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How Many Chemicals Are Hiding In Your Bathroom Cabinet?

You may have heard the phrase you are what you eat, but have you ever thought about how you are also what you absorb?

In our highly aesthetically driven society, the business of personal care is booming. More than ever before we obsessed with frown-free foreheads, the perfect makeup and smelling great. But could our obsession with beauty be coming at a cost? And have you even stopped to consider what ingredients are actually in the personal care products you reach to a daily basis? It might be time to start paying attention, as the number of chemicals that many of our personal care products contain and the harm they could be having on our health in the long term is starting to be something we are hearing more and more about.

It is estimated that the average women use 12 products on her face each day, exposing herself to 168 unique chemicals on a daily basis. While you might be thinking that the amounts of these chemicals in products are small, and if they weren’t safe they wouldn’t be allowed to be used, the reality is that the effects of these chemicals, even in such small amounts could still be problematic. The health effects of the chemicals found in our personal care products are still relatively poorly understood, but the evidence that we do have suggests that continuous exposure to a mix of these chemicals over long periods could have significant consequences for our health and well-being.

If you think about nicotine and birth-control patches, we know that we can successfully administer effective doses of drugs (also forms of chemicals) into the bloodstream to prevent us from having to take a pill, whilst still being clinically effective. So with this in mind, it seems naive to think that a chemical in a personal care product that has been proven to have a negative health effect, could not pass through the skin and function in the body. While we know that some chemicals are too large to enter our bloodstream, there are still many (especially those found in our personal care products) we know are small enough to penetrate the skin.

So we know that many chemicals can actually penetrate through the skin, but at what rate can they do so? We’ve seen a lot of statistics thrown around regarding the absorption rates and some varied quite significantly, so we set out to look at the research and found that the absorption is around 36-55%, deepening on the class of chemical.

While we should all be conscious of our toxic load and try to reduce it where possible some groups need to be even more on top of it than the rest of us, and that's anyone looking to conceive. Out of all the research we currently have at the moment, hormone disruption and fertility have received the most attention. As we are exposed to combinations of so many different types of chemicals it is often not possible to know exactly if and how individual chemicals affect our health. But in the case of hormone-disrupting chemicals, studies have found that they can have negative effects on both male and female reproductive health by mimicking or blocking the male and female sex hormones. This can cause changes in hormone levels, decreased sperm and egg quality, damage to the DNA in sperm, longer menstrual cycles, taking longer to achieve a pregnancy, increased risk of miscarriage, and earlier menopause.

Additionally, the majority of toxins we are exposed to are lipophilic, meaning they are attracted to fats. Toxins can be transferred from mother to foetus via amnionic fluid, the umbilical cord and through breast milk. The umbilical cord carries not only the building blocks of life, but potentially a stream of chemicals that can cross the placenta as readily as residues from cigarettes and alcohol. It is therefore so important that mothers know that what that what they put on their skin can also reach their baby. In a study conducted by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) in collaboration with Commonwealth, researchers found an average of 200 industrial chemicals and pollutants in umbilical cord blood from 10 babies born in August and September of 2004 in American hospitals.

While this information may seem a little daunting and is defiantly something we should all be aware of, it is important to understand that it is not about being perfect 100% of the time and you can’t control everything. But, by swapping out your personal care products for natural alternatives you can significantly reduce your chemical exposure and make a positive impact on your health. We are lucky that there are now so many amazing brands that offer great alternatives that work just as well as the chemical versions, its just a matter of finding the right ones for you.

My advice is to start with a couple of products at a time and go from there. Think about is the level of exposure you're getting from the products you're using as different products mean different levels of exposure and thus concern. Anything that's on your skin all day such as deodorant, moisturiser, SPF is where you should start. It’s quite amazing how when you begin to remove highly perfumed and chemical-rich products how you react when you are re-exposed to those smells again and realise how strong they are!

It is also a good idea to help your body with a little extra support as you transiting away from chemical-based products. The liver and lymphatic system take a lot of this pressure, so to support these processes make sure you are having lots of bitter foods, plenty of cruciferous vegetables, staying well hydrated, eating enough protein and dry body brushing.

What You Should Be Looking Out For?

  • Parabens

  • Synthetic fragrance*/parfum

  • Phthalates

  • Sodium lauryl/lareth sulphate

  • Petroleum/Paraffin/Mineral oil

  • Formaldehyde

  • Hydroquinone

  • Propylene glycol

  • Triclosan (antibacterial agent in toothpaste, hand wash etc)

  • Coal tar dyes (aminophenol, diaminobenzene, phenylendiamine)

  • Butylated Hydroxyanisole and Butylated Hydroxytoluene)

  • Aluminium (in deodorant)

  • Lead (in lipstick)

* Many products list “fragrance” or “parfum” on the label which is basically an umbrella term for a cocktail of hundreds of different chemicals.


Genuis, S. (2009). Nowhere to hide: Chemical toxicants and the unborn child. Reproductive Toxicology, 28(1), pp.115-116.

Grégoire, S., Ribaud, C., Benech, F., Meunier, J., Garrigues-Mazert, A., & Guy, R. (2009). Prediction of chemical absorption into and through the skin from cosmetic and dermatological formulations. British Journal Of Dermatology, 160(1), 80-91. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2133.2008.08866.x

La Rocca, C., Tait, S., Guerranti, C., Busani, L., Ciardo, F., Bergamasco, B., Perra, G., Mancini, F., Marci, R., Bordi, G., Caserta, D., Focardi, S., Moscarini, M. and Mantovani, A. (2015). Exposure to Endocrine Disruptors and Nuclear Receptors Gene Expression in Infertile and Fertile Men from Italian Areas with Different Environmental Features. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 12(10), pp.12426-12445.

Mima, M., Greenwald, D. and Ohlander, S. (2018). Environmental Toxins and Male Fertility. Current Urology Reports, 19(7)

Nieuwenhuijsen, M., Dadvand, P., Grellier, J., Martinez, D. and Vrijheid, M. (2013). Environmental risk factors of pregnancy outcomes: a summary of recent meta-analyses of epidemiological studies. Environmental Health, 12(1).

Pizzorno J. (2018). Environmental Toxins and Infertility. Integrative medicine (Encinitas, Calif.), 17(2), 8–11.

WHO - International Program on Chemical Safety. (2019). Retrieved 21 October 2019, from

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