Men's Cosmetic Safety

According to the average American man uses 6 cosmetic items per day, with those items containing over 80 distinct chemicals. I’m sure this number is higher for some of the males reading this blog post because I am one of the men who help bring the average down to single digit 6. I consistently use shampoo, soap, shaving cream and deodorant. There was a time where I used cologne on a daily basis but it’s becoming a rarer and rarer occurrence for me. I've never been a huge fan of aftershave lotion either, which I’m guessing is one of the top 6 men’s cosmetics. 

Since nearly all men’s cosmetics are put directly onto the skin and then either rubbed in and left or rubbed on and rinsed off it can be worrisome when those products contain potentially deadly chemicals. 3 of the 4 products I use on a daily basis can contain a chemical called diethyl phthalate (DEP). reports that “recent human studies link DEP to sperm damage in adult men, abnormal reproductive development in infants, and Attention Deficit Disorder in children”. I took a look and none of my four daily products outright say that they contain DEP; however there were plenty of other chemicals of which I know little about.

A 2005 study by four Harvard University researchers shows that using cologne or aftershave even once or twice can double the median level of monoethyl phthalate (MEP) that shows up in a urine test (Environ Health Perspect 113(11): 1530-5). DEP is a parent compound of MEP. The 2005 study was published in “Environmental Health Perspectives” which is a peer-reviewed journal published by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. According to the abstract of this study, the researchers were exploring “the relationship between patterns of personal care product use and urinary levels of several phthalate metabolites” (such as DEP and MEP). It was stated that “men who used cologne or aftershave within 48 hr before urine collection (in this study) had higher median levels of monoethyl phthalate (MEP) (265 and 266 ng/mL, respectively) than those who did not use cologne or aftershave (108 and 133 ng/mL, respectively)” and “for each additional type of product used, MEP increased 33% (95% confidence interval, 14–53%)”. To me this was frightening: the products I put on my face and head show up nearly immediately in my urine, as potentially deadly chemicals.

I looked a little further into MEP and found that a 2010 study, also published in the journal “Environmental Health Perspectives”, showed that phthalate parent compounds have been associated with the increased risk of breast cancer (Environ Health Perspect 118:539-544). The abstract states that the study “examined the association between urinary concentrations of nine phthalate metabolites and breast cancer (BC) in Mexican women” that “phthalate metabolites were detected in at least 82% of women” and concluded that “we show for the first time that exposure to diethyl phthalate, the parent compound of MEP, may be associated with increased risk of BC.” While the study focused on women, men get breast cancer too, so I’m not relieved by this detail. I’m sure that if the study included men it wouldn’t have looked much different.

Other problematic chemicals commonly found in men’s cosmetics, as listed on, are: 


Commonly Found In:


Lead acetate

Hair and beard colorant

Known human reproductive toxicant

Coal tar

Dandruff shampoo

Known human carcinogen


Antibacterial soaps/deodorants

Linked to hormone disruption and the emergence of antibiotic-resistant


Shampoos and body washes

Known animal carcinogen, probable human carcinogen, leading allergen


Shampoos and body washes

Known animal carcinogen, probable human carcinogen, leading groundwater contaminant, suspected kidney toxicant, neurotoxicant and respiratory toxicant

While all of this information is pretty depressing and makes the topic of men’s personal care products seem bleak, there are things we can do. One easy thing I found on the site was a search area where you can locate companies that make safe(r) men’s personal care products:

Also, it is very important to stay up to date on legislation that can help with this issue – making it a requirement for companies to list out every ingredient that they are putting into their products as well as pressuring them to use only ingredients that are safe for human consumption. Prior to the research I’ve done, I had never thought of my cologne ending up in my urine but I now see that it can – and that is a scary concept.