Splash them on your face, spray them in your armpits, apply them to your eyelids, apply them to your lips and rinse them through your hair! Shampoos, deodorants, soaps, pastes, creams and scrubs are all formulated to make you feel and smell great. But are you checking the ingredients for endocrine disruptors?
- Make-up, cosmetics and hygiene/grooming products contain all kinds of chemicals, some are known to adversely affect female fertility
- These endocrine disrupters affect sex hormones that play an important role in the reproductive process.
This means that women trying to conceive should always check the ingredients and composition of their cosmetics and beauty products. However, this is counter-intuitive for many women who tend to choose items based on their favourite brands without giving it much thought.
The problem here is that many endocrine disruptors are absorbed through the body’s largest organ, our skin. In fact, some preparations are designed to do exactly that: penetrate the skin to rejuvenate it or endow some other desirable benefit. This can sometimes facilitate penetration by endocrine disruptors that may be present in the product.
There are no safe levels for endocrine disruptors
Certain public health authorities, such as the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the US, set acceptable limits for concentrations of chemicals in beauty/hygiene products. However, because each body is different in how it processes chemicals, it is impossible to say how well your body will cope with endocrine disruptors.
So, when you are trying to conceive, it is best to remember that there are no safe levels for these chemicals.
Avoiding endocrine disruptors
Here are four useful tips on the best way to avoid contact with endocrine disruptors that may be present in certain common beauty/hygiene products:
Choose the EU Eco-label
The European Commission has established a new set of Ecolabel criteria for cosmetic products that ban the use of endocrine disruptors. When you choose a product bearing this label you can rest assured that the product is environmentally friendly and free of harmful chemicals such as specific endocrine disruptors like the class of chemicals known as phthalates – see below.
Read the ingredients list
Nowadays, manufacturers need to list the constituents of their products if those products are designed for use in intimate contact with the human body. Here are some classes of chemical villains to look out for:
These endocrine disruptors are added to keep cosmetics free from bacteria and mould. Look out for the word paraben at the end of the chemical name: the most common ones are propylparaben, methylparaben, butylparaben and ethylparaben.
These chemicals are added to stop the product dissolving/melting due to heat, like on a hot summer day: so pay attention to sunscreen products. With this class of chemical, you are looking for the word benzone at the end of the name. Common ones include sulisobenzone, oxybenzone and sodium sulisobenzone. Also check for anything listed as BP with a number after it.
These are also known as BPAs and have been banned in the formulation of cosmetics. However, they can still be found in make-up packaging, the eco-label can help here.
Phthalates are endocrine disruptors, which are added to cosmetics to maintain colour. Look out for acronyms like DEP, DBP and DEHP.
An unnecessary antiseptic additive, this one is known to have endocrine disrupting properties and can often be found in soaps and hand washes, also check your toothpaste!
- Polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAs)
These are sometimes added to help skin penetration. They can be found in moisturisers and some foundation creams. Look out for anything with the word fluoro in it. Also avoid anything with the acronym PTFE.
Use a mobile app to identify problem chemicals as well as endocrine disruptors
If trying to remember all these chemicals gives you a headache, then there are apps to help. In the UK, you can use apps to identify chemicals in cosmetics and other products that you may wish to avoid. The one we recommend is Giki that checks over 280,000 products for chemicals of concern, animal welfare impact, sustainability, and overall healthiness. Just scan the barcode or use the search function to check your potential purchase choices.
Other similar apps are available in other countries, for instance, in the US, Apple has an app called Think Dirty, which assesses chemicals in everyday products.
Fragrances in products are often due to artificial chemical additives. Whereas many fragrance emitting chemicals are not harmful, manufacturers don’t have to list them, so it is impossible to tell whether the ones in your product are harmless. In general, it’s best to assume the worst and go for fragrance-free products.
Following these simple steps, you should be able to keep ahead of the endocrine disruptors and any threat they pose to your fertility via cosmetic and hygiene products. In addition, you can also feel virtuous in the knowledge that you will also be choosing products that don’t harm the environment and that have not harmed animals at any stage in their manufacture.