Cancer-Causing Chemicals in Shampoo, Lotion, Cleaning Products: Study

We have reported on numerous scientific studies in the recent past demonstrating that the air inside our homes and workplaces is more toxic and health-damaging than the the outdoor pollution from vehicle exhaust and factory emissions.  Now the results of a new scientific study have demonstrated that consumer products release more than 5,000 tons of chemicals inside our homes and workplaces that are known to cause cancer, adversely affect sexual function and fertility in adults or harm developing fetuses. 

More specifically, researchers found that many household products like shampoos, body lotions, cleaners and mothballs release toxic volatile organic compounds (VOCs) into indoor air. In addition, they identified toxic VOCs that are prevalent in products heavily used by workers on the job, such as cleaning fluids, adhesives, paint removers and nail polish. Unfortunately, gaps in US laws that govern ingredient disclosure mean that neither consumers nor workers generally know what is in the products they use.

Study overview

Researchers analyzed data from the California Air Resources Board (CARB), which tracks VOCs released from consumer products in an effort to reduce smog. The agency periodically surveys companies that sell products in California, collecting information on concentrations of VOCs used in everything from hair spray to windshield wiper fluid.

The scientists then cross-referenced the most recent data with a list of chemicals identified as carcinogens or reproductive/developmental toxicants under California’s right-to-know law, Proposition 65. (This measure, enacted in 1986, requires businesses to notify Californians about significant exposure to chemicals that are known to cause cancer, birth defects or other reproductive harms.)

The results?  Researchers found 33 toxic VOCs present in consumer products. Over 100 consumer products covered by the CARB contain VOCs listed under Prop 65.

Of these, they identified 30 product types and 11 chemicals as high priorities for either reformulation with safer alternatives or regulatory action because of the chemicals’ high toxicity and widespread use

The scientists identified five chemicals – cumene, 1,3-dichloropropene, diethanolamine, ethylene oxide and styrene – as high-priority targets for risk evaluation and management under the Toxic Substances Control Act by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.”


Additional findings

“Studies have shown that women generally use more cosmetic, personal care and cleaning products than men, so they are likely to be more highly exposed to harmful chemicals in these categories. Further, women working in settings like nail salons may be exposed from products used both personally and professionally.

Research has also shown that product use varies by race and ethnicity, partly due to racialized beauty standards.”

Health implications

The study identified consumer products containing carcinogens and reproductive and developmental toxicants that are widely used at home and in the workplace. Consumers have limited information about these products’ ingredients.

Making a dangerous situation even worse, consumers are likely co-exposed to many hazardous chemicals together as mixtures through use of many different products, which often contain many chemicals of health concern.

Similarly, people experience aggregate exposures to the same chemical from multiple sources. Methanol, which is listed under Prop 65 for developmental toxicity, was found in 58 product categories. Diethanolamine, a chemical frequently used in products like shampoos that are creamy or foamy, appeared in 40 different product categories. Both Canada and the European Union prohibit its use in cosmetics because it can react with other ingredients to form chemicals that may cause cancer.

Some chemicals, such as N-methyl-2-pyrrolidone and ethylene gylcol, are listed under Prop 65 because they are reproductive or developmental toxicants. Yet they appeared widely in goods such as personal care products, cleansers and art supplies that are routinely used by children or people who are pregnant.

What should consumers do?

Until US political leaders get serious about requiring manufacturers to use safer chemicals in personal care and household products, consumers can read the labels and avoid those chemicals listed above known to be dangerous VOCs. Consumers can also use air purifiers that specifically state they remove VOCs from indoor air, and keep windows cracked to improve ventilation inside their homes.

Source: Republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


Journal reference: Knox, K.E., et alIdentifying Toxic Consumer Products: A Novel Data Set Reveals Air Emissions of Potent Carcinogens, Reproductive Toxicants, and Developmental Toxicants, Environmental Science & Technology Journal, May 2, 2023.