What do women need to know about harmful chemicals in cosmetics?

Janet Pregler, M.D., director of the Iris Cantor-UCLA Women’s Health Center encourages women to recognize that there are numerous potentially harmful chemicals in cosmetic products, for example, that have been found to be measurable in blood -- among them phthalates, bisphenol A, lead and cadmium. “We worry about whether a pregnant woman should take a Tylenol, but she might be using 10 or 15 beauty products a day containing chemicals about which we don’t know the effects,” Dr. Pregler says.

“The reproductive system is resilient -- it’s important not to feel that it’s impossible to have a successful pregnancy,” she notes. “The vast majority of women will have healthy outcomes even in conditions where there may be toxins. But we are always looking to reduce the risk, and these chemicals need to be part of that equation.”

On a daily basis we are exposed to a variety of chemicals through different sources - the food we eat, the personal care products we use, the air we breathe, etc. According to an Environmental Working Group survey, women use on average 12 personal care and cosmetic products each day, which results in being exposed to over 160 different ingredients in these products. Health concerns from these exposures have arisen as science learns more about the potential health effects of these chemicals. Unfortunately not all chemicals in cosmetics and personal care products have been tested for safety, as the US FDA does not require safety testing for the ingredients in these products. In addition, not all ingredients in these products are listed on the label. Phthalates are endocrine disruptors, which are chemicals that can disrupt the normal functioning of hormones that are frequent ingredients in these types of products, but are not always a component listed on the label. Instead they are often part of the chemical mixture listed as “fragrance” on the label. We recommend minimizing the number of products a person uses on a daily basis, choosing products with fewer ingredients, and buying “fragrance-free” products. 

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.