Consumers who avoid products with harmful chemicals on the label have lower body burden

September 30, 2020

Finding healthier products without harmful chemicals--shampoo free of parabens or fragrance-free deodorant-- is not always easy. It often involves scouring ingredients on individual product labels in search of key words. But is it worth it? New research shows that paying close attention to what's in the products you buy can pay off. In a study led by Silent Spring Institute, researchers found that consumers who avoided products containing specific endocrine disruptors had significantly lower levels of the chemicals in their bodies.

Endocrine disruptors are chemicals that are widely-used in personal care and household products. Scientists are concerned about the public's exposure because the chemicals can interfere with the body's hormones and lead to health problems such as reproductive disorders, thyroid disease, asthma, and cancers.

"That's why expert scientific panels and medical societies recommend that people take steps to limit their exposures to these chemicals," says lead author, Dr. Robin Dodson, an environmental exposure scientist at Silent Spring. "And, with the current pandemic, we see how diseases associated with environmental chemicals also make people more vulnerable to COVID-19--yet another reason to reduce exposures in the population."

To assess the influence of different types of products on people's exposures, Dodson and her team collected urine samples from 726 participants across the United States who signed up to join the Institute's
Participants also completed an online survey that asked questions about the products they use and whether they avoid ones with specific chemicals listed on the label.

Reporting September 30 in the International Journal of Hygiene and Environmental Health, the researchers found a large majority of participants (87%) were taking steps to avoid certain chemicals in products, and that overall participants had lower levels of parabens, BPA, triclosan, and benzophone-3 compared with the U.S. population. When the researchers compared participants with each other, they found:
  • People who avoided products with parabens, triclosan, BPA, and fragrances were twice as likely to be in the group with the lowest body burden for all chemicals combined.
  • Avoiding certain products and reading ingredient labels was most effective at reducing exposures to parabens, triclosan, and benzophenone-3.
  • In contrast, people who tried to avoid products containing BPA had levels similar to those who did not avoid the chemical, which suggests there are other sources of BPA that consumers may not be aware of.

"This study not only helped us gain a better understanding of how product choices influence people's exposures to endocrine disruptors, but it also provided us with an opportunity to educate consumers and empower them to make healthier choices," says Dodson.

After their urine samples were analyzed, Silent Spring sent each participant

Participants were invited to download Silent Spring's

However, as Dodson points out, some chemicals are hard to avoid because it's unclear what products they're in. For instance, some of the participants said they either avoided products with parabens or used few products overall, and yet they still had high levels of parabens in their bodies. "What this study shows us is that people can't shop their way out of this problem," she says. "This is about much more than consumer choice."

Although requiring companies to be more transparent about the chemicals in their products through better labeling policies could help people further reduce their exposures, this still puts the onus on consumers. "Ultimately, encouraging companies to invest in safer alternatives and strengthening regulations to keep harmful chemicals out of products in the first place would be the most effective and equitable way to protect public health," says Dodson.

Dodson, R.E., K. E. Boronow, H. Susmann, J.O. Udesky, K.M. Rodgers, D. Weller, M. Woudneh, J.G. Brody, R.A. Rudel. 2020. Consumer behavior and exposure to parabens, bisphenols, triclosan, dichlorophenols, and benzophenone-3: Results from a crowdsourced biomonitoring study. International Journal of Hygiene and Environmental Health. DOI: 10.1016/j.ijheh.2020.113624

About Silent Spring Institute:

Silent Spring Institute, located in Newton, Mass., is the leading scientific research organization dedicated to uncovering the link between chemicals in our everyday environments and women's health, with a focus on breast cancer prevention. Founded in 1994, the institute is developing innovative tools to accelerate the transition to safer chemicals, while translating its science into policies that protect health. Visit us at and follow us on Twitter @SilentSpringIns.

Silent Spring Institute

Related Consumers Articles from Brightsurf:

When consumers trust AI recommendations--or resist them
The key factor in deciding how to incorporate AI recommenders is whether consumers are focused on the functional and practical aspects of a product (its utilitarian value) or on the experiential and sensory aspects of a product (its hedonic value).

Do consumers enjoy events more when commenting on them?
Generating content increases people's enjoyment of positive experiences.

Why consumers think pretty food is healthier
People tend to think that pretty-looking food is healthier (e.g., more nutrients, less fat) and more natural (e.g., purer, less processed) than ugly-looking versions of the same food.

How consumers responded to COVID-19
The coronavirus pandemic has been a catalyst for laying out the different threats that consumers face, and that consumers must prepare themselves for a constantly shifting landscape moving forward.

Is less more? How consumers view sustainability claims
Communicating a product's reduced negative attribute might have unintended consequences if consumers approach it with the wrong mindset.

In the sharing economy, consumers see themselves as helpers
Whether you use a taxi or a rideshare app like Uber, you're still going to get a driver who will take you to your destination.

Helping consumers in a crisis
A new study shows that the central bank tool known as quantitative easing helped consumers substantially during the last big economic downturn -- a finding with clear relevance for today's pandemic-hit economy.

'Locally grown' broccoli looks, tastes better to consumers
In tests, consumers in upstate New York were willing to pay more for broccoli grown in New York when they knew where it came from, Cornell University researchers found.

Should patients be considered consumers?
No, and doing so can undermine efforts to promote patient-centered health care, write three Hastings Center scholars in the March issue of Health Affairs.

Consumers choose smartphones mostly because of their appearance
The more attractive the image and design of the telephone, the stronger the emotional relationship that consumers are going to have with the product, which is a clear influence on their purchasing decision.

Read More: Consumers News and Consumers Current Events is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to