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From moisturizers, shampoo, and mascara to cologne and deodorant, everyday we are exposed to many combinations of untested and potentially harmful chemicals just in the time it takes to get ready in the morning. Young people, with their developing brains and bodies, are especially sensitive to these chemical exposures. 

Unfortunately, because the chemicals in cosmetics and personal care products are largely unregulated, it’s difficult to give advice about which products to choose. Many ingredients in these products are untested, and some chemicals may not even be listed on product labels. The best we can do is highlight types of products to avoid and things to look out for.  

Ultimately, we need to change this system! Government and retailers should take action to regulate and remove toxic ingredients in beauty products. We all deserve cosmetics and personal care products that are safe!

1. Choose fragrance-free products.

Hidden fragrance chemicals can include hormone-disrupting phthalates and allergens. Be wary of products marketed as “unscented,” as these products may have chemicals added to mask odors. Choose products that are labeled “fragrance-free” instead.

2. Avoid products labeled “waterproof” or “long-wearing.”

Be cautious of foundations, lipsticks, and mascaras that are labeled waterproof or long-wearing, as these are more likely to contain PFAS. A recent study found that most cosmetics that contained PFAS did not disclose PFAS on ingredients lists. 

3. Watch out for carcinogenic formaldehyde-releasing chemicals in a wide range of products. 

The Washington State Department of Ecology (Ecology) found high levels of formaldehyde in cosmetics and personal care products marketed to people of color, including hair styling gels and creams, leave-in conditioners, and lotions and creams. Ecology found formaldehyde in 24 products above 200 parts per million (ppm), which is “high enough to cause allergic reactions in some individuals.”



Avoid formaldehyde-creating chemicals in products by watching out for the following ingredients on product labels: Quaternium-15,  DMDM Hydantoin, imidazolidinyl urea, diazolidinyl urea, polyoxymethylene urea, sodium hydroxymethylglycinate, bromopol, and glyoxal.

4. Skip the triclosan, an antibacterial agent found in some toothpaste, deodorant, acne treatments, and soaps.

There is no evidence of any benefit with this chemical in most personal care products, and safer alternatives without triclosan are readily available.

5. Join the fight against unregulated, untested chemicals in personal care products.

We can’t shop our way out of this problem! Sign up for Toxic-Free Future’s email alerts and help us tell elected officials that we need stronger laws to ensure the products we use on our bodies are safe. 

Check out our Take Action page for ways you can help support these issues.

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