Chemicals of concern in personal care products used by women of color in three communities of California

J Expo Sci Environ Epidemiol. 2022 Nov;32(6):864-876. doi: 10.1038/s41370-022-00485-y. Epub 2022 Nov 2.


Background: Personal care products (PCPs) may contain chemicals associated with adverse health effects. Prior studies found differences in product use by race/ethnicity and suggest some women are disproportionately exposed to chemicals of concern (CoCs).

Objective: We quantified chemicals linked to cancer, reproductive or developmental harm, or endocrine disruption in PCPs used by women of color.

Methods: We documented PCPs in stores frequented by Black, Latina, and Vietnamese women in their communities in California and CoCs on ingredient labels of 546 unique hair, skin, makeup, nail, deodorant/perfume, and intimate care products. Community partners chose 31 products for a combined targeted and suspect screen (National Institute of Standards and Technology mass spectral library search) two-dimensional gas chromatography time-of-flight mass spectrometry (GCxGC-TOFMS) analysis to detect chemicals not on ingredient labels.

Results: We found that 65% of labels included CoCs, and 74% of labels had undisclosed ingredients listed as "fragrance." The most prevalent chemicals were parabens, cyclosiloxanes, and formaldehyde releasers. GCxGC-TOFMS found additional CoCs, including fragrances, solvents, preservatives, ultraviolet filters, and contaminants.

Significance: These findings contribute to awareness of potentially hazardous chemicals in PCPs, can help estimate disparities in chemical exposure, and complement research on health inequities due to chemical exposures from various contributors.

Impact statement: This study is one of the first detailed assessments of chemicals of concern found in various types of PCPs used by several racial/ethnic groups. We found that over half of the 546 products selected by community partners as marketed to and/or used by them contained ingredients linked to cancer, reproductive or developmental harm, or endocrine disruption. Laboratory analysis identified additional chemicals in a subset of products, including unlabeled fragrance chemicals and contaminants. Elucidating exposures to chemicals in PCPs is important for risk assessment and health inequity research.

Keywords: Analytical Method; Cancer; Chemicals in Products; Endocrine Disruptors; Environmental Justice; Vulnerable Populations.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • California
  • Cosmetics* / adverse effects
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Skin Pigmentation*


  • Cosmetics