Hormone Disruptors (chemicals) Hidden in Cosmetics
The Dirty Dozen. Buyer Beware!
Nearly every day, we see clients in our office who have innocently used dangerous cosmetics.
While Exogenous Ochronosis (MKOROGO) caused by Hydroquinone is the commonest problem we see, hormonal disruption is not something you can physically see.
At Western cosmetics, our goal is to make sure that you are an informed consumer who can make safe decisions.
If you use any cosmetics (lotions, creams, lipsticks, foundations) this article is for you.
Before we dive in too deep, watch this video and don't get angry! Black women are highly vulnerable
Let's get started!
It will make your next beauty purchase smarter
The use of cosmetics is innocent; all you want to do is to cover up some imperfections or accentuate your natural beauty.
Well, innocently, you could be using toxic chemicals hidden in cosmetics, especially women.
Cosmetics hormonal disruptors tend to change how our hormones work, some have been associated with conditions like Uterine Fibroids.
This post guides you through the most common endocrine disruptors in cosmetic products.
The dirty dozen cosmetics list.
What is an endocrine disruptor?
The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) defined the term endocrine-disrupting compound as an exogenous agent that interferes with synthesis, secretion, transport, metabolism, binding action, or elimination of hormones that are found in the body.
These hormones are responsible for reproduction, developmental process, and maintenance of a balanced internal environment (homeostasis).
Tip: In our bodies, the system that produces all sorts of hormones is called the "Endorine System". You will see this word, a lot!
Endocrine disruptors were originally thought to exhibit their actions mainly through nuclear hormone receptors including estrogen, progesterone, androgen, thyroid, and retinoid receptors.
As more studies are carried out on this subject, scientists discovered that mechanisms associated with endocrine disruptors are broader than it was originally thought.
Hormone disruptors act through nuclear receptors, nonnuclear steroid hormone receptors, non-steroid receptors, among others[i].
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), endocrine disrupting chemicals are usually manmade and are found in pesticides, metals, additives or contaminants in food, and personal care products[ii] including skin care, cosmetics, and others.
Hormone disruptors mimic (entirely or partially) naturally occurring hormones in the body.
They can also the over-stimulate production of these hormones, thus creating imbalances.
These compounds can bind to a receptor within a cell and block endogenous hormone from binding, as they naturally should.
As a result, the normal signal doesn’t occur, and the body is unable to respond properly[iii].
What are the hormone-disrupting chemicals in cosmetics? Let’s see.
These are found in ALL hair treatment chemicals and are feared to be one of the leading causes of uterus fibroids in black women!
- Chemical treatment
These chemicals are almost everywhere; they are found in hospitals, cars, our workplace, home, and even in products we use.
Phthalates are used due to their stability, durability, and strong performance.
This family of chemicals is odorless, the colorless liquid produced by reacting phthalic anhydride with an appropriate alcohol.
According to the FDA the primary phthalates used in cosmetic products are[iv]:
- Dibutylphthalate (DBP) – used as a plasticizer in products like nail polishes, they reduce cracking by making them less brittle
- Dimethylphthalate (DMP) – found in hairsprays where they help avoid stiffness by forming a flexible film on the hair
- Diethylphthalate (DEP) – used as a solvent and fixative in fragrances
The CDC reports that exposure to phthalates is widespread in the US population and adult women have higher levels of urinary metabolites than men for phthalates used in soaps, shampoos, body washes, personal care products, and cosmetics[v].
Phthalates have a strong affinity for sex hormone-binding globulin (SHBG), a plasma carrier protein that binds androgens to estrogens[vi].
It is important to mention that phthalates are not synthetic hormones and they don’t mimic estrogen and testosterone.
Their mechanism of action could be explained by the affinity for SHBG, thus disrupting its own activity, which can disturb overall hormone balance.
Phthalates disrupt fertility in men and women. One study looked at 231 women who underwent IVF procedures between 2004 and 2012 in Massachusetts General Hospital and found that all women were exposed to phthalates.
That said, women with the highest levels of exposure were twice as likely to suffer from an implantation failure compared to ladies with the lowest levels of phthalates in their body[vii].
Phthalates can also contribute to premature breast development in young women and affect fetal development.
In addition, these chemicals have a strong impact on thyroid hormones its functions[viii].
Tip: Avoid any type of hair chemicals. Instead, use argan oil. It is natural, organic and makes your hair soft and grow faster. Consider going natural.
2. Bisphenol A (BPA)
Bisphenol A (BPA) is a chemical produced in large quantities primarily to produce epoxy resins and polycarbonate plastics.
It was a great idea for the Kenyan Government to ban plastic paper bags. They should consider plastics in bottled water. They have BPA!
Due to the fact this type of plastics is used to produce beverage containers, plastic dinnerware, toys, automobile parts, bottles, and other items we use in day-to-day life all of us exposed to BPA to some extent.
For example, scientists from the CDC measured BPA in the urine of 2517 subjects aged six and older in a period between 2003 and 2004.
Results showed that nearly all participants had BPA in their urine, which indicates widespread exposure to this chemical in the US population[ix].
Although most of us are unaware that BPA is found in bottles and many other items the use of the chemical in cosmetics isn’t a well-known fact.
BPA-based polymers are found in lipsticks, face and eye makeup, and nail polishes. Let’s not forget that plastic containers of those products also contain BPA.
For a few years, the chemical was banned in cosmetics produced and sold in the EU, but the European Food Safety Agency (EFSA) re-evaluated its impact and found it doesn’t pose a health risk to consumers[x].
Of course, the jury is still out there as many studies do confirm that BPA can contribute to hormonal disruption.
Evidence shows that BPA is an endocrine disrupting chemical and it primarily affects estrogen.
The use of personal care products improves absorption of BPA e.g. subjects who handled receipts and other sources of BPA experienced greater absorption of the chemical if they also used personal care items regularly[xi].
BPA alters signaling mechanisms involving estrogen and other hormones.
It has been shown that BPA plays a role in the pathogenesis of several endocrine disorders including male and female infertility, hormone-dependent tumors like breast, prostate cancer and several metabolic disorders including polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)[xii].
Parabens are widely used as preservatives in the cosmetic industry. Their main purpose is to prevent the growth of microbes.
According to the CDC, most common parabens include methylparaben, ethylparaben, butylparaben, and propylparaben.
In most cases, more than one paraben is included in a single product. Women have a higher concentration of different parabens in their body due to greater use of products that contain these manmade chemicals[xiii].
Parabens are found in conditioners, moisturizers, shaving creams, lotions, scrubs, facial and shower cleansers, and in other products.
While many deodorants also contained parabens, manufacturers use the chemical less frequently, FDA reports[xiv].
These chemicals mimic estrogen by binding estrogen receptors on cells.
The perceived influx of estrogen beyond normal levels can trigger reactions such as increased breast cell division and the growth of tumors in some cases[xv].
Parabens can penetrate human skin intact without having to be broken down meaning they are absorbed systemically.
These chemicals exhibit estrogen agonist effects, but they also possess androgen antagonist activity.
Not only are parabens implicated in breast cancer cells spread and growth, but they also interfere with male reproductive functions[xvi].
4. Perfluorinated Chemicals
Perfluorinated chemicals (PFCs) are a group of synthetic chemicals that have been used in several industrial and consumer applications for more than 50 years.
According to tests carried out by CDC, most people have these substances in their body[xvii].
The PFCs can be found in the furniture, adhesives, takeout containers such as pizza boxes, nonstick pots, popcorn bags, outdoor clothing.
They are also present in cosmetic items such as foundation, eye shadow, facial powder, blush, and bronzer.
The PFCs can accumulate in the bloodstream and liver and stay in your body for many years. Exposure to these chemicals is associated with women’s fertility problems and irregular menstrual cycles.
Men who are exposed to PFCs have a lower sperm count than men whose exposure to these chemicals is not as severe.
Excessive exposure to PFCs is also linked to weaker thyroid function, but more research is needed to confirm its full effects[xviii].
Triclosan is a chemical with antibacterial properties which explain its wide prevalence in personal care, beauty, and other products.
More precisely, the chemical is found in detergents, skin cleansers, soaps, lotions, creams, toothpaste, and even in dishwashing liquids.
Triclosan is included in foot sprays, hair conditioners, powders, makeup items, shampoos, shaving creams, suntan products, and many others.
Even short-term exposure to high doses of triclosan is linked to a decrease in levels of thyroid hormones in animal studies[xix].
Evidence shows the chemical can alter concentrations of testosterone and estrogen too[xx].
6. BHA and BHT
Butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA) and butylated hydroxytoulene (BHT) are synthetic antioxidants that are widely used for the production of food and personal care products.
Their main purpose is to act as preservatives and prolong the shelf life of an item.
When it comes to cosmetics, these ingredients are found in lipsticks, hair products, sunscreen, deodorants, fragrances, and creams.
These compounds are endocrine disruptors. One review of studies found that BHA acts like a weak estrogen.
The chemical induces cell proliferation and has the capacity to compete with estradiol for binding to the estrogen receptors[xxi].
In addition, BHA is reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen[xxii].
On the other hand, BHT is not carcinogenic, but it does act as an endocrine disruptor to some extent.
While it shows androgen antagonist activity, it’s not estrogenic compared to BHA[xxiii]. The chemical may impact thyroid gland, and organs such as lungs, kidney, and liver[xxiv].
7. Sodium laureth sulfate and sodium lauryl sulfate
Sodium laureth sulfate (SLS) is a common ingredient found in most skin care products including soaps, facial cleansers, and shampoos. It is a cleaning agent or surfactant.
All surfactants are partly water-soluble and partly oil-soluble. Surfactant makes soaps rather, the reason why soap dissolves both oil and non-oil-based dirt.
An ingredient is similar to sodium lauryl sulfate (SLES) is used for the same purpose.
That said, SLS (Laureth) has a smaller molecular structure and penetrates the skin more easily, but SLES (Lauryl) is often contaminated with dioxane, a carcinogen.
While SLES is less irritating than SLS it is unable to be metabolized by the liver and its effects on health and hormones last longer[xxv].
Not only these ingredients are associated with irritations and skin inflammation, but they can also lead to toxicity.
The chemicals can mimic the effects of certain hormones in the body leading to overproduction of estrogen.
As a result, they cause many problems in the endocrine system[xxvi], but more research is needed to confirm this.
8. Diethanolamine (DEA)
Diethanolamine (DEA) is an organic compound widely used in the beauty industry. DEA and DEA-related ingredients act as emulsifiers and foaming ingredients in cosmetics.
They are also used to adjust a products pH value or acidity[xxvii].
Although studies on this ingredient are lacking available information shows these chemicals disrupt hormones and from cancer-causing nitrates[xxviii].
DEA is also linked to liver tumors and kidneys and liver toxicity[xxix].
Fragrances belong to the group of the most common ingredients in skin care and beauty industry. They are widely used for the good smell in cosmetics.
Even some products labeled “unscented” still contain fragrances[xxx]. Perfumes and fragrances can irritate the skin, particularly in persons with sensitive skin type.
Fragrances can contain alcohol which could stimulate excessive production of estrogen by breast cells[xxxi].
Studies also show that musk fragrances exhibit estrogenic activity[xxxii]. The available information confirms that most perfumes have endocrine disrupting effects, primarily affecting estrogen levels.
Others can influence thyroid hormone concentration[xxxiii]
10. Polyethylene Glycol (PEG)
Polyethylene glycols (PEGs) are not considered a definitive chemical entity, but rather a mixture of compounds or polymers that have been bonded together.
In cosmetics, PEGs are used as emollients to soften and lubricate the skin, emulsifiers to help water- and oil-based ingredients mix properly, and as vehicles that improve the absorption of other ingredients.
In beauty and skin products, PEGs are always accompanied by a number which indicates molecular weight[xxxiv].
While the evidence doesn’t suggest PEG is an endocrine disruptor itself, its ability to improve absorption of other ingredients, including hormone disruptors, is the reason why the ingredient is on this list.
Petrolatum or petroleum jelly is oftentimes used in the beauty and skincare industry in the production of lotions and cosmetics.
It works as a moisturizing agent. That said, the ingredient is not always fully refined and is contaminated with other chemicals, especially polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs).
Studies showed that petroleum jelly exhibits mild estrogenic activity[xxxv].
No, this is not a mistake. Lead, a heavy metal, is present in cosmetics.
According to the FDA analysis, 99% of the cosmetic lip products in the US market contain lead levels below 10 ppm. Lip products from other countries contain an even higher concentration of lead.
Countries like China and India made lips products may contain dangerous levels of lead, high enough to cause health problems.
Lead is also used as a color additive in hair dyes[xxxvi]. Evidence shows that lead negatively affects many the endocrine glands but not a major disruptor.
It has an impact on the hypothalamic-pituitary axis causing blunted TSH response to TRH, but it affects female fertility as well.
Exposure to lead can affect the metabolism of thyroid hormone T4[xxxvii].
How to avoid exposure to these chemicals
When purchasing powders, foundations, lipsticks, and other beauty items we usually consider whether we like the shade, texture, price, and other factors.
Rare are the instances when we turn over the product to look at the list of ingredients and even when we do those random big words don’t mean anything to us.
Every manufacturer provides the list of ingredients on the label, meaning you just need to pay attention to the list when buying a product.
Most cheap cosmetics in Kenya coming from China & India hide those chemicals without declaring them in the ingredients. Be very careful with these cheap cosmetics in every corner.
Sure, those big difficult-to-read ingredients may seem confusing now, but the more you learn about them, the easier it will be to avoid products with many endocrine disruptors in their formula.
Get informed about endocrine disruptors not only in cosmetics but in other products and strive to limit the exposure.
While it may be difficult or impossible to entirely avoid hormonal diruptors, there are a few things you can do:
- Avoid cosmetics originating from especially China & India
- For the sake of your health, AVOID HAIR TREATMENTS due to high doses of fibroid causing phthalates. Go natural hair way
- US & European Union has more strict rules on what manufacturers can add in their cosmetics.
- Always read the ingredients. A lot of times, these ingredients are listed as inactive ingredients but they can cause a lot of harm, over time.
- While small quantities won’t do any harm, large amounts and long-term use could. Don’t worry about the occasional use of lipstick but run for your life if you are to get another chemical hair treatment!
- Remove makeup whenever you get home and avoid going to bed with your makeup still on your face.
Beauty and skin care products make us feel good about ourselves. Those few minutes we spend pampering ourselves are incredibly therapeutic.
Promise to avoid chemical hair treatment – it is the worst hormonal disruptor in this list. One exposure is enough to cause harm! No wonder stylists wear masks and gloves – but you, you don’t. Go the natural hair way. Please don't do it, even to your worst enemy!
Now is Your Turn
Leave your comment below regarding any questions you may have about this DIRTY DOZEN
[i] Diamanti-Kandarakis E, Bourguignon J-P, Giudice LC, et al. Endocrine-Disrupting Chemicals: An Endocrine Society Scientific Statement. Endocrine Reviews. 2009;30(4):293-342. doi:10.1210/er.2009-0002. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2726844/
[ii] Endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs), World Health Organization http://www.who.int/ceh/risks/cehemerging2/en/
[iii] Endocrine disruptors, National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences https://www.niehs.nih.gov/health/topics/agents/endocrine/index.cfm
[iv] Phthalates, FDA https://www.fda.gov/Cosmetics/ProductsIngredients/Ingredients/ucm128250.htm
[v] Phthalates factsheet, CDC https://www.cdc.gov/biomonitoring/Phthalates_FactSheet.html
[vi] Sheikh IA, Turki RF, Abuzenadah AM, et al. Endocrine disruption: computational perspectives on human sex hormone-binding globulin and phthalate plasticizers. PLoS One 2016 Mar. Doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0151444 http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0151444#abstract0
[vii] The surprising thing that messes with your fertility, Women’s Health https://www.womenshealthmag.com/mom/the-surprising-thing-that-messes-with-your-fertility
[viii] Huang HB, Pan WH, Chang JW, et al. Does exposure to phthalates influence thyroid function and growth hormone homeostasis? The Taiwan Environmental Survey for Toxicants (TEST) 2013. Environmental Research 2017 Feb;153:63-72. Doi: 10.1016/j.envres.2016.11.014 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27907809
[ix] Bisphenol A (BPA) factsheet, CDC https://www.cdc.gov/biomonitoring/BisphenolA_FactSheet.html
[x] No need to be concerned about BPA, EFSA confirms, Obelis Cosmetics
[xi] Hormann AM, vom Saal FS, Nagel SC, et al. Holding Thermal Receipt Paper and Eating Food after Using Hand Sanitizer Results in High Serum Bioactive and Urine Total Levels of Bisphenol A (BPA). Carpenter DO, ed. PLoS ONE. 2014;9(10):e110509. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0110509. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4206219/
[xii] Konieczna A, Rutkowska a, Rachon D. Health risk of exposure to Bisphenol A (BPA). Roczniki Panstwowego Zakladu Higieny 2015;66(1):5-11 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25813067
[xiii] Parabens factsheet, CDC https://www.cdc.gov/biomonitoring/Parabens_FactSheet.html
[xiv] Parabens in cosmetics, FDA https://www.fda.gov/Cosmetics/ProductsIngredients/Ingredients/ucm128042.htm
[xv] Pan S, Yuan C, Tagmount A, et al. Parabens and human epidermal growth factor receptor ligand cross-talk in breast cancer cells. Environmental Health Perspectives 2016;124. Doi: 10.1289/ehp.1409200 https://ehp.niehs.nih.gov/14-09200/
[xvi] Darbre PD, Harvey PW. Paraben esters: review of recent studies of endocrine toxicity, absorption, esterase, and human exposure, and discussion of potential human health risks. Journal of Applied Toxicology 2008 Jul;28(5):561-78. Doi: 10.1002/jat.1358 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18484575
[xvii] Per- and polyfluorinated substances (PFAS) factsheet, CDC https://www.cdc.gov/biomonitoring/PFAS_FactSheet.html
[xviii] Potential human health effects of perfluorinated chemicals (PFCs), National Collaborating Centre for Environmental Health http://www.ncceh.ca/sites/default/files/Health_effects_PFCs_Oct_2010.pdf
[xix] 5 things to know about triclosan, FDA https://www.fda.gov/ForConsumers/ConsumerUpdates/ucm205999.htm
[xx] Stoker TE, Gibson EK, Zorrilla LM. Triclosan exposure modulates estrogen-dependent responses in the female wistar rat. Toxicological Sciences 2010 Sep;117(1):45-53. Doi: 10.1093/toxsci/kfq180 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20562219
[xxi] POP A, KISS B, LOGHIN F. Endocrine disrupting effects of butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA - E320). Clujul Medical. 2013;86(1):16-20. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4462476/
[xxii] Butylated hydroxyanisole, PubChem https://pubchem.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/compound/Butylhydroxyanisole#section=Top
[xxiii] Schrader TJ, Cooke GM. Examination of selected food additives and organochlorine food contaminants for androgenic activity, in vitro. Toxicological Sciences 2000 Feb;53(2):278-88. Doi: 10.1093/toxsci/53.2.278 https://academic.oup.com/toxsci/article/53/2/278/1650414
[xxiv] BHA and BHT: A case for fresh? Scientific American https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/bha-and-bht-a-case-for-fresh/
[xxv] SLS vs SLSa. They “look” the same, but are they? SimplyEden https://www.simply-eden.com/blogs/additives/5902193-sls-vs-slsa-they-look-the-same-but-are-they
[xxvi] Ingredient watch list: sodium lauryl sulfate and sodium laureth sulfate, Ann Marie Gianni https://www.annmariegianni.com/ingredient-watch-list-sodium-lauryl-sulfate/
[xxvii] Diethanolamine, FDA https://www.fda.gov/Cosmetics/ProductsIngredients/Ingredients/ucm109655.htm
[xxviii] 8 endocrine disrupting chemicals in toothpaste, Thyroid Nation https://thyroidnation.com/8-disrupting-chemicals-toothpaste/
[xxix] What are ethanolamine compounds (DEA, MEA, or TEA): chemical free living, Force of Nature https://www.forceofnatureclean.com/chemical-free-living-ethanolamine-compounds-dea-mea-tea/
[xxx] Fragrances in cosmetics, FDA https://www.fda.gov/Cosmetics/ProductsIngredients/Ingredients/ucm388821.htm
[xxxi] Coleman JW. Cosmetics and fragranced products pose high risks for breast cancer and other illnesses. Breast Cancer Options http://breastcanceroptions.org/cosmetics_and_fragrances_pose_high_risks_0.aspx
[xxxii] Bitsch N, Dudas C, Korner W, et al. Estrogenic activity of musk fragrances detected by the E-screen essay using human mcf-7 cells. Archives of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology 2002 Oct;43(3):257-64. Doi: 10.1007/s00244-002-1192-5 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12202919
[xxxiii] Perfume health risks, LiveStrong https://www.livestrong.com/article/228365-perfume-health-risks/
[xxxiv] Jang H-J, Shin CY, Kim K-B. Safety Evaluation of Polyethylene Glycol (PEG) Compounds for Cosmetic Use. Toxicological Research. 2015;31(2):105-136. doi:10.5487/TR.2015.31.2.105. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4505343/
[xxxv] Myers SL, Yang CZ, Bittner GD, Witt KL, Tice RR, Baird DD. Estrogenic and anti-estrogenic activity of off-the-shelf hair and skin care products. Journal of exposure science & environmental epidemiology. 2015;25(3):271-277. doi:10.1038/jes.2014.32. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4318791/
[xxxvi] Lead in cosmetics, FDA https://www.fda.gov/Cosmetics/ProductsIngredients/PotentialContaminants/ucm388820.htm
[xxxvii] Doumouchtsis KK, Doumouchtsis SK, Doumouchtsis EK, et al. The effect of lead intoxication on endocrine functions. Journal of Endocrinological Investigation 2009 Feb;32(2):175-83. Doi: 10.1007/BF03345710 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19411819