The Effects of Everyday Chemicals

By Aly Cohen, MD, with Lisa Feiner, M.Ed. CHHC

Dr. Cohen is a medical doctor, rheumatologist, environmental health specialist and book author. See her blog at and follow her on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram @thesmarthuman to keep learning about toxins.

There are some 87,000 chemicals being used in the United States, many in our food, homes, and personal care products, that have not been effectively tested for endocrine effects. In other words, they may be having a serious effect on our development, and that of our children, and may well be the cause of the significant increase in issues such as autism, asthma, allergies, learning difficulties, and dementia.

There is little doubt among the scientific community of the negative impact of many of these chemicals, based on increasing evidence. Things have improved since the first part of
the last century when some women died from poisoning from make-up. But not a great deal is known about the long-term effects of cosmetics use on health, and there is growing concern that some of the chemicals in many cosmetics are doing damage.

Personal care products and their ingredients are not regulated in the United States. Under the 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act, all of the products that we rub, lather, and spray onto our bodies require no testing for safety or toxicity before going to market. We have no idea of their reproductive risks, developmental issues that may be caused in children, cancer risks, or risk of causing endocrine disorders. And the ingredients that we know do have those effects have not been removed or banned. It’s up the manufacturer to do voluntary testing and share results with consumers. And only they, not the FDA, have the authority to remove their product from store shelves if it’s found to cause harm!

Since 1976 only 11 chemicals have been taken out of cosmetics in the United States. The European Union has restricted 1100 chemicals in their products since the 1970s, most of which are still used in the US. Many personal products contain endocrine disrupting chemicals or EDCs that can alter hormone levels in the body. Others contain preservatives, coloring, and metals such as lead and mercury.

Added fragrance or perfume can contain hundreds of individual chemicals but we,
as the consumer, are not allowed to know the specific ingredients because fragrance is considered proprietary or a “trade secret” in the US. But it’s critical to understand that it’s not just what a human is exposed to, it’s also when they are exposed. For instance, fetuses, young children and teens are developing at such a rapid rate that chemicals can have harmful health effects. And teens use more personal care products than any other demographic.



1. Watch what you put on your skin. Try to use fewer products overall, and especially during pregnancy. If you don’t purchase products containing toxic chemicals, they can’t cause you harm.

2. Read labels. Avoid products that contain fragrance or perfume, even in body sprays and aftershaves for boys and men. Avoid oxybenzone, retinyl palmitate or retinol in sunscreens and lip products. Avoid products with parabens, ethylene glycol, aluminum and phthalates.

3. Go with organic whenever you can. Natural means nothing. Hypoallergenic means nothing. A lot of labeling isn’t true and misleads the public.

4. Choose water-based nail polish without acetone, toluene and formaldehyde. Use tampons and feminine care products that
are 100% organic cotton, and chlorine-, phthalate-, and pesticide-free. Check
your products on Environment Working Group’s website, or their smartphone app, Healthy Living. You can look up safety risks and choose safer products.

See Dr. Aly Cohen’s blog on for more information.

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