Rutgers researchers are evaluating how harmful chemicals in soap, lotion may be
Researchers from the Rutgers School of Public Health have been studying the health risks of chemicals found in personal care products like soap and lotion, according to a recent press release.
“People are under the false impression that if a product makes it to the shelves of their supermarket or drugstore, then it’s totally safe to use,” said Emily Barrett, an associate professor in the School of Public Health, according to an article on Patch. “Lots of things on the shelf are essentially untested and by putting these products on our bodies every day, we are unwittingly participating in a human experiment.”
While products may be tested to make sure they do not cause skin irritation, companies do not study the long-term effects of their products. Personal care products are not well regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), said Adana Llanos, an assistant professor in the School of Public Health.
Barrett said that the chemicals in personal care products, which are known as endocrine disruptors, carcinogens and developmental toxicants, can lead to long-term health impacts like hormone-sensitive cancers.
One class of chemicals, called phthalates, are often used in personal care products and can cause development problems during pregnancy. The issue hit home when Barrett was pregnant with her now 9-year-old son, she said.
“We were actively researching how phthalates may impact the male fetus’s ability to produce androgens, like testosterone, and I became much more aware about the products I put on my body. It was hard to find products that I could be confident were safe for him,” she said, according to the article.
The chemicals do not just affect pregnant women, Barrett said. There are a number of adult health risks that college students should be aware of.
“Evidence is now growing that numerous environmental chemicals, including some of those commonly found in personal care products, like phthalates, act as obesogens, meaning that they promote weight gain and metabolic issues,” she said.
Llanos said that the use of darker shades of hair dyes and chemical relaxers or straighteners were associated with an increased risk of breast cancer.
“In addition to our research, several other studies have suggested potential links between the use of personal care products,” she said, according to the article. “Which might contain harmful ingredients and increased risks for various conditions.”
The chemicals, Barrett said, can get into our bodies in a number of ways.
“We can absorb them through our skin (such as through lotions and cleansers), we can inhale them (such as through perfumes) and we can ingest them (for instance in our oral care products like toothpaste),” she said.
Barrett said that a large amount of risk comes from the number of products used.
“Men typically use fewer than 10 products a day, while women use about 20 products. Twenty products that have long ingredient lists may include chemicals that interfere with your hormones, that may be linked to cancer or to developmental toxicity — and we’re putting them all over our bodies where they can be readily absorbed,” she said, according to the article.
For Barrett, giving up perfume and nail polish was an easy decision after she learned about the chemicals they contained. The good news is, she said, that companies are now coming out with “cleaner” versions of most products.
“You can find many products now advertised as phthalate-free and paraben-free or even better,” she said.
Llanos said that consumers should be careful with “organic” labels.
“We don’t have enough information to make a call on whether traditional or organic products are better,” she said. “Many products claim to be 'organic,' but the ingredients lists can tell a different story.”
Organizations like the Environmental Working Group, Llanos said, have put together online databases with thousands of products and their chemical ingredients, as well as their potential health risks.
Rather than looking for organic products, she said, consumers should look to make cleaner choices. Llanos said the first step is awareness.
“In general, I think it is crucial for consumers to ultimately realize that some products could be sources of harmful exposures,” she said. “With more awareness of what chemicals might be harmful, people will be armed with the knowledge to make more informed choices that might help minimize negative health effects.”
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