Think about this: you’re standing behind an old car which hasn’t gone through a routine control in a while, breathing in all that smelly exhaust fumes. Most of us would run away. Yet we don’t ask ourselves any questions when we use personal care products, not knowing how and if what we’re putting on our skin, in our mouths, on our clothes, affects us.
There is a growing concern all over the world about the potential side effects of endocrine disruptors, many of which can be found in the personal care products we use every day.
The European Union is taking an active stance on the topic. Some endocrine disruptors are already banned and a lot of research is currently underway.
It is very difficult to prove that a substance is toxic, as many factors need to be taken into account: an exposure at a specific time in a person’s life, how regularly one is exposed to it even in tiny quantities, how different substances interact with each other, etc.
There are a myriad of products these days that contain much less controversial ingredients than a few years ago. You can use apps such as Clean Beauty or the Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep database to check the ingredients in the products you buy in the future.
You’ve probably heard of the term “endocrine disruptors”. These are substances that can have harmful effects on the body’s endocrine (hormone) system. Endocrine disruptors can modify the production of our natural hormones by interfering with their synthesis, their transport, or their elimination; mimicking their action by substituting them in biological mechanisms; or impeding their actions by fixing themselves on hormone receptors.
By the way, not only women are concerned by this. Men have hormones too, so keep reading even if you’re a man!
Is anybody doing something about this?
There is a growing concern all over the world about the potential side effects of endocrine disruptors, and –thank god- the European Union is doing something about it. It has already introduced specific legislative obligations aimed at phasing out endocrine disruptors in water, industrial chemicals, plant protection products and biocides. Last April, the European Parliament adopted a non-binding resolution asking the European Commission to ensure a higher level of protection against endocrine disruptors by making a legislative proposal on the matter in 2020. Some phthalates are already banned from toys and cosmetics, matresses, flooring etc. Things are definitely moving towards the right direction, but like everything, it’s a long, hard process.
Why should I be worried about this?
Because many of these endocrine disruptors can unfortunately be found in the personal care products we use. We don’t even think about it, but even before leaving our house in the morning, we might have already been exposed to dozens of substances. Here’s a list: shampoo, shower gel, deodorant, toothbrush, moisturiser, face cream, sunscreen, perfume, aftershave, hand wash – and if you’re a woman nail polish, make up, eye shadow, mascara, blush etc. Just look at the ingredients on all these products and do the maths. Obviously, not all are endocrine disruptors so don’t freak out! (yet).
But why would companies use ingredients that are bad for us?
That’s a very legit question. Companies (or the industry for that matter) don’t intentionally look to make us sick. Many of these endocrine disruptors are suspected to be harmful, but very few of them (like some phtalates), have actually been proven to have a direct harmful effect. That’s where the problem lies. It is extremely difficult to prove that a substance is toxic. Sometimes the effect might only be visible much later in life, if the individual was exposed to a specific toxin and specific moment in his/her life. It might not be possible to prove that suspected endocrine disruptor “A” is harmful, but it could very well be that:
-A heavy dose of “A” doesn’t cause any issues, but regular exposure to tiny dosages of it does
-“A”is toxic only at a specifically vulnerable moment in an individual’s life, such the time it spends in the womb, or in pre-adolescent years. Fun fact: did you know that ovaries are already formed in the 5th month of an embryo’s life in the womb? Pregnant women need to be particularly mindful about what they expose themselves to as it might affect not just one, but two generations.
-“A” isn’t harmful on its own. But “A”+ “A”1+“A”2, even in tiny doses, are (so-called “cocktail effect”). A research project has recently warned that the health risks associated with the combined exposures to endocrine disrupting chemicals areunder current assessment methods in the European Union.
As you can see the issue is extremely complex. We should be very grateful to all scientists doing research on this, be it with exotoxicological, epidemiological, in vitro and in vivo studies. We will definitely have more answers in the near future.
So what do we do until then?
If you have been reading my blog posts for a while, you would have realised how much prevention is at the core of what I do. Lifestyle includes our environment, and exposing ourselves to a minimum of potentially harmful substances is just an important investment in our health as eating real food. “Better safe than sorry” is my mantra, and, contrary to what many people think, this hasn’t turned me into a neurotic, obsessed woman who stresses out about the effects of every single thing she buys and uses.
An easy and quick way to check if there’s anything in your products that is considered as controversial is to use the app Clean Beauty (I’m not getting paid to advertise them!). I also avoid anything with “perfume” as it might contain phthalates, and even though some of them are banned in Europe, not all of them are (and I will not wait until it’s proven that more are). You can find many unscented products, or products that use essential oils instead of synthetic fragrances. Frankly, once you stop using your regular products, the scent of chemical fragrances will most probably cause you to get a headache, or just feel strange. You will also realise that you don’t need to smell like a meadow when you come out of the shower. Nor do your washed clothes need to smell like spring/summer/a specific flower (it’s more important that they don’t stink!). Another substance to watch out for are parabens (methylparaben, propylparaben, etc). If you want any specific information on a substance, have a look at the Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep database.
Environmental toxicity is a topic that I have been wishing to address for a while, thus the length of this blog post. Hopefully it wasn’t too daunting. I would love to hear what you think about this topic in the comments below.
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