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What Are Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals?

Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals

Are the ingredients in your cosmetics interfering with your body's hormone levels? Could the simple act of perfecting your pout potentially disrupt your endocrine system?

Your lipstick and other cosmetics may contain ingredients that are known to be Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals (or EDCs for short).

What are EDCs?

They can occur naturally such as the phytoestrogens found in plants like the linseed or flax that you might sprinkle on your cereal every morning. EDCs are also synthetic and are present in a wide variety of products that we use regularly including cosmetics, fragrances, plastics, food and cleaning products.   

What’s the problem with EDCs?

They can interfere with normal human hormone functions and disrupt our endocrine system.    

The endocrine system is the collection of glands that produce hormones that regulate metabolism, growth and development, tissue function, sexual function, reproduction, sleep, and mood, among other things (1).

I like to think of the endocrine system as being an operating system for the body and because it regulates so many bodily functions a healthy endocrine system is vital to keep our bodies running as nature intended.   

EDCs are not just having an impact on humans. They are also having a massive impact on our environment and could be responsible for male fish turning into females (2). Remember that phrase “there’s something in the water?”

In 2012 The World Health Organisation published a report following research to assess the potential adverse health effects of EDCs in both humans and wildlife.

The report states that it is clear that some of these chemical pollutants can affect the endocrine (hormonal) system, and certain of these endocrine disruptors may also interfere with the developmental processes of humans and wildlife species (3).  

I have already mentioned that EDCs can come from a variety of sources and the main concern is the so called cocktail effect on the human body. This is where the effects of several EDCs can add up and throw your system out of balance.

Here are some of the EDCs that you need to be aware of in cosmetics and skincare products:

Parabens are perhaps the most controversial of all the EDCs. Parabens are a preservative used in cosmetics that mimic oestrogen in your body. Used in lipsticks, creams, shower gels, sunscreens etc. Common parabens include methylparaben, ethylparaben, propylparaben, butylparaben and heptylparaben.

Phthalates are derived from plastic and are known to disrupt hormones. They are found in many personal care products including hairspray, deodorants and shampoo. They are used in perfumes to ‘fix’ the scent and if a product lists aroma or fragrance on its ingredients it may contain phthalates.

Triclosan is used in many products that are antibacterial including cleansers, deodorant and soap. I have seen this ingredient listed in a deodorant that is “aluminium and paraben free for those that are concerned about the possible links with breast cancer.” A bit of an oxymoron!

Some might argue that the risk from cosmetics is minimal. However there is still a risk even if it is small and ultimately it's the accumulation of EDCs from all the various sources mentioned that can have an adverse effect on our bodies. Individually they may be weak, but together they are of real concern.

For further information on EDCs including five easy ways to reduce your exposure visit EDC Free Europe.

References

  1. Endocrine System: Facts, Functions and Diseases by Kim Ann Zimmermann, Live Science Contributor 
  2. Chemicals in the water are turning male fish into females... is same thing happening in humans?
  3. State of the science of endocrine disrupting chemicals – 2012. An assessment of the state of the science of endocrine disruptors prepared for the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and WHO
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