It is a sad day when we realize that our luxury face cream or expensive body lotion might hide nasty chemicals and toxins that can disrupt our hormones and affect our health. But there’s growing evidence that many of the ingredients used in conventional personal care products are not as good for us as their marketing would like us to believe.
A few months ago on the blog, we dove deeper into some of the toxins we want to watch out for in our toothpaste and mouthwash. Unfortunately, the issues with personal care products don’t stop with our mouths.
We’re widening the scope today to look at some of the main culprits in our personal care and beauty products, how they affect our hormones, and what we can do to avoid bringing these toxins into our homes.
How Do Toxins in Personal Care Products Affect our Hormones?
Hormones control many of the essential processes in our bodies. We already know that they play a vital role in puberty, fertility, and childbirth and they impact our health in countless ways. Anyone who menstruates can attest to the power that changing hormones can have on our bodies and mood!
As well as sexual development and reproduction, hormones control how our children grow and develop. Even once we reach adulthood, hormones are responsible for many of the day-to-day functions we rely on to stay healthy. These include:
- Blood sugar
- Stress management and the fight-or-flight response
Hormones act as chemical signals, telling our bodies how to respond and function. They are released by glands found around the body. This system of glands and hormones is known as the endocrine system.
Unfortunately, our delicately balanced system can be disrupted by outside influences. These influences include a wide group of chemicals known as endocrine disruptors.
According to the FDA, endocrine disruptors are “chemicals that interfere with the endocrine systems, leading to adverse effects”. In other words, the disruptions caused by exposure to these chemicals can have negative consequences for our health and wellbeing. Even the smallest changes to our endocrine systems systems may have serious effects. Studies have linked endocrine disruptors to everything from lower fertility to an increased risk of cancer. Yikes!
Unfortunately, narrowing down the effects of different toxins on our hormones is tricky. This is because we are exposed to such a wide range of these chemicals in our day-to-day lives that scientists struggle to know which toxin is doing what. It’s likely that the interplay between the different chemicals also impacts how they affect our bodies.
Still, research suggests that some of the chemicals found in our personal care and cosmetic products affect our hormones, our thyroid and disrupt the healthy function of our bodies. Here are some of the main culprits to keep an eye out for:
Perhaps one of the best-known endocrine disruptors, parabens are found in many beauty and personal care products. They are preservatives, preventing mold growth and extending an item’s shelf-life.
This might sound pretty harmless. But, sadly, it’s not the full story. For many years, research into the effect of parabens on our health has raised alarm bells.
According to the BCPP (Breast Cancer Prevention Partners), parabens can mimic estrogen in our bodies. As a result, they may affect the normal development of breast cells, potentially leading to breast cancer.
Common offenders to look out for include:
Look out too for the other name for these chemicals, which ends in 4-hydroxylbenzoate (e.g., methyl-4-hydroxylbenzoate).
Phthalates are used in everything from lipstick and nail polish to hair spray and shampoo. In addition, skincare, soaps, and perfume may also contain phthalates.
After parabens, this group contains some of the most known endocrine-disrupting chemicals. The Campaign for Safer Cosmetics says they are linked with infertility and lowered sperm count in men. Although there’s limited evidence so far from human studies, animal studies show that phthalates can increase our risk of developing cancer.
Two phthalates, DBP and DEHP, are banned in cosmetics sold in the European Union because of their potentially harmful health effects.
In the US, these and a variety of other phthalates are banned in products for children. But there’s currently no restriction on their use in adult personal care products.
On product labels, look out for the following additives:
- dibutylphthalate (DBP)
- dimethylphthalate (DMP)
- diethylphthalate (DEP)
- di(2- ethylhexyl) phthalate (DEHP)
BHA & BHT
These two closely related chemicals are preservatives. They are commonly found in hair products, moisturizers, deodorants, sunscreen, and makeup.
Also known as butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA) and butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT), these chemicals are endocrine disruptors that mimic estrogen in our bodies. According to research published in 2012 by Molecular Carcinogenesis, they are also known carcinogens and increased the risk of tumors forming when tested on mice.
As if plastic pollution in our oceans wasn’t bad enough, many plastics are also endocrine disruptors. Sometimes found as ingredients in personal care products, plastics are now more often used in the packaging.
Unfortunately, plastics used in the packaging can leach into the contents, contaminating the products that we then use on our hair or skin. Choosing products that come in plastic-free packaging, such as glass, is an excellent first step!
One plastic that gets plenty of press is BPA or bisphenol-A. Indeed, its use is restricted in products intended for babies, but PA is still allowed in packaging for adult products.
A 2015 review published by the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health concluded that BPA affects puberty and increases the risk of female infertility.
While many brands have made adjustments to their ingredients, formaldehyde still remains a preservative in some beauty products. Nail polish is the top offender, but you can also find it in hair products, body wash, and soap.
One of the most common reactions to formaldehyde is skin irritation to the eyes, nose, throat, skin, and allergic contact dermatitis, blisters, scalp burns, and hair loss in more severe cases.
Although rare, the effects of formaldehyde do have links to cancer. Lucky for us, it is only if we are exposed to high and prolonged levels of formaldehyde. But still something to watch out for.
How Can You Avoid Toxins in Personal Care Products?
We call them hidden toxins for a reason. Many skin care products have densely written labels with baffling chemical names -- you’d need to be a chemist to untangle the full list.
Plus, companies don’t have to list every ingredient. They are allowed to keep the exact formulation of any fragrances they use a secret, and you will only see the words “parfum” or “fragrance” on the label. But behind these single words lurks a whole list of potentially harmful chemicals. A red flag should go up when you see these words in an ingredient list.
Knowing the main toxins is a solid first step – it means you can at least pick the worst offenders out in a list of ingredients. Learn to read labels and understand exactly what you are putting on your body. Because what you put on your body essentially goes in your body!
Another fantastic resource is the Environmental Working Group (EWG), which strives to help families protect themselves by publishing information on potentially toxic chemicals.
What is a Safe Option?
At Wellnesse, we are passionate about creating high-quality, clean, and effective products that you and your family can use without fear of hidden toxins.
Our products are free of parabens and sulfates and contain ingredients that are not only effective, but are beneficial to your body. Most of the ingredients we use have the highest safety rating from the Environmental Working Group. We choose GMO-free ingredients, and we never test on animals.
Like you, we want to protect our health and the health of our families. Choosing clean, safe personal care products is a vital step towards that goal. Explore our collections here.
- Andersen, F. A. (2008). Final amended report on the safety assessment of methylparaben, ethylparaben, propylparaben, isopropylparaben, butylparaben, isobutylparaben, and benzylparaben as used in cosmetic products. International journal of toxicology, 27, 1-82. https://doi.org/10.1177/109158180802704s01
- Del Pup, L., Mantovani, A., Luce, A., Cavaliere, C., Facchini, G., Di Francia, R., Caraglia, M., & Berretta, M. (2015). Endocrine disruptors and female cancer: Informing the patients (Review). Oncology reports, 34(1), 3–11. https://doi.org/10.3892/or.2015.3997
- Darbre, P. D., & Harvey, P. W. (2014). Parabens can enable hallmarks and characteristics of cancer in human breast epithelial cells: a review of the literature with reference to new exposure data and regulatory status. Journal of Applied Toxicology, 34(9), 925-938. https://doi.org/10.1002/jat.3027
- Vikis, H. G., Gelman, A. E., Franklin, A., Stein, L., Rymaszewski, A., Zhu, J., Liu, P., Tichelaar, J. W., Krupnick, A. S., & You, M. (2012). Neutrophils are required for 3-methylcholanthrene-initiated, butylated hydroxytoluene-promoted lung carcinogenesis. Molecular carcinogenesis, 51(12), 993–1002. https://doi.org/10.1002/mc.20870
- Huo, X., Chen, D., He, Y., Zhu, W., Zhou, W., & Zhang, J. (2015). Bisphenol-A and Female Infertility: A Possible Role of Gene-Environment Interactions. International journal of environmental research and public health, 12(9), 11101–11116. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph120911101