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  • Phung-Doan Tat

What to Watch Out For in Your Personal Care Items

Phung-Doan Tat, HK BioTek Intern Biochemist

Personal care item is a quick way to freshen your appearance and confidence without devoting to a dermatologist or beautician. Having bright and clear skin boosts the first impression and help you gain confident in various settings of choice. However, many personal care products contain more than just nutrients that improve your skin, but also preservatives and plasticizers that may worsen your health.


Parabens, a chemical compound of para-hydroxybenzoic acid, are a group of preservatives used often in many health products, including beauty and personal care products. These items include, but are not limited to, deodorants, shampoo, make up, body lotion, skin care, and some grocery items. The benefit of parabens is to preserve the products from the growth of bacteria, fungus, and many potentially harmful microbes, however, prolonged and cumulative exposure to parabens have been linked to various health problems. Parabens are xenoestrogens, which are substances that mimic estrogen, binding to receptors on cells, and disruptions of hormone functions. In the long run, the flood of these xenoestrogens may encourage the growth of tumor and cancer cells.

On labels, the various derivatives of parabens are methylparaben, butylparaben, isobutylparaben, ethylparaben, and propylparaben among others, and while some cosmetic companies have found “healthier” derivatives of parabens, it is best to steer clear of this harmful substance overall.


Phthalates, a chemical compound of phthalate esters or esters of phthalic acids, are a group of plasticizers used in plastic to increase their flexibility, transparency, durability, and softens their textures. They are often found in plastic food and beverages containers; however, they are also found in almost all personal care and beauty products with fragrances such as deodorant, hairspray, perfume, air freshener, laundry detergent, nail polish, plastic coatings of various wires and cables, raincoats steering wheels. They are also found in dairy products, meat, cheese, and various food and liquid products.

With such a wide range of usage, phthalates are quite impossible to avoid altogether. As a result of this, we ingest, inhale, and absorb this chemical into our skin and bloodstream. Phthalates work like parabens as they mimic and disrupt hormone functions and may cause birth defects in mothers and abnormal reproductive developments for both genders among others.

On labels, phthalates are rarely listed. DEP, DBP, DEHP are some of the abbreviated labels of phthalates, though you will rarely spot these. However, there are clues such as “fragrance” or “parfum” that almost always mean phthalates. What you want to look for is “phthalate-free”, “scented by essential oils,” or “no synthetic fragrance” labels that indicate the absence of phthalates in your beauty and personal care items.

Of course, it is impossible to completely dodge parabens or phthalates as they are useful preservatives and plasticizers that have been in use for centuries, as such our market is oversaturated with them. However, by simply taking the time to read labels may greatly reduce your chance of future health complications.


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