You may not even know that dyes, fragrance, parabens, phthalates & sulfates have made their way into the products you use every day in your home. It seems you can’t turn a corner without hearing these “buzz words” as they relate to your health. And rightfully so! We are now seeing more than ever, well-publicized studies on the toxic effects these Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals (EDCs) have on our internal organs when they consistently come into contact with our skin (our largest organ of all!). Sunscreen, shampoo, toothpaste, deodorant, glass cleaner, laundry detergent, perfume and everyday cosmetics are just a few products we need to be vigilantly reading the labels of before we purchase them to identify if they contain any EDCs.
What is the Endocrine System?
Before I describe how EDCs create hormone imbalance – let’s define “endocrine.” Your endocrine system is made up of your reproductive organs, thyroid and adrenal glands, pancreas and hypothalamus. This network connects your brain, throat and abdomen, by way of hormones. Hormones control or regulate many biological processes in the body and act as chemical messengers that are released into the blood stream, to act on an organ, or another part of the body. (1)
How Chemicals Create Hormone Imbalance
When we call a chemical an Endocrine Disrupting Chemical (EDC) we mean that it interferes with your body’s delicate hormone balance by:
- Mimicking already occurring hormones, like, estrogen and thyroid hormone, leading to over-stimulation and a common condition known as hormone “dominance”; or
- Blocking where those hormones are made, known as “antagonizing,” which alters the normal metabolism of your hormones in your liver. (2)
Consistent exposure to EDCs via the products we are using in our homes for personal hygiene or cleaning products are now being linked to everything from fetal developmental malformations, infertility (in both men and women) an increased risk of many forms of cancer, a lowered immune response and neurological deficits. (3) Despite the documented risks associated with long-term exposure to EDCs, there are very few laws prohibiting manufacturers from using them, in the United States, while Canada and the European Union (EU) have banned them.
The Top 5 Endocrine Disruptors to Avoid
In a study conducted by the Environmental Working Group (EWG), the average American adult uses nine personal care products each day containing approximately 126 different chemicals. (4) The list of EDCs continues to grow, but if I had to say there were a few non-negotiables, as-in, “when you pick that item off the shelf in the store, flip it over and check the ingredients list” for absolute “no-no’s,” these would be the first that come to mind. If the product you want contains any of the following EDCs, go ahead and place it back on the shelf or opt for greener, non-toxic versions (I’ll share a few of my favorites “swaps” later in this post, so stick with me):
- Dyes – are what makes your favorite laundry detergent or dish soap “blue” or lipstick “red.” Artificial colors are directly linked to allergic reactions, hyperactivity and certain forms of cancer. (5)
- Fragrance – is pretty darn ambiguous. Manufacturers are not obligated to disclose to the consumer what makes up “fragrance.” The EPA tested fragrances for chemicals in 1991 and found a list of the following chemicals in perfume: acetone, benzaldehyde, benzyl acetate, benzyl alcohol, camphor, ethanol, ethyl acetate, limonene, linalool and methylene chloride – usually in some combination. (6)
- Parabens – are the preservatives that give products “shelf-life.” In a study conducted by the Journal of Applied Toxicology, traces of parabens were found in estrogen responsive breast cancer tissue. (7) This of course doesn’t prove that parabens directly cause breast cancer, but I’m not willing to take a chance.
- Pthalates – are the one group of EDCs that is literally in every personal care product to create a more “moisturizing” effect (increased viscosity), however, they are also nearly in every plastic container, plastic toy and in every perfume to make the fragrance last longer. (8) Phthalates can be inhaled, ingested or absorbed and are linked with early puberty, low sperm count and estrogen dominance.
- Sulfates – as in Sodium Lauryl Sulfate or SLS, is the most widely used surfactant in personal care and cleaning products because it is responsible for creating that “foamy” consistency. Research shows that SLS creates neurotoxicity, developmental delays, hormone imbalance and cancer. (9)
Read Labels and Lighten Your Toxic Load
First, don’t panic. The truth of it is that toxins are everywhere but there’s hope inside the home! If you are struggling with a new or chronic health issue and are motivated to make lasting change, begin by taking inventory of all of the products you are using and then read the ingredient labels. Start with reducing and eventually eliminating the five non-negotiable Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals (EDCs) I just highlighted. In my functional diagnostic medicine practice, this is a necessary component to healing, because what you put “on your body” is as equally as important as what you put “inside your body.” (Click here to schedule a consult with me so I can see where you have been, where you want to be and partner with you in getting there.) When you are ready for greener versions, you can always trust a product with the “USDA Organic Seal,” to know it is toxin-free, or, you are welcome to try some of the non or low-toxin products I use in my home.
Safer Personal Care Products
For body wash, I use Earth Mama Foaming Wash for the baby and Honest Company 2-in-One for my toddler. My husband and I both use whatever organic bar soap is on sale that week at our local natural foods store. For shampoo, conditioner and any hair styling products we alternate between Aveda and Davines which are both mostly plant derived and eco-friendly. Instead of buying moisturizer or lotion I make my own whipped body butter and change up the essential oil blend each time which is really fun. I stopped wearing perfume years ago, when I became pregnant with my first child, instead, opting for essential oil blends in a rollerball (same for candles – I only use them if the power goes out! ha! Otherwise I’m constantly diffusing different essential oil blends). For cosmetics, I use a scattered mix of products from several lines that have no chemicals like 100% Pure all the way to LimeLife which has some chemicals. When it comes to sunscreen I use the baby, kid and adult sunblocks from ThinkSport because they are the first to create a non-toxic sunscreen to pass the Whole Foods Premium Care Requirements (which means they work with no chemicals at all!) For deodorant we rotate between Schmidt’s and Native. And finally – when it comes down to toothpaste, I make my own re-mineralizing tooth powder but my toddler and husband use Hello non-toxic toothpaste.
And when it comes down to cleaning my house – I like to keep it simple. I make my own glass and granite counter top cleaner, and use Young Living Thieves Cleaner for the floors and bathrooms. To clean the dishes I use Honest Free and Clear and for the laundry I have been using Ecos magnolia and lily detergent for years.
Lastly, please understand it is perfectly okay to feel overwhelmed by all of this information (and almost annoyed that they are in everyday products you spend money on and had no clue of their negative health effects). Just take it one product/chemical at a time and watch you and your family’s health improve over time.