Chemicals in cosmetics and beauty products can wreak havoc on your hormones.
What you put on your body is just as important as what you put in your body. Even if you buy your groceries at Whole Foods, get your pesticide-free produce at the local farmers market and have purged your kitchen cabinets of artificial flavors, you may still be exposing yourself to hazardous chemicals everyday. Many cosmetics and personal care products contain endocrine system disruptors, which may lead to health issues like allergies, infertility, and even cancer.
The endocrine system is made up of all the glands in the body that produce hormones. These hormones control our sexual function, reproduction, metabolism, growth, development, tissue function, sleep, and mood. Endocrine disruptors interfere with the normal functioning of hormones and can affect the reproductive, neurological and immune systems.
Although numerous government-funded studies have linked a variety of health problems to endocrine disruptors, the Food and Drug Administration still claims they are safe. These chemicals are widely used in cosmetics, fragrance, hair products, soaps, toothpaste and sunscreens. They probably show up as ingredients in many of the lotions and potions sitting in your medicine cabinet right now.
Even if you’ve unknowingly used products containing these hazardous chemicals for years, you can quickly reduce their levels in your body by cleaning up your medicine cabinet and detoxing from dangerous beauty products. A recent study shows that taking even a short break from using products with endocrine disruptors can lead to significant decreases in their levels in the body.
Researchers from University of California, Berkeley and Clinica de Salud del Valle de Salinas gave 100 teenage girls personal care products claiming to be free of endocrine system disruptors. Urine samples were analyzed before and after a three-day period in which the teens used the chemical-free products. After just three days, there were considerable reductions in the levels of the chemicals in the subjects’ bodies.
Metabolites of a phthalate used in fragrances dropped 27 percent after the 3-day period. Both triclosan and benzophenone-3 fell 36 percent. Methyl and propyl parabens decreased 44 and 45 percent respectively.
“Seeing the drop in chemical levels after just three days shows that simple actions can be taken, such as choosing products with fewer chemicals, and make a difference,” said study co-author Maritza Cárdenas in a news release from UC Berkeley.
Here are a few simple steps you can take to reduce your exposure to endocrine disruptors in the personal care products you use.
1. Learn what to look for on labels, then read carefully.
Always examine the list of ingredients before buying. Look out for the following:
Phthalates: Sometimes referred to as “plasticizers”, phthalates are used in PVC plastics, solvents, and synthetic fragrances. They’ve been linked to reproductive system problems such as low sperm count, decreased sperm motility and genital abnormalities.
Parabens: Used as preservatives in makeup and beauty products, parabens have been detected in breast cancer tumors and are known to mimic estrogen in the body by binding to estrogen receptors. Be careful – if an ingredient has “ethyl,” “butyl,” “methyl,” and “propyl” in the name, it’s from the paraben family, even if “paraben” isn’t explicitly written out.
Triclosan: Commonly found in products labeled “antibacterial”, triclosan is added to many products to decrease the risk of bacterial contamination. It may contribute to liver toxicity and thyroid dysfunction. Also beware of triclocarban, a cousin of triclosan.
Oxybenzone: A chemical that is nearly ubiquitous in sunscreens, oxybenzone penetrates the skin and may cause allergic reactions. Like parabens, it is estrogenic and mimics estrogen in the body. Animal studies have shown that oxybenzone alters sperm production. It’s also associated with endometriosis in women.
2. Do your research before you buy.
Two helpful websites are the Environmental Working Group (EWG)’s Skin Deep and GoodGuide. Each site rates tens of thousands of beauty products according to the safety of their ingredients. They also list the ingredients in each product and indicate which may be harmful and why. The Good Guide ranks each product not just for health safety, but also its societal and environmental impact.
3. Skip the scent.
Synthetic fragrances often contain phthalates. If you absolutely must have scented products, opt for those made with essential oils only.
4. Avoid “antibacterial”.
Antibacterial products are a double whammy: they expose you to the dangers of triclosan and the FDA has warned consumers that they encourage bacterial resistance to antibiotics. Basically, they’re a lose-lose.
5. Ditch big-name manufacturers and buy artisanal beauty brands.
Small-batch cosmetics and personal care products are often made by hand and use only natural, organic ingredients.
6. Discover how to DIY.
Become your own small-batch beauty products manufacturer! There’s no better way to know exactly what’s in the products you use than to make them with your own two hands. Do a little digging on the internet and you’ll find many recipes for homemade makeup, shampoo, conditioner, deodorant, moisturizer and soap.
7. Look for the EWG VERIFIED™ mark on the label.
To carry this mark, the company that manufactures the product must provide EWG with additional information beyond what’s on the label. EWG’s strict vetting process ensures that the product is free of toxins and preserved properly, and that the company is transparent with customers about ingredients and manufacturing procedures.
Darbre, R. Journal of Applied Toxicology, January-February 2004; vol 24(1): pp 5-13.
EWG: “The Trouble with Sunscreen Chemicals”
FDA: “FDA Taking Closer Look at ‘Antibacterial’ Soap”
NIH: “Endocrine Disruptors”
News release, University of California, Berkeley