Aquatic life needs further protection from effects of personal care products

An aggregate analysis of personal care products in the environment: identifying the distribution of environmentally-relevant concentrations

Personal care products (PCPs) are a diverse group of products, including toothpaste, shampoo, make-up and soaps. The number and use of these products has increased over recent decades, generating concern about their impact on the environment. This literature review analysed over 5 000 reports of environmental detection of 95 different chemicals from PCPs. The analysis reveals toxic levels of PCP chemicals in raw and treated wastewater, and in surface water. The researchers recommend treatment methods focusing on antimicrobials, UV filters and fragrance molecules.


An aggregate analysis of personal care products in the environment: Identifying the distribution of environmentally-relevant concentrations, science direct, Environment International, Volumes 92–93, July–August 2016, Pages 301–316, September 2016.

Lines on surface by patricksinot.

Over the past 3–4 decades, per capita consumption of personal care products (PCPs) has steadily risen, resulting in increased discharge of the active and inactive ingredients present in these products into wastewater collection systems. PCPs comprise a long list of compounds employed in toothpaste, sunscreen, lotions, soaps, body washes, and insect repellants, among others. While comprehensive toxicological studies are not yet available, an increasing body of literature has shown that PCPs of all classes can impact aquatic wildlife, bacteria, and/or mammalian cells at low concentrations. Ongoing research efforts have identified PCPs in a variety of environmental compartments, including raw wastewater, wastewater effluent, surface water, wastewater solids, sediment, groundwater, and drinking water.

Here, an aggregate analysis of over 5000 reported detections was conducted to better understand the distribution of environmentally-relevant PCP concentrations in, and between, these compartments. The distributions were used to identify whether aggregated environmentally-relevant concentration ranges intersected with available toxicity data. For raw wastewater, wastewater effluent, and surface water, a clear overlap was present between the 25th–75th percentiles and identified toxicity levels.

This analysis suggests that improved wastewater treatment of antimicrobials, UV filters, and polycyclic musks is required to prevent negative impacts on aquatic species.

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