The topic of endocrine disruptors comes up a lot in the green beauty industry. There is no debate about whether they exist in products but some have their doubts about how much they affect the body and if they contribute to disease. I always urge people to only trust sources that are medical experts or toxicologists on this subject. There’s plenty of bloggers and cosmetic chemists that will defend every ingredient out there but are they qualified to be making these calls? We have had many customers with breast cancer seeking clean skin care products because their oncologists have instructed them to drop potentially harmful synthetics from their routine. How telling is that?
To start, it’s important to note that the media controls our narrative on this topic. People still don’t seem to know that babies are born with synthetic chemicals (an average of 200) in their bodies or that 90% of breast cancer tumors tested had parabens (a cosmetic preservative) in them. The information we receive about consumer goods comes from the outlets that are paid by the companies producing them. Ask a TV producer if they’re allowed to blow the whistle on the health issues associated with consumer goods. NOPE. That would be suicide for a network that depends on their advertising dollars. When non-profit environmental groups try to distribute their research to the public, the chemical media relations machine gets busy discrediting them. I’ve seen it time and time again. They are called ‘fear-mongers’ and ‘junk science’. So where does that leave us? We have to sort through a maze of information to find the truth.
The World Health Organization defines an endocrine disrupting chemical (EDC) as an “exogenous substance or mixture that alters function(s) of the endocrine system and consequently causes adverse health effects in an intact organism, or its progeny, or (sub) populations”. Your endocrine system is complex network of glands that secrete hormones in your body. Both human and wildlife depend on a healthy endocrine system to develop and reproduce normally. The most vulnerable time for a human to come in contact with EDCs is during fetal development, childhood, and puberty. Exposure can lead to an increase in incidences of disease throughout their life. Contrary to what you might hear in defence of cosmetic chemicals, the effects of EDCs on the body are not necessarily related to dose and each chemical may not be acting on its own but with numerous other EDCs coined the ‘cocktail effect’. Check out this study by UC Berkeley that shows parabens working differently with other molecules than when tested in isolation (how the cosmetic industry determines it’s safe). There are approximately 800 synthetic chemicals that are suspected to disrupt hormones but there is limited information available about their effects. The reason why is quite simple and likely something that you have heard before. There is no financial benefit to this kind of research so who is going to fund it? The pharmaceutical companies and breast cancer charities (with a few exceptions) focus on treatments rather than prevention. It’s beyond frustrating but we have to work with the little information we have.
What we do know:
- Global rates for endocrine-related cancers (breast, endometrial, ovarian, prostate, testicular and thyroid) have been increasing for the last 40-50 years.
- Young girls are developing breasts earlier which increases the risk of developing breast cancer.
- There is mounting evidence of chemical exposure being linked to thyroid disorders.
- In 1984, the estimated percentage of couples with fertility problems was 5.4%. Today, the estimated percentage is up to 15.7%.
- It is estimated that 8% - 10% women suffer from Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome, a disease of the endocrine system.
Endocrine Disruptors in your Bathroom
It is one of the most common preservatives in the world and can be found in most creams, lotions, shampoo, and conditioners.It has been found to mimic estrogen on breast cancer tumors in very small doses and was found in 90% of breast cancer tumors tested. It is a very effective preservative and that is why cosmetic chemists and the companies they work for (not to mention the media that is bought by them) defend it so strongly.
On labels known as: Methylparaben, propylparaben, butylparaben, isobutylparaben, and ethylparaben.
These chemicals act as fixatives in perfume, meaning they keep the scent on your body and clothes forever. Ever used a hand soap that you can smell the next day? You can thank phthalates for that. When something lasts that long, it screams ‘PERVASIVE’. It won’t break down in the environment or your body. In addition to there being links between maternal phthalate exposure and low sperm count and underdeveloped genitals in baby boys, there have also been links to phthalates and asthma, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder.
On labels known as: Parfum, fragrance, natural fragrance, natural flavour.
This substance, also known as 5-chloro-2-(2,4- dichlorophenoxy)phenol, was registered as a pesticide in 1969 but can now be found in soaps, toothpastes, mouth washes, deodorants, hand sanitizers and household cleaning products. According to the U.S. Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), it is no more effective at killing germs than regular soap and water and yet it is putting our health at risk and polluting our water systems. Triclosan is one of those substances that can only be described as a pollutant when it makes its way into the body. It is an endocrine-disruptor that mimics the thyroid hormone thyroxin, contributing to a multitude of health issues. It can also suppress cells important to immune function and fighting cancer.
The kicker is that most of us have it in our bodies. It accumulates in our fat and can even be found in breast milk. When Environmental Defense sampled the urine of 8 high profile Canadians for their report Trouble With Triclosan, 7 had levels ranging from low to very high, even those who were careful about what they put on their bodies.
On labels known as: triclosan, Amicor, Aquasept, Bactonix, Irgasan DP300, Microban, Monolith, Sanitized, Sapoderm, Ster-Zac, and Ultra-Fresh.
This is one of the most popular sunscreen ingredients on the market, which again makes this a controversial issue in the cosmetic industry. Wildlife gets more protection and research against this ingredient than humans. It bleaches reef and stunts the growth of baby coral as well as acts as an endocrine disruptor in clams and shrimp, which is why there is a call to ban this ingredient in the state of Hawaii. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention detected the chemical in 96% of the population so it absorbs and accumulates in our bodies. Researchers also found that adolescent boys with higher oxybenzone measurements had significantly lower total testosterone levels.
On labels known as: Under active ingredients - oxybenzone.
We’re living at a time when people are getting diseases from environmental factors and whenever scientists detect or prove a link to a chemical, there is an industry/media outcry “no, it’s not that”. There is so much energy put towards what isn’t causing these diseases and so little put towards what IS. I’ve talked to so many women with breast cancer that are completely frustrated by this. We need answers. If not, then we are left to take matters in our own hands at the risk of seeming paranoid or over-cautious with what we buy. It’s not unreasonable to question brands, read labels, and educate ourselves. If we don’t do it, who will?
*We have heard from customers that are cautious when buying natural skin care because they have been told that there are endocrine disruptors in essential oils, like clary sage and lavender. I encourage you to read these articles by Robert Tisserand that debunk these myths: