Personal care products: Wikis


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Personal care or toiletries is the industry which manufacture consumer products used for beautification and in personal hygiene.



Subsectors of personal care include cosmetics and feminine hygiene.

There is some small distinction between personal hygienic items and cosmetics, which are luxury goods solely used for beautification, but in practice such sundries are most often intermixed in retail store aisles.


Personal care includes products as diverse as chapstick, colognes, cotton swabs, deodorant, eye liner, facial tissue, hair clippers, lipstick, lotion, makeup, mouthwash, nail files, pomade, perfumes, personal lubricant, razors, shampoo, shaving cream, skin cream, toilet paper, cleansing pads and wipes, lip gloss, toothbrushes, and toothpaste, to give a few examples.


A few examples of the major corporations in the personal care industry, illustrating the great diversity in the industry, include:

Other corporations, such as pharmacies (e.g. CVS/pharmacy, Walgreens) primarily retail in personal care rather than manufacturing personal care products themselves.

Chemicals and Personal Care Products

Cosmetics and personal care products often include toxins such as formaldehyde, phthalates, parabens, sodium borate, etc. Research has shown that 35% of all cosmetics contain parabens and that 6% of the population has a cosmetic allergy usually related to fragrances or preservatives. The most prevalent contact allergy is formaldehyde where it is estimated that 3.7% of the population suffers from contact allergies with this preservative (Lundov 2009). In addition to these preservatives there are other synthetic chemicals, which are commonly found in cosmetics and personal care products, some of which are listed below. Also an important aspect to think about is that while these chemicals are used as preservatives the efficiency of these products isn’t widely studied meaning that perhaps we could be using lower doses in our cosmetics that would prevent microbial activity from contaminating them, but also be conscious of the possible adverse health affects of too many preservatives.

Chemicals of Concern

The chemicals listed below are some that have had their safe use in consumer products questioned whether by consumers, environmental groups, and/or government. The sections are separated by title and then following that is a discussion on the studies conducted that assess the safety of various chemicals in adults, children, as well as laboratory animals. The purpose of the following information is simply to provide accessible information so that more people will be able to make informed consumer decisions and question their source of exposures.


Boran- Sodium Borate & Boric Acid [1][2]

Boron doesn’t exist naturally but rather only in combination with oxygen thereby converting it to boric acid or borate salts, etc. Our daily intake of Boran through food, water, consumer products, fireproof fabrics, soap, carpets, etc. is 0.16 mg/kg/d and while this may seem alarming in general there is no clear information about the adverse health effects associated with Boran through intake and more information is needed about the risk associated with Boran penetrating through the skin (Richold 1998). Generally the major sources of exposure to boron are through drinking water, the consumption of crops, and by inhalation, but at low levels of exposure no significant adverse health effects have been recorded. What is known is that in the case of abraded skin Boran has been linked with causing sickness and even fatalities. In the past severe poisoning has occurred with the misuse and ingestion of boric acid. One study found that when a 2.5% solution of boric acid was put in place of distilled water in infant formula, the consumption of this formula resulted in intoxication and death. The symptoms of intoxication often involve nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, central nervous system irritation, etc. As a result of such studies it is know that the lethal dose for infants is 2-3g, for children it’s 5-6g, and for adult it’s 15-20 g although some studies refute this (Moore 1997). The United States Cosmetic Ingredient Review Expert Panel has reviewed the safety of sodium borate as well as boric acid and found that up to a 5% concentration is safe for people with healthy skin but this concentration should not be used on people that have injured skin or infants. With the misuse of this chemical it has been shown to cause psoriasis, eczema, and urticaria (Richold 1998). Through intact skin it has been shown that little to no boric acid is absorbed, however a talc powder used on infants showed that in the children that received a diaper rash the boran product was absorbed but this wasn’t the case in the infants without the diaper rash (Moor 1997). Also other studies that measured the amount of boron in urine found that in both men and women about 90% or more of the boron was absorbed and excreted. It was also found that before excretion boron evenly distributes itself throughout the soft tissues of the body. Another study found that when exposed to a 5% aqueous boric acid solution intact skin didn’t absorb the solution (Moore 1997). In addition there weren’t any reproductive or developmental effects reported with this solution except at high dosage levels, for example, 28 workers were exposed to two to eight times the maximum allowed amount of 10 mg/m^3 and it resulted in fewer sperm counts for these workers.

Polyethylene Glycols (PEG’s)[3][4]

PEG’s are a mixture of compounds that vary in their polymer chain lengths. It is often found in cosmetics because of their solubility, viscous properties, and low toxicity. As a result of these properties they are often found in cosmetics as surfactants, cleansing agents, emulsifiers, skin conditioners, and humectants. In addition PEGs are miscible with water, although their solubility decreases with an increase in their molecular weight. Also without oxygen this chemical will not deteriorate (Fruijtier-Polloth 2005). Although it has been shown that PEGs affect injured skin, in general PEGs, ethers, and fatty acids esters produce little to no ocular or dermal irritations. However, there are byproducts associated with PEGs such as ethylene oxide and 1,4 dioxane that can be problematic. The federal Consumer Product Safety Commission has stated that even trace amounts of 1,4 dioxane is concerning. PEG-25 is one of the widely used forms of PEG and in an acute oral toxicity study conducted by the Cosmetic Ingredient Review Expert panel no effect was found related to PEG-25. In addition the panel conducted another study with antiperspirant that contained 2% PEG-25 and it was found to be none too mildly irritating in the eyes of rabbits. There was also another study conducted with guinea pigs, which showed that at concentrations of 25% to 50% in petrolatum PEG-25 was found to be non-allergenic (Johnson 2001). Despite their negligible health effects it has been shown that PEGs can be absorbed through the gastrointestinal tract, but this depends on the molecular weight. The PEGs with low molecular weight have been associated with oral intake causing a laxative effect as well as affecting the skin’s barrier function. Also PEGs have been associated with irritation of the eye and mucous membranes, but this depends on the chemical structure. PEG, PEG fatty esters, and PEG sorbitan fatty esters have also been associated with slight irritation to the skin and in animals slightly toxic. But overall the problems with skin sensitization have been related to pharmaceutical uses of PEG in ointments. In the case of undiluted PEG-6 sorbitan beeswax there have been no health effects associated with its exposure (Fruijtier-Polloth 2005). In terms of photo-irritation, this may occur in PEG derivatives with an unsaturated structure but not in PEGs themselves because they are not UV absorbing chemicals, which is the main method of obtaining photo-irritation. Additionally PEGs have been associated with allergens as a result of oxidation that produces Laureth-5. This can create aldehyde oxidation products, which includes formaldehyde and can induce allergies. Additionally only in extreme doses has PEGs been associated with kidney damage in animals and lesions of the urinary bladder, spleen, and gastrointestinal tract in hamsters. PEGs have not been linked to carcinogenicity and even in an experiment where rats where exposed to up to 4% concentrations in their diet, there were no carcinogenic effects (Fruijtier-Polloth 2005). Therefore, PEGs are relatively a safe compound to be found in personal care products but one has to be concerned about the byproducts, which may have synergistic effects with other compounds or oxidize into something of concern. Still it remains that PEGs have a relatively low mammalian toxicity after a given exposure particularly if the chemical has a high molecular weight.


Phthalates are typically found in plastic products, lubricants care products, chemical stabilizers in cosmetics, and polyvinyl chloride tubing. Given their wide use research concerning their adverse health effects have been done and have suggested that phthalates can change the human male reproductive system, as well as endocrine and development systems, but a biomarker has yet to be set. In addition phthalates (when measured in dust) have been linked with asthma. One study revealed that there is an increased diagnosis of asthma when an environment contains more than 1.3 mg/g of DEHP. Also PVC flooring that contains phthalates has been linked with bronchial obstruction when combined with low ventilation. In a study conducted by a team of doctors including MD, MPH Sheela Sathyanarayana 81% of 163 infants born between 2000 and 2005 showed having phthalate metabolites greater than or equal to seven. The study revealed that the main exposures were likely to be lotion, which contains monoethyl and monomethyl phthalates, as well as powders, which typically have monoisobutyl phthalates and shampoos, which have monomethyl phthalates. In addition the z score increased with the number of products used meaning that the correlation between product use and phthalate exposure increased making the relationship more significant. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration also conducted a study where they tested 48 cosmetics and found a majority of them to have high concentrations of diethyl phthalates. The problem with this chemical is that despite its wide use it’s also not chemical bound meaning that it continuously off gases into the air, or leaches into liquids or foods products through its packaging. This then creates a setting for increased dermal exposures, ingestion, and inhalation. In addition children can be more vulnerable to toxicity because of their behaviors such as hand to mouth tendencies as well as their immature developing systems, and a high dosage per unit of body surface area. In animal models it is well known that phthalates cause developmental and reproductive toxic affects. Also an infant’s phthalate exposure through breast milk has been associated with abnormal productive hormone levels in 3-month-old infants, which suggests that early exposure may have adverse effects on endocrine homeostasis. However, in other exposures such as through desitin, diaper cream, and baby wipes there has been no relationship found between their use and phthalate metabolite concentrations in infants.

BHT (Butylated Hydroxytoluene) & BHA (Butylated Hydroxyanisole) [7][8]

BHT is a form of toluene that’s used as an antioxidant in cosmetic products. Its concentrations can range between 0.0002% to 0.5% in any given product. The Cosmetic Ingredient Review Expert Panel studied this chemical concluding that it is safe at low concentrations even though BHT does penetrate the skin, metabolizes as carboxylic acid and its glucuronide (CIRE 2002). Another study also concluded that BHT and BHA are safe, posing no risk of cancer and moreover may actually be anticarcinogenic at the current levels of use in food products (Williams 1999). In male rats acute doses of 0.5 to 1.0 gl/kg of BHT showed renal and hepatic damage. With short-term repeated exposures both the male and female rats experienced hepatic toxic effects. Also at low doses there was an increase in liver weight as well as a decrease in the activity of hepatatic enzymes. When BHT was applied to the skin it was associated with toxic effects in lung tissue however, it did not show conclusive evidence of interfering with reproductive or developmental systems. Still it has been associated with inhibiting humoral immune response as well as promoting the development of tumors. It has also shown to be an anticarcinogen and produces no effects on other carcinogens, although this depends on the organ involved, the level of exposure, and the animal being tested. When concerning toxicity, the Expert Panel stated that this is related to the electrophillic metabolite and oral exposure (CIRE 2002). Although the Cosmetic Ingredient Review Expert Panel concluded that the current use of BHT in cosmetic products is low enough to not be a safety concern, I think it’s important to think about all of the synergistic effects of BHT products. Because it’s such a common ingredient it can often be found in your morning cereal, then your moisturizer, foundation, etc. and although the Expert Panel stated that exposure from one product ranges from 0.0002% to 0.5%, what if every product contained a 0.5% exposure level? We use these products multiple times a day in some cases and every day, what does that level of exposure mean for our bodies? So although the Expert Panel concluded that BHT is safe at low concentrations, we should consider how individual human behavior and consumption could lead to higher concentration levels. Another aspect to consider is that although there may be synergistic effects, this would be of most concern if the chemicals targeted the same tissues within the human body.

Parabens- p-hydroxybenzoic acid (PHBA)[9]

Parabens are used in over 22,000 cosmetics as a preservative at concentrations of 0.8% if it’s a mixture of parabens and 0.4% if it’s a single paraben. With this synthetic chemical appearing in so many of our daily-use products it has been estimated that the daily use of products with parabens is 17.76 g for adults and 378 mg for infants. There is no conclusive evidence as to the adverse effects that parabens may have on human health but there also lacks research on the topic. In addition it is well known that parabens have had adverse health affects on wildlife. When concerning the research that has been done on parabens it is known that these chemicals can metabolize and penetrate the stratum corneum, which is the first layer of, the skin or the cornified layer, but usually 1% is absorbed. Also typically parabens are not mutagenic although studies have shown that ethylparaben and methylparaben did increase chromosomal imperfections in hamsters, however because parabens are not bioaccumulative it won’t remain in human tissue. It has also been found that at the levels where mothers are intoxicated with parabens the fetus hasn’t produced any signs of toxicity. However, propylparaben in men from levels of 0.1% to 1% has been shown to affect sperm counts. In women it has been shown that parabens are capable of binding to estrogen receptors but the potency is below that of natural estradoil by 1,000 to 1,000,000 times less, meaning that it shouldn’t alter the bodies system. Also it has been linked to causing sensitization with damaged and injured skin. The Cosmetic Ingredient Review has set the margins of safety (MOS) for this chemical at 6,000 for single parabens and 3,000 for multiple parabens for infants. In the case of adults the MOS is 1,690 for single parabens and 840 for multiple parabens. The European Commission on Health and Consumer Protection has also set a limit of exposure for parabens with the maximum concentration being 0.8% for a mixture and 0.4% for a finished product. Despite the aforementioned studies, more information is still needed on parabens. The tests that have been done have ignored the adrenocortical function which is a typical target for toxicity. Additionally tests should establish whether the chemical causes prolactin secretion since this has been linked with human breast cancer. Also there is an overall lack of knowledge regarding long-term dose exposures.

Overseeing the Cosmetic/Personal Care Product Industry [10][11]

The cosmetic industry is predominantly responsible in ensuring the safety of its products, but in addition to their voluntary actions there is also the Food and Drug Administration (FDA [12]). The FDA has the power to ban or restrict ingredients, administer product recalls, call for warning labels, inspect facilities, issue warning letters, seize illegal products, and prosecute violators. On the other hand they do not require pre-market approval or testing but if a company doesn’t test a product it must have a warning label on it stating that it hasn’t been tested. In the case of preservatives, manufacturers are not forced to list which ones they use and even in the case of labeling one study found that 28% of skin creams were labeled incorrectly (Lundov 2009). Color additives, however, must be tested for safety and get approval from the FDA. The Cosmetic Ingredient Review experts also play a role in monitoring safety; although they do not have legal authority they do have an influence in how businesses use ingredients. Overall the organization has reviewed about 1,200 ingredients and has suggested that several hundred be restricted (Gilbert 2006). But what is lacking in this regulatory sector is a systemic method of reviewing chemicals for safety and a clear definition of what is meant by ‘safety’ so that all chemicals are tested on the same basis. Although it’s important to note that in the case of the CIR there is a standard testing for various adverse effects on humans, no agency addresses the synergistic possibilities, although this is mostly of concern if all the chemicals target the same tissues. Still there needs to be a standard testing for toxins that addresses the accumulative properties of the chemicals used and their possible reactions with other chemicals or water, and the standard needs to be systematic, testing every chemical in the same way. One scholar Gilbert Ross suggests that tests often ignore adrenocortical functions and dysfunctions (which are common toxilogical targets), doesn’t fully asses steroidogenisis, and overlooks to secretion of prolactin in many cases (Gilbert 2006). This evidence just further emphasizes the need for the FDA or another agency to take proper action in ensuring the safety of the chemicals used in personal care products amongst other products.

Solutions [13][14][15]

One of the most immediate solutions involves making informed consumer decisions but the problem with making informed consumer decisions is that often products do not nor are required to label their ingredients. So while a product might list phthalates under the ingredients it won’t list the chemicals content, which can have various different adverse health effects depending on the chemical. In addition 46% of people have reported struggling when reading the ingredient list because of its small size. And one study found that 28% of skin creams had been labeled incorrectly (Lundov 2009). This problem isn’t limited to the U.S. even in Europe 100,000 chemicals have been marketed with little toxilogical control (Irigaraya 2007), but more recently the E.U. is shifting it’s policies and planning to use 10 million animals in order to conducts a risk assessment on more chemicals. Still the issue remains, how is one to make informed consumer decisions without having all of the proper resources? This is clearly one aspect of the industry and its enforcement that needs to change, people need to be able to read the ingredients correctly and know enough about the product to make informed decisions. The Environmental Working Group is one of many that work to helping consumers make informed decisions their website ( will allow you to search a product and it will give you the ingredient list for the product, with that one is able to do their own research and/or compare products directly on their website. Another solution is to get involved and pressure local, state and federal governments to protect consumer from the use of unsafe chemicals in personal care products. In addition one could get involved in the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, a coalition of people interested in public health, education, labor, religion, the environment, etc. and work to protect the health of consumers and workers by requiring the health and beauty industry abandon the use of dangerous chemicals and replace them with safer alternatives. Currently over 500 companies have voluntarily joined the effort by signing the Compact for Safe Cosmetics. And lastly you can always tell a neighbor, family member, or friend. Education is the way to help inform consumers but also encourages people to continue asking questions about what their consuming or being exposed to whether through work or your residence.

See also


  1. ^ Richold, Margaret. Boron Exposure from Consumer Products. University Research, Colworth House, Environmental Safety Laboratory. Biological Trace Element Research 1998: Vol. 66. Humana Press Inc.
  2. ^ Moore, John A. and an Expert Scientific Committee. An Assessment of Boric Acid and Borax using the IEHR evaluative process for assessing human developmental and reproductive toxicity of agents. Reproductive Toxicology. 1997: Vol. 11: No. 1: pp. 123-160. Elsevier Science Inc.
  3. ^ Fruijtier-Polloth, Claudia. Safety assessment on polyethylene glycols (PEGs) and their derivatives as used in cosmetic products. Toxicology 2005: 214: pp. 1-38. Elsevier Ireland Ltd.
  4. ^ Johnson W. Jr. and the Cosmetic Ingredient Review Expert Panel. Final report on the safety assessment of PEG-25 propylene glycol stearate, PEG-75 propylene glycol stearate, PEG-120 propylene glycol stearate, PEG-10 propylene glycol, PEG-8 propylene glycol cocoate, and PEG-55 propylene glycol oleate. International Journal of Toxicology. 2001: 20 Suppl 4: pp. 13-26.
  5. ^ Sathyanarayana, Sheela MD, MPH, Catherine J. Karr, MD, PhDa,b, Paula Lozano, MD, MPHb, Elizabeth Brown, PhDc, Antonia M. Calafat, PhDd, Fan Liu, MSe and Shanna H. Swan. Baby Care Products: Possible Sources of Infant Phthalate Exposure. PEDIATRICS: Official Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics. Feb. 2008: Vol 121: No. 2: pp 260-268
  6. ^ Harvey, Philip W. and David J. Everett. Regulation of endocrine-disrupting chemicals: Critical overview and deficiencies in toxicology and risk assessment for human health. Best Practice & Research Clinial Endocrinology & Metabolism. 2006: Vol. 20: No. 1: pp. 145-165. Elsevier Ltd.
  7. ^ Cosmetic Ingredient Review Expert Panel. Final Report on the Safety Assessment of BHT. Journal of Toxicology. June 2002: Vol. 21, (Suppl. 2); pp. 19-94
  8. ^ Williams GM, MJ Iatropoulos, and J. Whysner. Safety assessment of butylated hydroxyanisole and butylated hydroxytoluene as antioxidant food additives. Food Chemical Toxicology. Sept- Oct. 1999: 37: 9-10: pp. 1027-1038.
  9. ^ Cosmetic Ingredient Review Expert Panel. Final Amended Report on the Safety Assessment of Methylparaben, Ethylparaben, Propylparaben, Isopropylparaben, Butylparaben, Isobutylparaben, and benzylparaben as used in Cosmetic Products. International Journal of Toxicology. 2008: Vol. 27: Issue S4: pp. 1-82. SAGE Publications.
  10. ^ Ross, Gilbert. A Perspective on the Safety of Cosmetic Products: A Position Paper of The American Council on Science and Health. International Journal of Toxicology. 2006: 25: pp. 269-277. American College of Toxicology.
  11. ^ Lundov, Michael D., Lise Moesby, Claus Zachariae and Jeanne D. Johansen. Contamination versus preservation of cosmetics: a review on legislation, usage, infections, and contact allergy. Contact Dermatitis 2009: 60: 70-78. Singapore.
  12. ^
  13. '^ Irigaraya P., J.A. Newbyb, R. Clappc, L. Hardelld, e, V. Howardf, L. Montagnierg, S. Epsteinh and D. Belpommea. Lifestyle-related factors and environmental agents causing cancer: An overview. Biomedicine & Pharmecotherapy. Dec. 2007: Vol 61: Issue 10: pg. 640-658. Elsevier Masson SAS All rights reserved.
  14. ^ Lundov, Michael D., Lise Moesby, Claus Zachariae and Jeanne D. Johansen. Contamination versus preservation of cosmetics: a review on legislation, usage, infections, and contact allergy. Contact Dermatitis 2009: 60: 70-78. Singapore.
  15. '^


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