Is it possible that the chemicals in your beauty products are contributing to hormone imbalance? There are more than 85,000 chemicals registered for use, with thousands more hitting the market every year. Less than one-third of these chemicals have safety data that is publicly available and many more remain untested but are included in products that we use in our daily lives anyway. In Europe, more than 1,400 ingredients have been banned or restricted from use in products. Even Canada has banned or restricted nearly 600 ingredients from personal care products. Any guesses as to how many have been banned or restricted in the US? A measly 30!
Many consumers think that we have processes in place to make sure that products that hit the market are safe. We have government groups like the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) that help oversee the cosmetic industry, right? Wrong! Under the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetics Act of 1938 (the federal cosmetic law that has not had a major overhaul in more than 75 years), the FDA has virtually no power to regulate the cosmetic industry. Personal care products are some of the least-regulated consumer products on the market.
Who is then responsible for ensuring the safety of these products?
It’s left up to the companies and individuals who manufacture or market the product. These manufacturers are not required to do specific tests to prove the safety of the products or ingredients. They are also not required to share their safety information with the FDA. A cosmetic manufacturer can use any raw material as a cosmetic ingredient and market the product without approval from the FDA. And with only 30 banned or restricted ingredients from of list of tens of thousands, they have a lot to choose from.
According to a survey done by the Environmental Working Group, the average American uses nine products daily. Combined, that means 126 different ingredients. One percent of men and 25% of women use 15 or more products every day. Just think about all of the products that you use on a daily basis. Toothpaste, lotion, makeup, perfume, shampoo, conditioner, body wash, sunscreen, deodorant…the list goes on. Most people use these products without giving it a second thought because we think there are government agencies out there protecting us from harmful chemicals. Hopefully by now you see that this couldn’t be further from the truth.
So if there is little protection in place, then how harmful are these chemicals and what could they be doing to our health?
Many conventional body care products contain at least one (if not many) questionably ingredients that are not only messing with your hormones but can also irritate your nervous system, lungs, and skin.
Endocrine Disruptors, or xenoestrogens, are man-made substances that mimic or interfere with the function of hormones in the body, particularly estrogen. These chemicals are identical enough to our own human hormones that they fit into the same cell receptor sites and can lead to estrogen-dominant conditions such as breast cancer, fibroids, infertility, endometriosis, and cysts. Hormone imbalances are something that I see a lot in my private nutrition practice.
Neurotoxins are substances that can cause functional or structural changes in the nervous system. Think heavy metals like aluminum (deodorant) or lead (lipstick). Children are most susceptible to these toxins because their nervous systems are still developing. Babies can also be exposed through breast milk or via the placenta. Imagine if you are pregnant or a breastfeeding mother using beauty products that haven’t been properly tested for safety. You could unknowingly be passing on neurotoxins to your baby.
Respiratory Toxins can come from products like hairspray, bug spray, powdered products, or even products used in the shower that become airborne via steam. When these toxins are inhaled they can cause problems to the respiratory system including irritation, bronchitis, emphysema, and cancer.
Have you ever used a product and had it irritate your skin? Skin irritants are very unique to each individual, but they can cause mild redness, itching and swelling, or even painful blisters and sores.
Our skin is a major organ and part of its job is to protect us and create a barrier. However many compounds can be absorbed by the skin and end up in the blood stream. Think of some of the topical medications you can get at the drugstore; nicotine patches to help you quit smoking, or motion sickness patches. Our skin can absorb 60-80% of what we put on it, that’s a lot! Scientists have found many common cosmetic ingredients in human tissues, including phthalates in urine, preservatives called parabens in breast tumor tissue, and persistent fragrance components in human fat. (1)
Your exposure may even be greater than you think because these chemicals get washed off in the sink or shower and then end up in our water supply. Some of the ingredients can be very difficult to remove during treatment and have been found in surface and groundwater. These chemicals are even reaching the ocean (think sunscreen too) and are threatening ocean life (3).
The good news is that by using safer personal care products you can significantly reduce your exposure to these questionable toxins. One study showed that by switching to safer products, there was a significant reduction in the concentration of phthalates, parabens, and triclosan (known xenoestrogens) in the urine of teenage girls in just three days. (2)
Stay tuned for a part 2 guide on switching to safer beauty products and my tips for making it a painless transition.