Survey finds use of personal care products up since 2004 – what that means for your health


  • Morning Consult recently surveyed 2,200 people who identify as women and men about their use of personal care products.
  • Men’s use of personal care products has almost doubled since 2004, when EWG released a landmark survey about how consumers use these items.
  • EWG’s Healthy Living Science team analysis reveals how people are exposed to multiple potentially harmful chemicals every day through their routine use of personal care products.

Survey: How we use personal care products today

A new Morning Consult survey reveals the average adult uses 12 personal care products a day, from shampoos to soaps and deodorants to lipsticks and more. And EWG finds the products could be made with 112 unique chemical ingredients, including some that may pose health risks.

We commissioned Morning Consult, an independent research platform, earlier this year to ask 2,200 people about their use of personal care products. We wanted to find out how use of these products might have changed since 2004, when EWG released a groundbreaking study that found the average adult used nine products a day, with a combined 126 individual chemical ingredients.

Our concern was – and remains – about individuals’ potential exposure to the harmful substances in these products during their daily routine. And our experts have their own findings about what the survey results mean for such exposures.

Morning Consult asked participants about their use of 66 product types in five categories – body care, baby care, skin care, cosmetics and hair care. The demographics of survey participants were weighted to match the demographic profile of the U.S. population.

Product categories included body care, such as deodorant and soap; hair care, like shampoo and hairspray; skin care, like sunscreen and eye cream; cosmetics, such as concealer and lipstick; and baby care products, like diapers and baby oil.

The survey found use of these products has gone up. One big surprise is that men’s product use almost doubled, to 11 personal care products per day from six daily in 2004.

  • Women on average use six products daily for body care, three for skin care, two for cosmetics, one for hair care, and one for baby care.
  • Men on average use six products daily for body care, one for skin care, one cosmetic, two for hair care, including for beards, and one product for baby care.
  • The gap between women’s use and men’s has narrowed. Women use more products than men. But men’s use has almost doubled.
  • About 10 percent of adults use more than 25 products every day.

The survey findings mean overall use of products is on the rise. But a separate EWG analysis suggests these products could have fewer chemicals than the products in our 2004 study.

Figure: Which category products we’re using (2023)

  Body care Skin care Cosmetic Hair care Baby care
Women 6 3 2 1 1
Men 6 1 1 2 1

Source: Morning Consult

EWG: What the survey means for exposures

Morning Consult’s survey focused on the product categories people buy, and how often they buy them. But those results give us only part of the picture – the survey did not delve into product chemicals or ingredients. 

So EWG’s Healthy Living Science team analyzed the survey results to determine how much individual exposure to potentially toxic chemicals in personal care products might have changed since our 2004 study. Our experts also wanted to try to identify the product types most likely to contain these possibly harmful ingredients.

Our findings: 

  • U.S. consumers are exposed every day, on average, to two ingredients linked to cancer and two linked to chemicals that can harm the reproductive and development systems.
  • Women use more personal care products than men, so they are exposed to more unique ingredients daily. 
  • The largest sources of ingredient exposures are body care, skin care and cosmetics.
  • The average woman uses 13 products every day, containing 114 unique ingredients, compared to 12 products containing 168 unique chemicals, in 2004.
  • On average, men use 11 products daily, with 105 unique ingredients, compared to six products containing 85 unique chemicals, in 2004.
  • Unique ingredient exposure is higher for women than for men – 114 unique ingredients for women and 105 for men.
  • People are exposed to fewer chemicals today than they were in 2004.

EWG for years has provided consumers with important information about the chemicals in popular personal care products through our Skin Deep® cosmetics database. 

Products are rated in Skin Deep on a scale from 1 to 10, where 1 denotes the lowest hazard rating and 10 represents the highest hazard rating. Yellow-rated products indicate a moderate hazard, with a score between 3 and 6. Red-rated products score between 7 and 10. 

We also award our coveted EWG VERIFIED® mark to those products that are free from chemicals of concern and meet our strictest standards for health. 

EWG’s analysis took the survey results about how people use personal care products and projected from that finding that 40 percent of ingredients in items used daily rate yellow or red in Skin Deep. Ten percent of ingredients wouldn’t qualify for EWG VERIFIED.

Our analysis also found the average adult is exposed to 15 fragrance chemicals a day. Seven are chemicals that can cause allergic reactions.

Fragrance” is an umbrella term, since it can hide up to 4,000 different chemicals, some of which may be hormone-disrupting phthalates. So it is encouraging that some companies are moving toward greater transparency of the ingredients in their products – they include fragrance and fragrance allergens on their labels, despite not being required to do so.

Men’s product use almost doubled, to 11 personal care products per day from six daily in 2004.

We also know some chemicals of concern lurk in sunscreens. Morning Consult found 17 percent of people surveyed use sunscreen daily, and another 14 percent use it weekly. EWG recently released its latest annual Guide to Sunscreens, which shows how to avoid sunscreen with potentially problematic ingredients.

EWG’s analysis of the survey results found two types of parabens, a class of artificial preservatives, among the unique chemicals the average adult is exposed to every day. Exposure to parabens can disrupt the hormone system and cause reproductive harm.

Other daily-use ingredients can cause an array of health harms, including allergies, respiratory damage, harm to the reproductive and immune systems, and cancer. Some build up in the body and don’t break down in the environment. These chemical ingredients include talc, BHT, cyclopentasiloxane, methylchloroisothiazolinone, methylisothiazolinone and triethanolamine.

Figure: Personal care product use at a glance

  Average adult 2023 Women 2023 Men 2023
Number used every day 12 13 11
Unique ingredients 112 114 105

Source: Morning Consult and Environmental Working Group

A day in the life: Your personal care product exposures

We know ingredients in many of the personal care products men and women use every day are chemicals of concern. But what does that mean for your daily routine?

An average woman’s daily routine and possible exposures

In the morning, Jane Doe gets her first potential daily exposure to chemicals of concern in the personal care products she uses. These substances might be lurking in her body wash, which can contain methylisothiazolinone, linked to allergic reactions. The bar soap she uses could be made with limonene, which can be a skin and respiratory irritant.

Checking on her baby, Jane uses a baby wipe, creating an exposure risk for both her and her child, since it may contain benzyl alcohol, associated with contact allergy.

When Jane applies mascara and lipstick, she may expose herself to other chemicals linked to health problems. Mascara can be made with propylparaben, an endocrine-disrupting chemical, and her lipstick may include Red Dye No. 21.

It’s the same for the fragrance she uses every day, because this type of product can be problematic if it’s made with lilial, which is associated with allergies and contact dermatitis. A European Union ban on lilial in cosmetics recently took effect, after the EU in 2020 found it to be a “carcinogenic, mutagenic or reprotoxic” substance – a presumed reproductive toxicant, based on animal studies. 

Since “fragrance” is often a proprietary mixture Jane could be exposing herself to several other harmful chemicals without knowing it. 

Even simple tasks such as applying antiperspirant or brushing her teeth can be ways Jane comes into direct contact with chemicals of concern. Her antiperspirant may be made with cyclopentasiloxane, linked to environmental toxicity, and toothpaste can include Blue Dye No. 1. 

The label of the mouthwash she rinses with might include the ingredient cetylpyridinium chloride, which poses allergy and immunotoxicity concerns. And teeth-whitening strips she uses may be made with hydrogen peroxide, which can cause irritation.

Winding down in the evening after a shower, Jane performs her usual skin care routine, which includes anti-aging and eye creams. She may not know these products sometimes contain methylparaben, another endocrine-disrupting chemical.  

The same is true for the foot moisturizer she uses, because it can be made with linalool, which can cause allergy problems.

And because personal care products are made with several ingredients, the actual number of individual substances Jane’s been exposed to could be much higher. By the end of a typical day, Jane may have exposed herself to 114 chemicals in 13 different products.

An average man’s routine and possible exposures

John Doe wakes up in the morning, starting his day with a shower and suds up with bar soap, sometimes made with limonene, which can irritate the skin and respiratory system. Then he uses shampoo, lathering up a potential exposure to methylisothiazolinone, linked to allergic reactions, which is used as a preservative in that product.

After his shower, John applies some beard oil. But may not know he’s also dabbing on mentha piperita peppermint oil, which can pose allergy and immunotoxicity risks.

The same is true for the antiperspirant he uses every day. These products can sometimes contain harmful substances like BHT, which may disrupt endocrine functions. He splashes on aftershave, too, unaware his favorite brand comes with linalool, which may trigger an allergic reaction.

Even something as simple as brushing his teeth exposes John to troublesome ingredients, because some toothpaste contains Blue Dye No. 1. The same is true of the teeth-whitening product John uses – some brands are made with hydrogen peroxide, which can cause irritation.

To cover up a blemish, John applies some concealer – but this product’s ingredients might include talc, which is associated with asbestos and lung cancer. 

Using the bathroom, in addition to toilet paper John also finishes up with baby wipes, unaware the brand he bought contains benzyl alcohol, which has been linked to contact allergy.

After work, John tries to look after his skin by applying a facial cleanser – but this product is known to sometimes contain cocamidopropyl betaine. This ingredient has been associated with irritation and allergic contact dermatitis, reactions that could be due to the ingredient itself or to impurities present in it, such as 3-dimethylaminopropylamine.

When he’s getting ready for bed, John doubles down on his exposure to potentially harmful chemicals by brushing his teeth again. Throwing in one last unwitting exposure, he then rinses with mouthwash, a product for which some brands use cetylpyridinium chloride, which may pose allergy or immunotoxicity concerns.

With just his daily routine, John has potentially exposed himself to 105 chemicals in 11 different products, because they’re made with many more than just one ingredient. Those exposures added up daily over his lifetime could significantly increase the health harms John may face.

Exposures are still happening – and can add up

These case studies illustrate how a consumer’s exposure to the potentially harmful ingredients in personal care products derives from chemical mixtures within individual items, and as a combination of chemicals from at least a dozen of daily use products, over a lifetime.

So what we wrote in our 2004 study holds true today:

The results of this survey in combination with other studies show that people are exposed to hundreds of chemicals over the course of a day, and … face multiple sources of exposure from multiple consumer products for some of the common industrial chemicals used as cosmetic ingredients. Exposures can add up….

[The cosmetics industry] does not consider the reality of patterns of human exposures – additive effects of exposures to multiple chemicals linked to common health harms – in declaring chemicals ‘safe as used’ in cosmetics.

As EWG has long claimed, safety assessments of ingredients “one at a time” do not accurately reflect consumer behavior and daily exposure.

The average adult uses 12 personal care products a day.

That’s why EWG developed product profiles within Skin Deep that provide overall hazard scores, enabling consumers to compare entire products, along with their ingredients.

EWG will continue to push the market toward safer products and to advocate for consumer safety, reducing potential health risks when they go about their daily routines.

What you can do

It’s not possible to simply shop your way out of exposure to toxic chemicals. And we shouldn’t even have to try. But our regulatory system is broken – the federal government doesn’t do enough to protect us from exposure to toxic chemicals.

Some states are stepping into the gap. In 2020, California passed into law the Toxic-Free Cosmetics Act, which bans 24 toxic chemicals from personal care products sold in the state. The legislation was sponsored by EWG. Because of the size of the California economy, the law will likely influence manufacturing in the rest of the country, too. 

The California legislature is also considering Assembly Bill 496, which would ban additional ingredients of concern and is also sponsored by EWG. Minnesota, New York, Oregon and Washington have also passed or are considering new safety laws. 

Until the government protects us from toxic chemicals in the products we use, here are steps you can take to limit your exposure to harmful chemicals:

  • Consult Skin Deep, the searchable database of more than 92,000 personal care products we launched in 2004. It’s a quick way for you to find those with lower hazard ratings in a wide range of categories. 
  • Look for products with the EWG VERIFIED® mark, which recognizes products that meet our strictest standards, so they’re made without chemicals of concern but with full transparency.
  • Download our Healthy Living app, which makes it easier for you to consult our databases on the go.
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Survey data collection by Morning Consult

Morning Consult, an independent custom research platform, designed and conducted a survey in February 2023 of over 2,207 respondents, of whom 1128 were women and 1073 were men. (The survey did not offer gender categories other than “women” and “men.”)

The survey asked participants about consumer use patterns in five product categories: body care, baby care, skin care, cosmetics and hair care, further subdivided into 66 different daily use product types.

The demographics were weighted to match the demographic profile of the U.S. population. 

Survey data analysis by EWG

EWG analyzed product use rates from more than 2,200 survey responses. We used the Skin Deep database to determine ingredient exposure profiles for the  five product classes and 66 individual daily use product types. Composites representing the 66 product types were created based on formulation frequency (average number and type of ingredient) within Skin Deep.

We conducted a Monte Carlo simulation on these composites to randomize combinations consistent with survey results. We used our analysis to determine the statistics related to daily use of unique ingredients for the group of formulations in each product class and total products.

We evaluated the total unique ingredients against EWG ratings, toxicology databases and EWG VERIFIED requirements to assess overall health and wellness attributes

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