Some chemical ingredients in makeup, skin, and hair care products may cause health risks such as allergic reactions, hair loss, asthma, and cancer. But determining which chemicals are dangerous among the many consumers are exposed to in their daily personal care product use—an average of 168 for women and 85 for men—is a daunting task for researchers and the public. The industry is largely self-regulated, which means that ingredients may be left off labels and adverse events go unreported.

“Too much of the burden is on the public, and it’s unfair to expect the average person to have the time and scientific background to stay on top of this,” Russ Hauser, Frederick Lee Hisaw Professor of Reproductive Physiology and chair, Department of Environmental Health at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, said in an article in Prevention, published online Dec. 19, 2017.

Research by Hauser and others suggests that chemicals known as parabens and phthalates, used in lotions, nail polishes, and other products, disrupt the hormonal system and may cause reproductive and other health problems. Daniel Cramer, a professor in the Department of Epidemiology, also interviewed in the article, has identified a potential link between the use of talc and ovarian cancer risk.

Finding definitive evidence on the risks from chemicals is difficult because data comes from observational studies. Hauser said that risk may be different for everyone. “It depends on the chemical and the number of products you use.”

Recommendations in the article include using a minimum of personal care products, and choosing simpler products with fewer ingredients.

Read Prevention article: Are Your Beauty Products Toxic? Here’s Everything You Need to Know

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Exposure to phthalates may raise risk of pregnancy loss, gestational diabetes (Harvard Chan School news)

Harmful, untested chemicals rife in personal care products (Harvard Chan School news)

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