We all know that maintaining a healthy diet and lifestyle is important for the well-being of you and your growing baby. But there's another important, yet often overlooked aspect to a healthy pregnancy - endocrine disruptors. These chemicals are starting to gain attention for negatively impacting our hormonal health. Endocrine disruptors are especially impactful to developing babies and are common in our beauty products. Here's what you need to know about endocrine disruptors and how you can reduce your exposure.
What exactly are endocrine disruptors and should you be concerned?
Endocrine disruptors are natural or man-made compounds that can enter the body and mess with our hormones in several ways. They do this by:
- blocking our hormones
- mimicking our hormones
- causing our bodies to over or under produce hormones
Several scientific studies have linked endocrine disruptors to infertility, endometriosis, PCOS, early puberty, early menopause, diabetes, certain cancers and learning disabilities and birth defects. Fetal exposure to endocrine disruptors can have lifelong effects.
Does that mean my shampoo is making me infertile?
Not exactly, but the endocrine disruptors in your mom’s beauty products may have negatively contributed to your reproductive development as a baby.
The time when our reproductive system is developing in utero is known as a “window of susceptibility” to endocrine disruptors. Our cells are beginning to grow and critical hormonal signals and balances must occur for normal development. In fact, a pregnant mother’s exposure to endocrine disruptors not only affects her and her baby, but also her grandchildren. It’s crazy to think that endocrine disruptors affect three generations, but inside the developing fetus are the germ cells that go on to form her ovaries or his testes. It’s believed that these generational effects of EDCs are contributing to declining fertility with each generation.
Since endocrine disruptors interfere with hormonal signaling, a pregnant mother’s exposure can negatively affect the reproductive development of her baby, which can lead to hormonal health problems later in life. Childhood and adolescence are also “windows of susceptibility”, where the body is going through hormonal changes.
I’m already using clean beauty products, what’s the difference?
The term “clean beauty” is not regulated by any governing body and therefore can mean many things depending on what the brand considers to be “clean beauty”. For example, “clean beauty” may mean vegan to one brand, and sustainably sourced to another.
The point is that choosing a “clean beauty” brand doesn’t necessarily mean its products are free of endocrine disruptors. In fact, even some natural ingredients are endocrine disrupting like lavender and tea tree oil. These ingredients are phytoestrogens and can impact hormonal balance in the same way as synthetic endocrine disruptors.
Earlier this year the EU banned a popular ingredient used in fragrance in cosmetics for being linked to infertility (remember the Olaplex as birth control memes?). This ingredient - butylphenyl methylpropional (otherwise known as lilial), along with many other endocrine disrupting ingredients, is still commonly used in the US and Canada.
Do the tiny doses in my beauty products really matter?
Large brands or chemical advocates will often say that the doses of endocrine disruptors in our cosmetics are too small to affect real change. They will claim that small brands are “greenwashing”, or “fear mongering” and provide evidence that their chemical is safe at small doses. While that may be true for some chemicals, it’s grossly inaccurate when it comes to endocrine disruptors.
What does this mean? Well, our hormonal systems are designed to react to extremely low levels of hormones. In fact, typical levels of our natural hormones are measured in pictograms (one-trillionth of a gram). These low doses aren’t tested in the cosmetics industry and here’s why - traditionally, chemicals are tested by exposing lab rodents to high doses, then lowering the dose until no observable effect is seen. Sounds pretty safe, right?
Here’s where it gets interesting - endocrine disruptors have effects at low doses that don’t occur at high doses. Unfortunately, if there’s no effect seen at high doses, these ultra-low levels aren’t tested, and the chemical is deemed safe when in reality it hasn’t been tested properly for human health or real world exposure.
Endocrinologists have long known that extremely tiny amounts of natural hormones such as estrogen, testosterone and thyroid hormones can have big health effects. It’s not surprising that man-made endocrine disruptors follow the same rules.
Examples of endocrine disruptors in the news
In June 2022, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released new health advisories for two types of polyfluoroalkyl and perfluoroalkyl substances, otherwise known as PFAS chemicals. PFAS chemicals are a type of endocrine disruptor that have been shown to cause birth defects, harm to the liver, infertility, obesity, hormone suppression and certain cancers. The health advisory was reduced from 70 parts per trillion in 2016 to 0.004 and 0.02 parts per trillion in 2022. That is an insane reduction.
“Lifetime exposure at staggeringly low levels can compromise the immune and cardiovascular system and are linked to decreased birth weights”
Another example is bisphenol A (BPA). In 2008 the FDA discounted low-dose studies when it concluded that BPA in consumer products were safe. Two years later, they changed their opinion to include that lifelong exposure to BPA at low-doses poses a risk.
“There truly is no safe dose for chemicals that act as hormones because the endocrine system is designed to act at very low levels”
The takeaway here is that the dose does not make the poison when it comes to endocrine disruptors.
So what can I do?
The easiest way to avoid endocrine disruptors is in your personal care routine. Let’s imagine for a second all the ways in which you come into contact with endocrine disruptors daily. Did you know that the average woman uses around 12 personal care products every day, exposing herself to about 168 different chemicals? She’s also likely to sit on a cushion containing flame retardant chemicals, eat out of a plastic container and wear water resistant clothing - all of which contain endocrine disruptors.
Although the amounts of endocrine disruptors in each product individually may seem negligible, together they create a cocktail effect. More research is needed to understand the cumulative effects of endocrine disruptors in the body. But the accumulation of endocrine disruptors, and the interaction of these chemicals is where the dangers lie.
Does avoiding endocrine disruptors make a difference?
Endocrine disruptors have been found in every person ever tested in the world! They’ve been found in blood, urine, saliva, tears, sweat, placenta, umbilical cord blood and the meconium (first poop) of newborn babies.
The good news is that most of the endocrine disruptors we’re exposed to through our beauty products pass through the body fairly quickly. For example, parabens have a half life of ~24 hours, meaning our bodies metabolize them and pass them through our urine. The same goes for other endocrine disruptors like phthalates; ~12 hours, and BPA; ~6 hours. However, that’s not the case for all EDCs. PFAS chemicals are known as “forever chemicals” for a reason. It takes our bodies anywhere from 3-8 years to metabolize PFAS (often found in dental floss).
A study published in the International Journal of Hygiene and Environmental Health found that participants who made a conscious choice to avoid products with endocrine disruptors such as parabens, benzophenone-3, triclosan and BPA, had lower concentrations of these chemicals in their bodies compared to those who didn’t. To learn more about which cosmetics ingredients to avoid check out this article on how to purge endocrine disruptors from your beauty products.
By now we know that chemical regulations lag far behind scientific findings, especially in the cosmetics industry. For now, it is up to individuals to advocate for policy changes and to keep themselves and future generations safe from excessive exposure to endocrine disruptors.
Remember that the small things you do every day matter for your hormonal health. One of the easiest places to avoid endocrine disruptors is in your personal care routine. The Oliver Daily Care Cream is free of all known or suspected endocrine disrupting ingredients and was formulated for your hormonal health.