Are my Shower and Bath Products Safe?

September 11, 2014

Finding the ‘right’ shampoo, body wash, and other personal care products used in daily grooming routines can be tricky.  Not too offensive to our sense of smell, not too greasy, non-irritating, the right color… the list goes on.  For many that are chemically sensitive the search may never end.  Unlike food and pharmaceuticals, personal care products are not closely regulated.  In fact, there is no official category for personal care products.  The US Food and Drug Administration defines personal care products as cosmetics or drugs (or both).  What barrage of chemicals are you exposing yourself and your family to each day when using such products?  Are there any alternatives?  Hygiene and bacterial fighting qualities make them nearly impossible to omit but what adverse health effects might they have?

Are shampoos and bath products dangerous?

Just as we have seen with cleaning supplies, there has been a push for “Green/Natural/Organic” personal care products.  However, since there is very little regulation in this area, manufacturers may use this label on their products based on their individual interpretations of the words.  Even detailed research into the many compounds listed as ingredients may leave one duped as “Fragrance” is not a regulated term and is often composed of a mixture of many chemicals, making it almost impossible to find out which chemicals are present.

The hygiene and antibacterial qualities of many personal care products used can outweigh the chemical dangers when used and stored properly.  You can limit the exposure to these harmful chemicals by opting for dye free, fragrance free, and allergenic alternatives.  Proper ventilation (bathroom exhaust fan, open window, etc.) and proper storage will further reduce your exposure.  Make certain that all product containers are fully closed and consider using a secondary storage such as a tote or sealed lid container when the products are not in use.  Clean the bathroom area regularly.  Not only will this help limit bacteria and other biological health hazards, but it will also limit the amount of product build up on surfaces and lower the chances of additional product off-gassing from these surfaces. This is especially true for products like perfumes and hair spray that aren’t visible as well as spilled products like toothpaste and lotions.

Health effects of using shampoos and bath products:

Personal care products are a mix of many different chemicals.  Each chemical adds to the product’s effectiveness or appeal.  Each individual chemical may have a different effect on the user, causing one product from a particular manufacturer to cause symptoms and another product to have no ill effects.  Possible side effects include the following and are dependent on the individual’s specific chemical tolerance.

  • Respiratory Irritation (wheezing, coughing, sneezing, burning sensation in the throat)
  • Skin irritations (rash, hives, burning sensation)
  • Eye irritation (watering, burning sensation, itchy)
  • Headaches
  • Dizziness
  • Organ or system effects from long-term use

Many of the personal care products we use are for health and hygiene purposes.  Though we cannot eliminate them from our daily routines, we can reduce the exposure to our families and ourselves.  Use fragrance and dye free or allergenic products, read the labels so you know which ingredients are present, use your bathroom exhaust fan while using personal care products, and clean the bathroom regularly.  Also consider performing an air quality test to see how much of these products you and your family may be inhaling.