complications in licensed cosmetologists and manicurists in California. Int Arch Occup Environ Health 88(7):823-833. [Abstract Quach T, Von Behren J, Goldberg D, Layefsky M, and Reynolds P. 2015. Adverse birth outcomes and maternal complications in licensed cosmetologists and manicurists in California. Int Arch Occup Environ Health 88(7):823-833.]
  5. Berger KP, Kogut KR, Bradman A, She J, Gavin Q, Zahedi R, Parra KL, Harley KG. 2018. Personal care product use as a predictor of urinary concentrations of certain phthalates, parabens, and phenols in the HERMOSA study. J Expo Sci Environ Epidemiol; doi.org/10.1038/s41370-017-0003-z [online 09 January 2018]. [Abstract Berger KP, Kogut KR, Bradman A, She J, Gavin Q, Zahedi R, Parra KL, Harley KG. 2018. Personal care product use as a predictor of urinary concentrations of certain phthalates, parabens, and phenols in the HERMOSA study. J Expo Sci Environ Epidemiol; doi.org/10.1038/s41370-017-0003-z [online 09 January 2018].]
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