Hidden dangers: ‘Clean products' praised as personal care alternatives

The four key things experts say families should look for when shopping

There’s a warning about potential hidden dangers in the soap, shampoo and deodorant families use every day. The federal government is looking at chemicals found in personal care products, as the use of so-called “clean products” — natural alternatives — is on the rise.

A family in Greenbrier County, West Virginia, is one of many that swears that products made with only natural ingredients can help solve health problems. 

5-year-old Sadie Baker is almost all better now. The little girl ran and laughed while playing this week at a local park with her parents and siblings. 

Her mother, Sarah Beth, watched as her daughter struggled with eczema as a baby. At times, her whole body would be covered in a rash.

“As a mother, it was very hard because obviously you want to do the best for your child,” Baker said.

The family educated themselves on natural alternatives and got rid of products with chemicals — and they say the symptoms went away.

“When you can find a solution that's nonpharmaceutical, that works, it's amazing,” Baker said.

The changes also helped Sarah Beth with her asthma.

“Now, I'm off all my asthma medications. I haven't used an inhaler in four years, and I can breathe now, which was something I struggled with my whole life,” she said. “It was completely life-changing for me.”

Federal government attention

Congress is examining the more traditional products. A bill introduced earlier this year would allow for more oversight of some of the ingredients found in them.

The Personal Care Products Safety Act was introduced in the U.S. Senate in March.

The bill would strengthen the Food and Drug Administration’s efforts to regulate ingredients, updating 80-year-old federal safety rules for the $60 billion personal care products industry. It would require the FDA to review five chemicals in personal care products each year.

Experts say they can be found in:
-hair treatments
-hand sanitizer
-air fresheners

The first five chemicals the FDA would review would be:

-Diazolidinyl urea
-Diethyl phthalate
-Methylene glycol/formaldehyde

10 News found them in some of the common products sold in local drug stores.

Expert reaction

For families looking to restock their cabinets and bathrooms, experts say:

-Look for products that have good reviews for using only natural, tested ingredients
-Beware of false advertising: Not all products that say they’re natural actually are
-Just because it’s natural doesn’t mean it’s the best — and nonnatural doesn’t mean it’s harmful
-It may take trial and error to find what works for you

The scientific community is also paying attention.

Dr. Eva King is a biochemist in Charlottesville who had her own issues with allergies and acne,
which cleared up after she made her own natural skincare products.

“These products really worked, and people kept asking me, ‘You really should get this out there. You need to sell this. You need to make this available to more people,’” King said.

Now she does. She sells products online and in local stores.

She lists all the ingredients on her products, as opposed to some mainstream products, which might use only the word “fragrance” in regard to its scent.

“You don’t know what’s in them. Those fragrances are trademarked,” King said. “Some people don’t have any issues with it, they’re not sensitive, but if you’re sensitive they can be drying and irritating to the skin.”

Many say the natural alternatives are worth the price, including the Bakers, who are trying to spread the word.

“I'm so excited. I want to offer people hope,” Sarah Beth Baker said. “I honestly won't stop until the whole world knows.”


Making the switch to natural products can be expensive and seem daunting, but there are resources that can help.

The Healthy Living App, made by the Environmental Working Group, and an app called Think Dirty give details on ingredients and health concerns when product barcodes are scanned.

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