In our modern-day world we are exposed to a variety of different chemicals and environmental toxins which may have negative health outcomes. Women have much more exposure to these chemicals because they are found in our beauty and personal care products which we use on a daily basis. Every day women use an average of 12 personal care products that contain 168 different chemicals. Men use about 6 personal care products that contain 85 different chemicals. This is why clean beauty is so important.
Although an individual beauty product may have small amounts of harmful chemicals, our overall exposure and the combination of different chemicals is what causes problems. More research is showing that the chemicals in these products can affect our hormones, our fertility, and the health of our babies. As women, this topic is something we need to be educated on, so we can make informed choices about what we put on our skin.
There are three main groups of chemicals in skincare and beauty products that have been shown to impact hormones and reproductive health: phthalates, parabens and phenols.
In personal care products, phthalates are used as artificial fragrances in scented products, to hold colour and reduce brittleness in nail polish and hairspray. Phthalates are found in perfumes, deodorants, soaps, nail polish, and many other products. Phthalates are also found in many places in our environment, so limiting exposure is recommended. One of the most common phthalates, called di(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate, is measurable in the blood in 100% of the American population. This is concerning, since in women, phthalates are known to disrupt hormone balance, decrease fertility, increase the risk of miscarriage and can lead to earlier menopause.
In beauty products you can find phthalates in:
- Nail polish: Dibutyl phthalate is used to make nail polish chip-resistant. Look for it on the ingredients list, but beware, it may be shortened to DBP.
- Fragrance: Diethyl phthalate (DEP) is often used as part of the fragrance in some products. Unfortunately, DEP won’t be listed separately, so it is best to avoid fragrance altogether. This includes personal care products, detergents, and cleansers.
This group of chemicals has been widely used in body care products since the 1920s. It’s used an artificial preservative to reduce the growth of bacteria and mold and increase shelf life. Parabens are found in many cosmetic products, including makeup, moisturizers, sunscreens, hair products, shaving creams, and more. You may see these listed on a product as methylparaben, propylparaben, ethylparaben, and butylparaben.
Personal care products are the greatest contributors to paraben exposure in humans. Studies done in young girls who wore makeup every day showed 20x the levels of propylparaben in their urine compared to those who rarely wore makeup. We care about parabens because they can act like estrogen in the body and can disrupt the female reproductive system. Greater exposure to parabens has been associated with poor fertility and birth outcomes, menstrual irregularities, and breast cancer.
Phenols include the chemicals BPA and triclosan. Even though BPA was banned from personal care products, it continues to line many of the plastic containers that these products are found in. Although research is lacking, I don’t doubt that BPA can be leached from the packaging of beauty products and will find its way onto our skin this way.
Triclosan is used as an antibacterial agent, commonly found in personal care products such as soaps, skin creams, toothpaste, and deodorants. In September 2016, Triclosan was banned from soap products following the risk assessment by the FDA. However, it still remains in other personal care products such as toothpaste, mouthwash, and hand sanitizer. Levels of triclosan have been detectable in the blood of more than 75% of Americans. Furthermore, in a small study of teenage girls, urine samples found triclosan in 100% of the subjects. They believed that this was due to widespread exposure through cosmetics and personal care products.
Both BPA and Triclosan are well-known endocrine disruptors, altering levels of sex hormones in females. This can lead to obesity, and menstrual irregularities. Triclosan has also been shown to alter thyroid hormones, which can further impact reproductive health in women as well.
Examples of products that may contain triclosan include:
- hand sanitizers
- eye and face makeup
- natural health products
- fragrances and deodorants
- toothpaste and mouthwash
- soaps, skin cleansers, and shampoos
A recent study measured the levels of environmental chemicals in the urine from 143 healthy, reproductive-aged women. The focus was on these chemicals listed above, like BPA, chlorophenols, benzophenones and parabens, and their effects throughout the menstrual cycle.
The researchers found that some chemicals decrease reproductive hormones in multi-chemical exposures. They also found that exposure to others appear to increase reproductive hormones. For example, paraben metabolites and BPA were linked with increased levels of estrogen, yet others were associated with decreased estrogen. Other combinations of chemicals were associated with decreased follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) and luteinizing hormone (LH) – 2 hormones that dictate our entire menstrual cycle.
It is helpful to understand the health implications of each individual chemical. However, studying mixtures of chemicals gives a better understanding of real-world exposures. These findings suggest that even low-level exposure of multiple endocrine-disrupting chemicals could have a huge impact on a female’s reproductive health from fertility, endometriosis and all hormonally influenced conditions.
So now what?
- Find the worst offenders in your daily regime, and replace them with a better alternative clean beauty product.
- If you aren’t ready to part with a product, start by using less. Reducing the amount and the frequency of use can significantly impact your hormonal health.
- Read labels on your cosmetics and personal care products, as you do with food. Focus on eliminating one chemical at a time.
- Use an app to evaluate any new clean beauty product you are thinking of purchasing. I like Think Dirty or EWG.
- Remember, just because a product says “natural” doesn’t always mean it is better. Still check these products using the above-listed apps too!
To learn more about compounds from the environment that can affect your estrogen levels, check out my previous article here.
In health & clean beauty,
Dr. Bronwyn, ND