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3 Toxic Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals in Skincare for Men and Women To Avoid

Endocrine system

Endocrine disruptors are toxic chemicals found in a host of everyday items from household cleaning products to mattresses, but the sad truth is that many lurk in skincare products we put directly on our bodies every day.


Our skin is the biggest and most permeable organ of our body. Once endocrine disrupting chemicals come into contact with our skin they get a free ride through our bloodstream with the potential to wreak havoc on our hormones. How do they do that?

These chemicals disrupt our endocrine system by mimicking hormones in our bodies, blocking receptor sites, and altering bodily metabolisms including the liver. One of the most frightening aspects of endocrine disruption is that the damage from the cumulative buildup may not show up for years, perhaps even decades later.

One of the biggest studies conducted on endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs) looked at the possible associations between exposure to EDCs and health problems. The 2013 study by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the World Health Organization (WHO) focused on the potential for EDCs to contribute to:

  • Breast cancer in women
  • Non-descended testes in young males
  • Prostate cancer in men
  • Developmental effects on the nervous system in children
  • ADD
  • ADHD
  • Thyroid cancer

Dr. Maria Neira, WHO's Director for Public Health and Environment was quoted concerning the study: “We urgently need more research to obtain a fuller picture of the health and environment impacts of endocrine disruptors.”

So what are some of the worst endocrine disrupting chemicals we can take steps to avoid in our skincare routines for both men and women? Here are the top 3 toxic chemicals to avoid:

1. Phthalates

Phthalates are a group of chemicals that act as anti-androgens. They block the body from producing androgens like testosterone. Scientists have found evidence that male fish, when exposed to all modern chemicals including phthalates, have grown eggs in their testes.

Another frightening fact about phthalates is that they trigger the signal mechanism in our body that kills cells. Known as “death-inducing signaling”, this causes rapid testicular cell death in men. Billions of cells die naturally in our bodies every day, but phthalates shorten the life span of cells.

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Studies have linked phthalates to hormone changes, lower sperm count, less mobile sperm, male reproductive birth defects, obesity, diabetes, and thyroid irregularities.

To avoid phthalates hidden in personal care products including skincare, read labels and avoid products that list added “fragrance”. This broad term can mask hidden phthalates. Unfortunately, we cannot know how many phthalates are contained in the products we use every day.

The 2002 study conducted by the Environmental Working Group detected phthalates in almost three-quarters of the personal care products they tested which placed it amongst the EDCs on the top worst list by EWG. The study noted: "Major loopholes in federal law allow the… cosmetics industry to put unlimited amounts of phthalates into many personal care products with no required testing, no required monitoring of health effects, and no required labeling."

2. Parabens

Parabens are another chemical class of anti-androgens, but parabens pose an altogether different and perhaps more pressing danger. We are seeing record numbers of women under the age of 50 being diagnosed with breast cancer. A study published in 2012 suggests that parabens do indeed increase the risk of breast cancer. One of the many products containing parabens are anti-perspirants, and the research (reviewed in an editorial published in the Journal of Applied Toxicology) determined that higher concentrations of parabens were found in the upper quadrants of the breast and axillary area where antiperspirants are usually applied. The paraben concentrations were up to 1 million times higher than natural levels of estrogen (estradiol) usually found in mammary tissue. Some of the other everyday products that contain parabens include:

  • Lotion
  • Sunscreen
  • Deodorants
  • Shampoos and conditioners
  • Cosmetics
  • Shaving gel
  • Pharmaceuticals
  • Toothpaste
  • Food additives
  • Personal lubricant

Parabens are some of the most widely used chemicals in personal care products because they are used as preservatives. The Environmental Working Group's Skin Deep Cosmetics Database is an excellent source for researching the toxicity score of products you own and researching alternative products that are kinder to your body.

3. BPA

Bisphenol A, or BPA, is another top EDC found on the EWG's worst list. BPA is a chemical used in the manufacturing process of some plastics. Studies show that BPA has the ability to mimic estrogen in the body. Unfortunately, many skin care items are stored in plastic containers. One way to tell if a plastic container contains BPA is by checking the resin identification code. Try to avoid codes 3 and 7 because some plastics marked with those codes may include BPA.

Ultimately, many EDCs can be avoided, but we must take the step to protect ourselves against the invasion of countless chemicals. We will only reverse the alarming rate of endocrine disrupting chemicals sneaking into skincare products if we are proactive. We must read labels, educate ourselves, and demand safer products if we want to protect ourselves and future generations from the harmful effects of EDCs.