Your Favorite Personal Care and Cleaning Products Went to the Lab, and They Came Back With This

Take a deep breath (or maybe not)

“This study found 156 different VOCs emitted from the 37 products, with an average of 15 VOCs per product. Of these 156 VOCs, 42 VOCs are classified as toxic or hazardous under US federal laws, and each product emitted at least one of these chemicals. Emissions of carcinogenic hazardous air pollutants (HAPs) from green fragranced products were not significantly different from regular fragranced products.”

Most homes are full of these products!!!

Indeed, most indoor environments (and everything in them) are now polluted with these VOCs due to the pervasive nature of these products and chemical compounds.

156 VOCs

From the research article:

– This study investigates and compares VOCs emitted from 37 common products (air fresheners, laundry products, cleaners, and personal care products), including those with certifications and claims of green and organic (fragranced, fragrance-free, green, and regular).

– It extends a prior study of 25 consumer products by adding 12 more products, including fragrance-free versions of fragranced products, representing the first such comparison in the scientific literature.

– The most common chemicals in fragranced products were terpenes, which were not in fragrance-free versions.

– Of the volatile ingredients emitted, fewer than 3% were disclosed on any product label or material safety data sheet (MSDS).

– Terpenes react with ozone to generate a range of secondary pollutants including formaldehyde, acetaldehyde, secondary organic aerosols,and ultrafine particles

– Consumer product VOCs from indoor sources can also migrate outdoors, affecting ambient air quality

What Products Were Tested?

9 air fresheners
(sprays, gels, solids, oils, and disks)

11 laundry products
(detergents, dryer sheets, and fabric softeners)

7 cleaners
(household and industrial cleaning products, disinfectants, and dish detergent)

10 personal care products
(soaps, hand sanitizers, lotions, deodorants, shampoo, and baby shampoo)

Product Categories:

7 green
20 regular
31 fragranced
6 fragrance-free

Fragrance ingredients are exempt from full disclosure in any product, not only in the U.S. but also internationally.

– Collectively, a total of 559 VOC occurrences were detected across the 37
consumer products, representing 156 unique VOCs.

– Among all 37 products, the most prevalent VOCs (in at least 50% of
the products) were ethanol, d-limonene, β-pinene, and α-pinene

– In fragranced products, the most prevalent VOCs were d-limonene, β-pinene, α-pinene, ethanol, and acetone, and the latter two were also found in fragrance-free products.

– In fragrance-free products, the most prevalent VOCs were ethanol, acetaldehyde, methanol, and undecane, and all were also found in fragranced products.

– Comparing the most prevalent compounds in green and regular products, four out of five are the same (d-limonene, β-pinene, ethanol, and α-pinene)

Of the 156 unique VOCs emitted from the 37 products, 42 unique VOCs are classified as toxic or hazardous under U.S. federal laws.

– Each product emitted at least one of these potentially hazardous VOCs.

About half of the products (19) emitted one or more carcinogenic hazardous air pollutants (1,4-dioxane, formaldehyde, acetaldehyde, and methylene chloride), which have no safe threshold of exposure, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)

– Among the most prevalent VOCs in the products (found in at least half of the products), 80% are classified as toxic or hazardous under U.S. federal laws: ethanol, d-limonene, α-pinene, and acetone.

Of the most prevalent VOCs, 80% are the same between green and regular products, and of the most prevalent classified as toxic or hazardous, 75% are the same between green and regular products.

– fewer than 1% of all ingredients in the products were listed on any product label, fewer than 2% on any product MSDS, and fewer than 3% in either location.

– each product appears to be in compliance with their respective laws for disclosing (or not disclosing) ingredients.

The analysis focused on individual chemicals, yet potential product toxicity depends on other factors, such as mixtures of chemicals and concentrations.

– The GC/MS headspace analysis measured primary VOC emissions, directly from each product, which did not capture the generation of secondary pollutants.

 – Consumer products are a primary source of human exposure to VOCs, including hazardous air pollutants. However, consumers lack information about actual and complete product ingredients and emissions, given that most ingredients (over 97% in this study) are not disclosed, and most potentially hazardous ingredients (over 94% in this study) are also not disclosed. …

The disclosure of some chemicals, but not all chemicals, on product labels and MSDSs may lead consumers to presume that they are seeing all ingredients.

– Consumer products used indoors, such as laundry supplies, can affect outdoor air quality, such as through dryer vent emissions

In sum, common consumer products represent a significant but largely unregulated and understudied source of human exposure to VOCs, and thus continued research could promote awareness and efforts among agencies, industries and the public to reduce health risks and improve air quality.

Anne Steinemann. 
Volatile emissions from common consumer products. 
Air Quality, Atmosphere & Health, 2015; (March)
DOI: 10.1007/s11869-015-0327-6


Steinemann common VOCs


Green Product VOCs

Steinemann green product VOCs

Commercial fragrance free product can have hazardous  VOCs too!

Steinemann fragrance-free product VOCs

Here are the compounds found in everyday products that most of us use on a daily basis, and that are regulated as toxic or hazardous!!!

Steinemann regulated as toxic or hazardous

Here are the hazardous fragrance ingredients

Steinemann Hazardous Fragrance Ingredients

And finally, (for this blog post, there is much more in the research paper) here are the toxic VOCs found in commercial fragrance free products

Steinemann Hazardous and toxic compounds in fragrance free products

Just because a brand name product is cashing in on the growing need for fragrance free products, it doesn’t mean they are doing so with safe and healthy ingredients. In some cases, they are still the better choice, but as we can see from this research, it’s not as  simple anymore as grabbing something that says unscented or fragrance free.

And please don’t think you will escape the effects of inhaling and absorbing these pollutants. The evidence is mounting that fragrance chemicals will be responsible for more health harm than tobacco smoke. Pediatricians and child health experts are advising fathers to be, pregnant women, and children (especially) to avoid products with fragrances in them, as well as a number of other everyday, yet toxic products. They have been slow to act, waiting too long for definitive proof.

As was noted in the study, the usual advice to read labels isn’t helping to protect us. Better laws are needed, but we need to be cautious there too, as industry is continually working to write the laws (please read that article) that would serve to protect them from us, instead of laws that protect our health from their toxic waste.

We are the ones who pay the costs with damaged health, chronic illness, and premature  deaths, from breathing in  the dirty air, and drinking polluted water (these products do go down the drain after all and there is no away).

It’s time to stop this insanity and demand public health be the priority, not polluter profits! They should not be allowed to pollute us for profit while we pay the costs!

Safe, non-toxic  (fossil-fuel-free) products are possible and preferable!

If you wish to explore some of the known adverse health effects, check out these sites:

CHE Toxicant and Disease Database

TOXNET Databases

Previous research by Dr Steinemann, listed these chemicals and known health effects in laundry products and in air “fresheners“.

Check out Dr Steinemann’s website for some of her past research here.

“Women’s Voices for the Earth”, EWG, “Healthy Child, Healthy World”, “Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families”, “Health Care Without Harm”, “The Collaborative on Health and the Environment”, “The Silent Spring Institute”, “TEDX – The Endocrine Disruption Exchange”, and “Breast Cancer Fund” are just a few of the organizations working to help us make better decisions in the absence of proper regulations. Links to their organizations and work are scattered throughout this site and in the sidebar under resources. You can follow them on fb too, for the latest news and updates.
Protect Your Health!
Choose fragrance free products made by companies that divulge all of their ingredients. Also, essential oils are NOT always safe or healthy, in fact they can also contain undisclosed chemicals, react with ozone to create more harmful pollutants, and can be sensitizers. They should only be used medicinally under the care of qualified practitioners (not MLM sales reps who are inventing all kinds of questionable ways to use EOs). Clean does not smell!
Use the ingredients your grandparents used, and open a window!
If you or your children experience any health problems now, you may also wish to consider air and water purification systems to help remove some of these chemicals from your life.
We shouldn’t have to pay for this, but we do. Until we change the laws.


went to the lab 1

Let’s work together to make this world a safe and healthy place for everyone to breathe, drink, eat, and live.

7 responses to “Your Favorite Personal Care and Cleaning Products Went to the Lab, and They Came Back With This

  1. Excellent info! Thanks for taking the time to put all of this info here, some of those journal articles are really hard to get the full version of to read. It’s great to know that I can get the bulk of the recent research here instead!

    • I know… Who has the ~ $40 or so to spend on each piece of research that could be useful to us?

      I wish I had access to a free research database! I used to know someone at a Uni who would find a few of the more relevant ones I asked for, but I don’t know anyone to ask now. Sometimes, you can contact the researcher (there’s usually an email addie with an abstract) and ask them. They might have non-copyrighted versions of the paper and be happy to share.

      One of the science media orgs recently mentioned that if one of their paid subscribers shared a work, then the readers would have access to it, but again, that means knowing someone…

      (If anyone wants to buy me a subscription, I’ll share ;-) For instance, there’s what looks to be a very interesting IAQ article there now, dealing precisely with product pollution, that I’d love to have access to and write about in more detail)

      I was listening to something the other day, and the doctor/researcher was saying how abstracts and press releases are sometimes written in very misleading ways, and news reporters rarely, if ever look at the full research. I have seen that happen, but trying to “correct” public perception when major media spread untruths and half-truths isn’t easy…

      This research wasn’t even picked up by the North American media except for Science Daily. Which is shocking considering the new bills now being considered to “regulate” chemicals in the US (see the article link in the post for more details about that).

      Dr Steinemann used to do her research in the US but I think the chemical industry drove her out. She couldn’t even quote from package labels or MSDS on this piece because it could identify the products.

      I find it extremely problematic that industries are allowed to pollute us for private profit and in addition to subsidizing them with taxpayer money, we have to pay the costs from illness, for air and water purification, for medications, etc. That is a toxic economy. None of us can live without air and water. Once it’s all polluted, when the soils are too toxic, when the bees have been poisoned, and there are no trees left to filter the air, we’re all doomed…

      Don’t people realize that this is just plain wrong?

      We could have an economy based on health and well-being, on taking care of the planet that sustains our lives, on working for things that lead to more happiness…

      We need to turn this thing around now!

  2. Thanks for putting this out there – consumers cannot be expected to protect themselves when the information is just not available to us. (And even if it were, we’d all have to become chemists.) Proper legislation that protects the people (not businesses and their profits) is the only way forward.
    Interesting that essential oils can contain undisclosed chemicals – how unscrupulous can businesses be?!

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