A recent report published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives (EHP) has uncovered the truth about hidden chemicals in everyday personal care and cleaning products, even those products claimed to be “natural.” An array of chemicals has been found in our homes and in our bodies yet little is known about the safety of these chemicals or even where they are all coming from.

The ability to detect most of these chemicals in everyday products becomes complicated by the minimal labeling required on personal care and cleaning products. For example, for cosmetics the FDA does not require labeling of chemical constituents of fragrances or “incidental ingredients,” (I’d like to see the definition of that) and for cleaning products only compounds regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency (like antimicrobials) are required to be labeled.

In the EHP study, the researchers selected 213 commercial products representing 50 product types. They detected 55 chemical compounds including complex mixtures of chemicals in some products. The alarming part of their research is that they even detected many chemicals in the “alternative” products they selected. Here is where labeling again comes under scrutiny—“natural,” “nontoxic,” and “green” are unregulated terms that require no standard ingredient information.

Parabens, known endocrine disruptors commonly found in personal care products, were not only found in conventional products but were also found in seven products that did not list parabens as ingredients. Phthalates, endocrine disrupting plasticizers and solvents, were found in conventional products and alternative products, with new substitute phthalates detected in the alternative products. (They are still phthalates and they likely have similar effects as the old phthalates.)

BPA was found in many of the conventional products and was only found in the alternative sunscreen. I suppose that would be the good news. Here is one chemical you can avoid by selecting alternative products—unless you choose that sunscreen. (The report didn’t give any brand names, unfortunately.)

Antimicrobial compounds were the one chemical that were most likely to be found on labels. This is because they are regulated by the FDA. My question is when will the FDA regulate the rest of these chemicals?

They tested more chemicals but these were the most common ones. The bottom line is we still have a way to go before we can completely trust these products. Because the labeling requirements are shady, we really don’t know what we’re getting. Sunscreens, shaving cream, and some cleaning products seemed to have the most undisclosed chemical ingredients. In the meantime, it’s best to be minimalist. Make your own cleaning products from scratch when you can (you can find some recipes in my book The Detox Strategy), and do your research when it comes to personal care products.