- 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|
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.
- 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|
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?
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.