Cosmetics and Personal Care Products

By | December 4, 2018
Table of Contents


various cosmetics

Good hygiene, along with protecting ourselves from sunburn, insect bites, and other harms, is important to our well-being. There are numerous products on the market, in various forms, such as lotions, sprays, and creams, for cosmetic use or personal care.

The Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act regulates the cosmetics and personal care industry in the United States. The law mandates that manufacturers report the safety of their products to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). However, cosmetics do not undergo the same stringent level of premarket approval as drugs and pharmaceuticals, with the exception of color additives.1

Cosmetics and personal care products contain a mix of chemicals. Researchers are working to better understand if any of these affect human health. Some of the chemicals have already been classified as endocrine disrupting, which means they may interfere with the body’s hormones and cause adverse health effects.2

What is NIEHS Doing?

  • Testing of chemicals in cosmetics and personal care products – The National Toxicology Program (NTP), part of NIEHS, has conducted research on more than 300 chemicals used in cosmetics and personal care products, including:
    • Antimicrobials, such as triclosan, used in some soaps and other products, to kill or stop the growth of microorganisms, such as bacteria.
    • Engineered nanomaterials, like zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, commonly used in cosmetics and sunscreens to protect skin from harmful ultraviolet rays.
    • Parabens, used to preserve the shelf life of many cosmetic and personal care products.
    • Phthalates, found in many personal care products and plastics.
  • Douching and ovarian cancer – Using data from the NIEHS Sister Study, NIEHS researchers found women who douched had an increased risk of ovarian cancer.3
  • Salon workers and pregnancy – NIEHS-funded research found women working as cosmetologists and manicurists had an increased risk for gestational diabetes, or diabetes that develops during pregnancy. They also found a higher risk for placenta previa, a condition where the placenta partially or totally covers the cervix — the opening to the uterus — which can cause severe bleeding during pregnancy and delivery.4
  • Adolescents and endocrine disruptors – NIEHS-supported research found that Latina adolescent girls, who reported daily use of personal care products, had higher levels of endocrine-disrupting chemicals in their urine, which may impact reproductive development.5
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Collaboration with Other Federal Agencies

  • Tox21 – In collaboration with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), National Institutes of Health, and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), NTP is conducting high-throughput toxicity testing of 10,000 chemical compounds, including those found in personal care and cosmetics products.

Further Reading

Stories from the Environmental Factor (NIEHS Newsletter)

Printable Fact Sheets


Additional Resources

    New Links on MedlinePlus