A program of Breast Cancer Prevention Partners

Health Effect: Environmental Concerns

About Environmental Concerns

Many compounds used in personal care products have a negative impact on the environmental after they have been washed down the drain or released into the air. Some are persistent, bioaccumulative, and toxic (i.e. PBTs), which means they do not degrade in the environment, can accumulate in living organisms so their levels in body tissues continue to increase, and can cause toxic effects in humans or other organisms. Some are toxic to aquatic life – whether plants, invertebrates, or vertebrate fish, and are termed aquatic toxicants. VOCs in personal care products (used to impart fragrance, aerosolize hair spray, or make nail polish hard) are emerging as a major source of indoor air pollution and urban smog emissions.

What Chemicals in Personal Care Products are linked to this concern?


Benzophenone & Related Compounds

Benzophenone is used in personal care products such as lip balm and nail polish to protect the products from UV light. Derivatives of benzophenone, such as benzophenone-2 (BP2) and oxybenzone (benzophenone-3 or BP3) are common ingredients in sunscreen. Benzophenone is persistent, bioaccumulative and toxic (PBT).[1][2] These chemicals are linked to cancer, endocrine disruption, and organ system toxicity.

Carcinogens in Cosmetics

Carcinogens in Cosmetics

The laws governing cosmetics and personal care products are so limited that known cancer-causing chemicals, or carcinogens, are legally allowed in personal care products. Some carcinogens, such as formaldehyde and formaldehyde-releasing preservatives, are common in personal care products, while others are less common, but still occasionally present.

Coal Tar

Coal Tar

Coal tar is a known carcinogen derived from burning coal. It is a complex mixture of hundreds of compounds, many of which are polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs).[1][2]

Ethanolamine Compounds

Ethanolamine Compounds (MEA, DEA, TEA And Others)

Ethanolamines are present in many consumer products ranging from cosmetics, personal care products and household cleaning products. Both have been linked to liver tumors. The European Commission prohibits diethanolamine (DEA) in cosmetics, to reduce contamination from carcinogenic nitrosamines. [1]

Lead And Other Heavy Metals

Lead And Other Heavy Metals

Heavy metals like lead, arsenic, mercury, aluminum, zinc, chromium and iron are found in a wide variety of personal care products including lipstick, whitening toothpaste, eyeliner and nail color.



PABA and PABA derivatives are commonly used in sunscreens as ultraviolet B (UVB) filters. PABA use has declined over the years, but its derivatives are still around today. PABA may alter thyroid activity[1],[2],[3] and PABA derivatives may have additional endocrine disrupting properties.[4],[5],[6]

Synthetic Musks

Synthetic Musks

Synthetic musks are chemicals used in personal care product fragrances. They are rarely listed on the label, since fragrance ingredients are often not disclosed.



Triclosan and triclocarban are commonly used antimicrobial agents found in many soaps and detergents.[1] The Center for Disease Control and Prevention has identified triclosan in the urine of 75 percent people tested.[2]


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