When I worked for a leading online women’s wellness company (helping women balance their hormones through all stages of life), one of the biggest challenges we saw facing women today was increasing exposure to toxins known as endocrine disruptors (And guys, they are just as big a concern for you!)
Most of us know that eating foods with artificial flavors and colors, dyes, chemicals and preservatives is not the best strategy for fueling a healthy body. But despite the fact that many of us are now choosing organic and local, grass fed and hormone-free, if you shop at your local drug store or big box store for your cosmetics and toiletries, most likely you are continuing to ingest the very chemicals you are trying to avoid from our food supply.
The products you put on the outside of your body are absorbed into your blood stream and impact your health just as much as the food that you eat. In fact, twice as many toxins can be absorbed into the bloodstream through the skin as through the digestive tract. If you are not convinced of that, try the old garlic test. Rub garlic on the bottom of your foot and within twenty minutes you will taste garlic and have garlic on your breath just as if you’d eaten it.
I would be remiss in my wellness coverage if I did not discuss some of the common toxins contained in your cosmetics and toiletries and why you should avoid them. Before I get into the specifics of each chemical group, I want to briefly review estrogen disruptors, which we discussed in the prostate and breast health article.
…We are daily bombarded with estrogenic compounds called xenoestrogens. These compounds can mimic estrogen and take up estrogen receptor sites, leaving the body’s estrogen to wander looking for an available receptor site. This excess estrogen imbalances our normal hormone ratios. Xenoestrogens are found in petroleum-based products, plastics, herbicides, pesticides and fungicides. They are in car emissions, paint, nail polish, soap, lotion, food, water and the air.
Xenoestrogens result in an increase in belly fat or breast development in men as well as weight gain, allergies, sinus infections, fatigue, mood swings and the onset of andropause, the male equivalent of menopause. Andropause can result in impotence, low sex drive, low sperm count, low absorption of zinc, increased risk of heart disease, and not surprisingly, urination and prostate problems.
Hormones are always about balance, and our sex hormones are no different. Endocrine disruptors result in hormone imbalances that not only mean testosterone or progesterone levels are low vis a vis the estrogen, but excess estrogen levels are linked to breast, prostate and uterine cancer as well as autoimmune diseases and osteoporosis.
I’ve chosen a few of the biggest health concerns to call out as groups below. Several of the chemicals commonly found in toiletries can be classified as endocrine disruptors and I won’t repeat this detail for each but will simply label them as such. I’ve also highlighted some non-endocrine disrupting chemicals that have serious health concerns associated with them and should be avoided as well.
Parabens are preservatives that are used to extend a product’s shelf life. They are known carcinogens and endocrine disruptors. While they can also cause allergic reactions and skin rashes, their primary concern is as an endocrine disruptor. Next to water, parabens are the single most frequently used ingredient in cosmetics, so a look through your bathroom shelves will likely turn up plenty. Look for methyl, butyl, ethyl or propyl parabens on the label.
When ammonia compounds and nitrates combine, nitrosamines are created. We discussed the harmful impact of nitrosamines in the meat chapter and how we need to avoid eating them. So why would we want to absorb them directly into our blood stream through shaving cream, shampoo or shower gels? Nitrosamines are used as skin softeners, foaming agents, synthetic stabilizers and ph adjusters. No other carcinogen has been found to be as harmful to as many species as nitrosamines and the challenge with nitrosamines is that studies reveal that levels increase within a product after it’s opened, doubling after four months and increasing more than four times over seventeen months. Even more reason to toss that old shampoo bottle in your bathroom! Look for MEA (Monoethanolmine), DEA (Diethanolamine), or TEA Triethanolamine) on the label. It will often occur in tangent with another chemical such as TEA Lauryl Sulfate or Stearamide MEA, for example.
PAHs (Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons)
PAHs are derived from crude oil and are known endocrine disruptors and carcinogens and have been directly linked to breast cancer. Their purpose is to form a barrier on the skin, which is why they are commonly found in diaper rash ointments and skin creams. They are also frequently found in lipsticks and lip balms as well as baby lotions and oils. Look for petrolatum, mineral oil, paraffinum, coal tar, and yes, petroleum jelly (the name tells it all!)
Propylene Glycol/Butylene Glycol
Propylene Glycol/Butylene Glycol (PG/BG) is a common form of mineral oil and as such, is a petroleum derivative and is considered to be a PAH as highlighted above. But since it is so common in cosmetics and skin care products, I’m calling it out as a separate category. PG is so strong, it can take barnacles off a boat! EPA workers are required to protect their skin from contact because it penetrates so quickly and can cause brain, liver, and kidney abnormalities. When the EPA mandates workers use protective clothing, goggles and gloves and demands that excess solution be buried in the ground, it catches my attention! If you see Propylene Glycol or Butylene Glycol on the label, definitely pass it by.
Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLES), and ammonium laureth sulfate (ALES) can create nitrosamines when combined with other ingredients. They are found in 90% of foaming and lathering products. Sodium lauryl sufate (SLS) and ammonium lauryl sulfate (ALS), are also used in cleaners, engine degreasers, and car wash products and can cause central nervous system disruptions, skin irritations, diarrhea, difficulty breathing, and eye damage. They are widely used in skin care products and are often advertised as coming from coconut. Regardless of the form being laureth or lauryl all sulfates, SLES, SLS, ALES, ALS, should be avoided.
FD&C Color Pigments
Color pigments are typically found in mascara, lipstick, blush, nail polish, shampoo, conditioner, and hair dye. We know not to eat color pigments and dyes in foods, but they are extremely common in cosmetics and toiletries. Anytime you see a dye or color pigment listed, it’s an avoid. But when you see FD&C preceding the name of a color, it means that the dye is considered safe for drugs and cosmetics but not food. Since we already know we absorb more through the skin than through the stomach, and animal studies have shown almost all FD&C colors to be carcinogenic, color pigments, but especially FD&C colors should be avoided as well.
Unless you see an essential oil listed, which is pure fragrance and can have health benefits, most fragrances are synthetic and chemically derived. They can be comprised of thousands of separate ingredients many of which are toxic and carcinogenic. Phthalates, which are used to stabilize synthetic fragrances, are known endocrine disruptors and can impact the central nervous system and cause irritability, depression or hyperactivity. Unless the label says phthalate free or lists only essential oils, if it has fragrance, it likely has phthalates.
There are many more toxins and carcinogens to avoid: too many to cover in one newsletter. But at least we have started the conversation and identified some chemicals you’ll want to read your product labels to avoid.
Keep in mind that as adults, our tolerance for these chemicals varies by individual, but children as a rule with developing immune systems are much more vulnerable to these effects. If you were surprised to see petroleum jelly and mineral oil (common in baby oil) among the list, you’ll want to pay special attention to ingredients you use on your children. Also, talc, the main ingredient in baby powder, is believed by many to be carcinogenic and has been tied to uterine cancer in women.
Talc is listed as potentially poisonous by the National Institute of Health (NIH) if inhaled, and who hasn’t breathed some in; it goes airborne pretty easily when you’re applying it to a child! Virtually all of the common baby products contain ingredients I wouldn’t want to ingest or absorb, let alone deliver to a tiny infant, but there are healthier versions and organic options out there including talc -free baby powder, which the NIH recommends.
A special note should be made regarding sunscreen and anti-perspirant. Most of us should be getting our vitamin D exposure (required for wellness) and should only need sunscreen for long full days outside. But if you decide to use sunscreen, it’s even more important that you look for natural and organic versions.
Sunscreen commonly contains many of these listed toxic ingredients and others we didn’t cover. Because you put it on your skin all over your body, using large amounts and re-applying, and then the heat of the sun opens your pores, enabling even more product to be absorbed directly into the blood stream, it poses a health risk if used regularly and not in a natural form. Especially, again, for your children whose immune systems are not fully developed.
And lastly, I also want to call out antiperspirants. Our bodies were designed to sweat and our armpits are a crucial part of our body’s detoxification process. Stopping that process can pose health risks, as our bodies need to release impurities through our sweat. At the same time, if your antiperspirant contains aluminum, as most do, you should know that aluminum is designed to block your pores and stop them from sweating and it has been linked to Alzheimer’s disease and breast cancer. A deodorant to control odor but allow the sweat process to continue as designed is fine, just don’t block the pores. And please don’t block them with a carcinogen like aluminum!
If you spend your hard-earned money to buy organic produce or grass fed beef, if you read the labels of the food you buy to make sure it doesn’t contain harmful chemical additives, please read the labels of the products you absorb through your skin as they are just as important.
To your wellness and health: your true wealth!
P.S., Here’s a summary list of some of the common toxins found in different products. We haven’t discussed all of these, but it’s a great starting point if you want to go deeper than what we covered in the rest of the article. To the extent you can avoid them, you should because repetitive daily use can really accumulate residues in your system. Look for organic and natural products made without these ingredients whenever you can, especially for infants and children.
Deodorants: Aluminum, Butane, Propane, Propylene Glycol, Talc, Fragrance.
Shampoos: Diethanolamine (DEA or TEA), Propylene Glycol, Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS), Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLES), Benzyl/Benzene Conditioners: Diethanolamine (DEA or TEA) Propylene Glycol, Fragrance.
Shower Bars/Gels: Bentoic/Benzyl, Diethanolamine (DEA or TEA), Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS), Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLES), Fragrance.
Bubble Bath: Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS), Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLES), Benzoic/Benzyl, Diethanolamine (DEA or TEA), Fragrance.
Shaving Gels/Creams: Diethanolamine (DEA or TEA), Propylene Glycol, Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS), Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLES), Fragrance.
Toothpastes: Fluoride, Sodium Fluoride, Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS), Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLES), Aluminium Oxide
Mouthwashes: Alcohol, Isopropyl Alcohol, Flavoring, Sodium, Lauryl Sulfate
Feminine Products & Color Cosmetics: Talc, Toluene, FD&C color pigments, Fragrance.
Author: Inger Pols is the Editor of the New England Health Advisory and Author/Creator, Finally Make It Happen, the proven process to get what you want. Get a free special report on The Truth About Sugar: It’s Not All Equal at www.nehealthadvisory.com
Photo Source: Microsoft Clip Art