From makeup to shampoo to tap water, endocrine disruptors can easily find their way into your body – and your hormones pay the price. Here’s how to avoid them.
When you take a shower, buy a bottled water from the corner store, or do your laundry, the first thing on your mind probably isn’t your hormone health. But maybe it should be.
That’s because each of these activities (and more) can potentially put you in contact with endocrine disruptors (ED’s): chemicals that adversely affect your hormone health, resulting in weight gain, mood swings, anxiety, loss of sleep and skin issues. Over time, they can even put you at risk for cancer.
But since EDC’s are seemingly ubiquitous – lurking in your pantry, bathroom, or kitchen tap – let’s first take a moment to understand what they are, how they function, and where they’re lurking. You can be empowered to make good choices for your health once you know how to avoid the worst offenders, and make cleaner substitutions.
WHAT ARE ENDOCRINE DISRUPTORS?
The National Health Institute division of U.S. Department of Health & Human Services defines ED’s as such :
“Endocrine disruptors are chemicals that may interfere with the body’s endocrine system and produce adverse developmental, reproductive, neurological, and immune effects in both humans and wildlife. A wide range of substances, both natural and manmade, are thought to cause endocrine disruption, including pharmaceuticals, dioxin and dioxin-like compounds, polychlorinated biphenyls, DDT and other pesticides, and plasticizers such as bisphenol A. Endocrine disruptors may be found in many everyday products– including plastic bottles, metal food cans, detergents, flame retardants, food, toys, cosmetics, and pesticides.”
In lay terms, ED’s are chemicals that can block your body’s natural hormones, or mimic them. Your hormone activity gets artificially turned up, or it gets turned way down, to zero. Think about it like your hearing: too little hearing and you cannot make out any sounds in your environment; too much, and you’re screaming in pain. ED’s block or ramp up hormone activity in the same way, causing damage to the cells that rely on their proper function.
How do you come into contact with ED’s? Here’s an everyday example. Let’s say you wash your clothes, repeatedly coming into contact with a detergent containing an ED. This harmful chemical in question gets absorbed into your body, where it has the ability to mimic estrogen. This in turn throws your body’s natural estrogen/progesterone levels out of whack, resulting in suppressed progesterone – the hormone associated with youth and vitality. In progesterone’s absence, you end up with insomnia, stubborn weight, lackluster skin and hair…it’s not a pretty picture.
But the effects of ED’s can start much earlier – even in the womb. According to wellness advocate/icon Kris Carr,
“Boys exposed to endocrine disruptors in the womb or as young infants may also develop genital abnormalities, including hypospadias (a congenital defect in boys in which the urinary opening is on the underside of the penis), undescended testes and smaller penises.”
Girls aren’t off the hook, either: exposure to ED’s can result in puberty arriving earlier than usual. And while we’re on the subject of reproductive health, one of the most serious health outcomes for women exposed to ED’s is increased infertility.
YIKES! WHAT EXACTLY ARE THESE EVIL CHEMICALS?
So, first, breathe: if you’re feeling freaked out right now, you have absolutely every right to be. But knowledge is power, so let’s ID these nasty ED’s so you can start reading ingredient lists.
The Internet abounds with lists of ED’s, and in truth it’s impossible to avoid them entirely. But we like this list from Dermstore for beauty and lifestyle products:
- Formaldehyde: A known carcinogen and irritant found in nail products, hair dye, fake-eyelash adhesives and some shampoos. It has been banned in other countries.
- Fragrance: Has hormone-disrupting effects. Fragrance is also connected to headaches, dizziness, asthma and allergies. Instead, use products with natural fragrances only.
- Lead: A known carcinogen and hormone disruptor found in certain eyeliners, hair dye and lipsticks.
- Mercury: A known irritant and allergen that, with body accumulation over time, can impair the brain and nervous system.
- Parabens (Propyl-, Isopropyl-, Butyl- and Isobutyl-): Used as preservatives in many products. A study published in the Journal of Applied Toxicology in 2004 detected parabens in breast tumors and discussed their estrogen-like properties. While this doesn’t create a direct connection with cancer, I recommend avoiding these ingredients.
- Oxybenzone: An active ingredient in chemical sunscreens that accumulates in fatty tissues and is linked to allergies, hormone disruption and cellular damage. I recommend wearing skin-protective clothing and using natural minerals or zinc products.
- DEA/TEA/MEA (Ethanolamines): Used as emulsifiers and foaming agents for shampoos, body washes, soaps and topical application. It’s been associated with cancer in animal studies.
- Sodium lauryl (ether) sulfate (SLS, SLES): A former industrial degreaser now used to make soap foamy, it’s absorbed into the body.
- Diethylene glycol (or DEG): A central nervous system depressant and potent kidney and liver toxin. Sometimes found in fragrances. Glycerin and propylene glycol are sometimes contaminated with DEG, which are common ingredients in personal care products.
And for food and beverages, Kris Carr’s list is solid:
- Atrazine: An herbicide used to control weeds and grass. Found in drinking water.
- Bisphenol A (BPA): A chemical used to harden plastics. Found in plastic bottles, the inside lining of some canned foods, medical devices, dental sealants and in the water, dust and air.
- Dioxins: A family of toxic chemicals. Found in the environment as a byproduct of industrial processing; mainly in fish, seafood, meats, eggs and cheese.
- Flame Retardants: A group of chemicals added to many manufactured items. Found in fabrics, plastics, surface coatings, furniture and baby products.
- Parabens: A preservative. Found in personal care products, such as deodorants and lotions to stop bacterial growth.
- Perchlorate: An industrial chemical. Used in rocket propellant, fireworks and road flares, and can end up in drinking water.
- Perfluorinated Compounds (PFCs): A family of chemicals. Found in food packaging and non-stick cookware.
- Pesticides: Substances used to destroy insects and other harmful organisms. Used in farming and food production.
- Phthalates: Chemicals widely used in production. Found in plastics, scented beauty products and household cleaners—and also many other everyday items, including nail polish, carpeting and even your car’s steering wheel.
- Zeranol: A naturally occurring mycoestrogen (estrogen made by fungi). Used as a growth promoter in the meat industry, which has been banned in the European Union.
- Others include: Arsenic, DDT, glycol ethers, lead, mercury, PCBs (banned in 1980, but still present in the food supply), polybrominated biphenyl (PBB) and phytoestrogens (naturally occurring plant estrogens found in greatest quantities in soybeans and flax seeds, although these have also been shown to lower breast cancer risk).
As you can see, it’s easy to feel like ED’s are everywhere – but stay with us! You can start rinsing them out of your life, starting with your next trip to the grocery store.
HOW DO I AVOID ED’S, AND TAKE BACK MY HORMONE HEALTH?
Don’t try to tackle everything at once. Instead, love on your hormones by making some simple household and lifestyle decisions that can accumulate over time. A few good places to start:
- Buy less plastics in general. Opt for reusable water bottles instead.
- Get a water filter. For your tap, and for your shower.
- Buy organic, and avoid some of the worst offending carcinogens.
- Look for “fragrance free” and “paraben free” on your next bottle of shampoo, body wash, or household cleaner.
- Try Meatless Monday, and consider reducing your family’s meat consumption across the board.
- Trade your perfume for an essential oil blend: lavender is almost universally beloved (and helpful with sleep).
ADDITIONAL LINKS + RESOURCES: