Everyday Products and Cancer Risk

Every morning you brush your teeth, take a shower, and apply deodorants, creams, makeup, and other personal care products.

Did you know, however, that many of these products are a major source of human exposure to dangerous chemicals?

According to the Environmental Working Group (EWG), a nonprofit that conducts independent research to expose health and environmental threats, the average consumer uses 10 personal care products daily that contain about 126 distinct ingredients. Most of these are untested and unregulated. The EWG says personal products companies are free to use almost any ingredient and are not required to provide evidence these ingredients are safe.

A typical product such as shampoo has a multitude of ingredients, although only a few are actually associated with cleaning your hair. Shampoos include thickening agents, chemicals to produce suds, colors, fragrances, and preservatives to extend product shelf life. Claims that personal care products contain vitamins, minerals, proteins, or herbs are meaningless.

The residues from personal care products also make their way into our fresh water systems and continue to cause harm. Many produce high levels of estrogen and estrogen-like substances, which are a risk factor for some cancers. Furthermore, children are more sensitive to chemicals than adults, yet the average child is exposed to about 27 chemicals each day, including some associated with cancer.

So, what's a concerned individual or parent to do? The EWG offers some tips:

  • Ditch the bubbles. We mistakenly believe that if a shampoo or other cleaning product does not create suds, it's not working. It doesn't take bubbles to clean, but it takes chemicals to make bubbles.
  • Buy fewer products and use the same products for multiple purposes where possible.
  • Be suspicious of health and safety claims.
  • Take warning labels seriously.
  • Look up product reviews at EWG's database.

Some of the most prevalent harmful substances are familiar, such as lead, mercury, petroleum-based products, phthalates, and parabens. Many other ingredients are unfamiliar (and generally un-pronounceable).

The EWG recommends you skip this high-risk products altogether:

  • Anti-aging creams with lactic, glycolic, AHA, and BHA acids
  • Hair dyes with ammonia, peroxide, p-phenylenediamine, and diaminobenzene
  • Liquid hand soaps with triclosan
  • Nail polish remover with formaldehyde
  • Skin lighteners with hydroquinone

In May 2010, the President's Cancer Panel reported that exposure to environmental contaminants has a stronger impact on cancer risk than originally estimated.

Become an informed consumer and minimize your family's exposure to potentially harmful chemicals.



Environmental Working Group. "Not so sexy: hidden chemicals in perfume and cologne." Web. May 2010. http://www.ewg.org/notsosexy

Snedeker, Suzanne, PhD. "Breast Cancer and The Estrogen Connection." Cornell University. Web. 7 May 2008.

Bunn, Bill. "Sure, a couple ingredients clean your hair. But the rest are a veritable toxic dump on your head." Salon.com. Web. 13 August 2009.

Environmental Working Group. "EWG Shopper's Guide to Safe Cosmetics." Web.

Nelson, Roxanne. "President's Cancer Panel: Environmental Cancer Risk Underestimated." Medscape Medical News. Web. 13 May 2010.