Exploring the dark side of the beauty industry.
We all love to look our best and if you're anything like me, are slightly addicted to the latest and "must-have" lotions and potions promised to make me look slimmer, 10 years younger, and altogether fabulous! I'm like a child in the proverbial 'candy store' when I enter the gleaming halls of the beauty section in a department store, or online too!
All of our personal care products from shampoos, to soaps, body lotions, anti-perspirants, toothpaste, cosmetics and perfumes are loaded with synthetic chemicals to serve as preservatives, plasticisers, lubricants. They add colour, fragrance, functionality. They promise to keep us wrinkle free, protect us from the damaging effects of UVB , save us from picking up nasty bugs, but they have a dark side!!
"Close to 800 chemicals are known or suspected
to be capable of interfering with hormone
receptors, hormone synthesis or hormone
conversion. However, only a small fraction of these
chemicals have been investigated in tests capable
of identifying overt endocrine effects in intact
Fortunately here in the EU there is a ban on animal testing and there are tighter controls here than in the US, on ingredient testing and banned ingredients. HOWEVER, the vast majority of chemicals have not been tested..
So what does this mean, in plain English???
According to a report published by the World Health Organisation (WHO), endocrine diseases and disorders are on the rise. The endocrine system is our hormone system; a system of glands secreting hormones which basically regulate and control our bodily functions. Think adrenaline, cortisol, insulin, leptin, melatonin, testosterone, oestrogen , progesterone.... to name a few! They control our reproductive function, our appetite, sleep, stress, metabolism, growth..you name it!
These chemicals/ingredients are known as Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals, or EDCs. An EDC is a chemical or mixture of chemicals that can cause adverse health effects by interfering with hormones in the body. EDCs are found in everyday products and throughout the environment and their use is ubiquitous. We are exposed to a daily cocktail of chemicals from the moment we get up with estimates suggesting that the average woman is exposed to as many as 500 every day. And with an ever increasing share of the beauty market being men, they are also increasingly at risk. Worryingly about 60% of what we put on our body is absorbed. I'll just leave that statistic for you to think about.
So, what's the big deal??
FACT Up to 40% of young men in Denmark, Finland, Germany and Sweden, have lowered semen quality, thus affecting their fertility.
FACT Young girls are seeing earlier onset of breast development and this is associated with an increased risk of breast cancer.
FACT There are adverse pregnancy outcomes on the rise with lower birth weight and birth defects.
FACT There is a rise in disruption to the thyroid.
FACT The prevalence of Type 2 Diabetes has risen worldwide.
You may be familiar with some of the offenders such as PARABENS. They are used as preservatives so products can linger indefinitely in your bathroom cabinet. In 2004, a British study found traces of five parabens in the breast tissue of 19 out of 20 women studied. The study didn't prove that parabens can cause cancer but identified that the parabens were able to penetrate the skin and remain within tissue.
Parabens are believed to disrupt hormone function by mimicking oestrogen. Too much oestrogen can trigger an increase in breast cell division and growth of tumours, which is why paraben use has been linked to breast cancer and reproductive issues. It's all to do with molecule size with parabens and the larger the molecule, the greater the effect. Ones to avoid are propyl-, isopropyl-, butyl-, and isobutylparabens. These in fact have been banned in Denmark in products for children up to the age of 3, important developmental years.
A bit of a tongue twister but another well known offender are PHTHALATES. This is a group of chemicals known as plasticisers which soften and add flexibility to PVC and vinyl. Found in nail polish, hair spray, perfume, shampoo mostly as diethylphthalate (DEP). There is a well established link between Phthalates and endometriosis, reduced fertility and uterine abnormalities.
Another well known culprit is TRICLOSAN, an ingredient added to reduce or prevent bacterial contamination. Recently banned in the US but not in the UK ,it is found mostly in toothpaste, anti-bacterial products such as soaps and hand sanitisers. What have we all been robotically doing for the last year?
Worryingly, it is known to interfere with thyroid function and is also oestrogenic, that is, will act like oestrogen and we already know that oestrogen dominance is problematic in women and increasingly in men, man boobs? Its use may also be contributing to anti-biotic resistance and an increase in allergies and asthma in children. A 2019 epidemiological study in US post-menopausal women found an increased prevalence of osteoporosis with Triclosan concentration in urine.
Something I try and avoid are any petroleum derivatives; so mineral oil, petrolatum, petroleum, this is actually crude oil!! Enough said!
Navigating the aisles and reading the small print on ingredient labels is a minefield however, there is a shift happening with increasing consumer awareness driving a demand for more natural/organic/cruelty free products.
So what can I do?
Start by making simple swaps.
When your current toothpaste runs out look for an alternative. I use Aloe Dent, not perfect but is SLS and fluoride free, and still way better than conventional brands.
Ditch the regular spray anti-perspirant/deodorant filled with alcohol, aluminium etc and choose a natural alternative. My current favourite is from The Natural Deodorant Co., a clean, deodorant balm in a glass jar.
For make up I use an Australian brand, Inika Organics, vegan and cruelty free.
Nearer to home we have the delicious Neal's Yard Remedies, organic and cruelty free, for a massive range of beautiful and effective products.
For fragrance, Jones and Modha, a Bristol based natural fragrance company are passionate about the planet and sustainability and don't use any synthetic ingredients.
And there are many, many more exciting brands.
My go-to website for products is www.naturisimo.com, "The Home of Clean Beauty".But there are others such as www.lovelula.com and another favourite Dr. Hauschka.
Update and increase your knowledge.
There is an organisation in the US called Environmental Working Group (EWG) with a fantastic resource called Skin Deep, a cosmetics database of over 70,000 products and 2,000 brands, where products (and their ingredients) are give a hazard scoring of 1-10. Check it out.They also have an app, handy when shopping.
In Europe we have Ecocert, a certification body for natural and organic cosmetics with lots of useful information on their website including an approved preservative listing.
This blog is a brief introduction into EDCs and the impact they have on human health. They are not ,unfortunately, confined simply to beauty products but are to be found in almost everything we are surrounded by. The furniture we sit on, the cars we drive, household cleaning products, the water we drink, the food we eat.
I guess the final message is to not to panic and throw out all your products this minute, but to change the way you shop for them. Armed with a little more knowledge you can now make a more informed choice about shopping and the health of your hormones.
Thank you for reading,
In good health,
Author: Patricia Alexander-Bird, Registered Nutritional Therapist, Dip NT, mBANT, CNHC
Health and Wellness Coach (awaiting certification)
200 hour Yoga Teacher (in training)
World Health Organization. (2013). State of the science of endocrine disrupting chemicals - 2012. [online] Available at: http://www.who.int/ceh/publications/endocrine/en/ [Accessed 22 Oct. 2018].
Hunt, P.A., Sathyanarayana, S., Fowler, P.A. and Trasande, L., (2016). Female reproductive disorders, diseases, and costs of exposure to endocrine disrupting chemicals in the European Union. The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, 101(4), pp.1562-1570
Darbre, P., Aljarrah, A., Miller, W., Coldham, N., Sauer, M. and Pope, G. (2004). Concentrations of parabens in human breast tumours. Journal of Applied Toxicology, 24(1), pp.5-13.
Cai, S., Zhu, J., Sun, L., Fan, C., Zhong, Y., Shen, Q., & Li, Y. (2019). Association Between Urinary Triclosan With Bone Mass Density and Osteoporosis in US Adult Women, 2005‒2010. The Journal of clinical endocrinology and metabolism, 104(10), 4531–4538. https://doi.org/10.1210/jc.2019-00576