For the past few weeks I’ve been sharing different ways to support healthy hormones in honor of Breast Cancer Awareness month. Prevention is key and there is so much you can do such as stabilizing blood sugar, incorporating intermittent fasting, supporting gut health and this week we’re discussing personal care products.
How Many Skincare Products Did You Use Today?
Take a moment and count how many products you used as you got ready in the morning. No really, take a moment and count. I’ll do this too. I came up with 14 for today. And I like to consider myself moderately low-maintenance! But, maybe not. (Full disclosure: I put on more makeup today and did two mask treatments this morning, so that increased the number. Some mornings I may only use 6-7.)
Women use an average of 12 personal care products a day. That can equate to 168 unique chemical ingredients! How many did you count for yourself just for this morning? Makeup, hair care products, skin care products and don’t forget perfume. Teenage girls use an average of 17 personal care products a day. (1) Remember when you were a teenager? Did you worry about what was in your personal care products? I know I did not!
Chemicals in Our Environment
There are more than 85,000 chemicals registered for use and approximately 2,800 high-production-volume chemicals produced in the U.S. (2, 3) These are chemicals used extensively in homes, schools and in our communities, but less than one third of these have publicly available safety data and less than 2% have been researched for their impact on children. (4)
People often believe that if a product is on the shelf it must be safe. But, the truth is personal care products are some of the least-regulated consumer products on the market. The FDA DOES NOT require cosmetic ingredients be assessed for safety before going on the market, nor can they issue a product recall. (5)
Instead, we as consumers have to be very savvy and read the labels to determine what is safe for ourselves and our families. You may think, “well, it’s just a small amount”. But, our body is designed to respond to minute amounts of hormones. Think of the hormone system as a series of locks (receptors) and keys (hormones). We have a finite number of locks in the body and the keys float around unlocking them. But what happens when we have more keys (because in addition to what our body makes we are absorbing more from the environment) than locks? It doesn’t take much to throw the system off.
When it comes to hormone health, this is my very top ingredient to avoid:
This is the most pervasive and the most important area to address. If you only do one, do this one. X10. Why does fragrance, or things you breathe in, matter so much? There are three main ways chemicals get inside us:
Chemicals that enter the body via inhalation or absorption hit the blood stream before reaching the liver to be broken down and excreted. That means those chemicals circulate throughout your body FIRST. Your body actually has more protective mechanisms for chemicals that are ingested, versus those that you breathe in or absorb.
Fragrance is a term that can include up to 3000 ingredients and not a single one has to be disclosed to you, the consumer. (6) The biggest concern: phthalates. There isn’t just one phthalate, but a class of them. These help plastics stay soft and flexible (think shower curtains) and they are used in personal care products as a solvent or fixative for color and fragrance (makes the product stick to you).
Phthalates are known endocrine disruptors that are linked to early puberty in girls, which can increase their risk for breast cancer. (7) Phthalates are also known as obesogenic chemicals, linked to obesity, insulin resistance and diabetes. (8, 9) According to the Breast Cancer Prevention Partners, phthalates are one of the top ingredients to avoid.
Where are the Phthalates?
The tricky thing is that you will not see the word phthalates on the ingredient list. It is considered proprietary information when used as part of the fragrance. It is also in nearly ALL conventional make-up as it helps the make-up stick to you. When looking at the ingredient list, look for the word ‘fragrance’ or ‘perfume’ and avoid it like the plague. When it comes to makeup, you have to dig into the company and figure out how they formulate their products. This is one of the big reasons I’ve become so loyal to Beautycounter because being transparent with their ingredients is one of their core values, as is testing and re-testing ingredients for safety.
Recently I attended a Beautycounter training and heard this story about how some rose petals were being tested and were found to be contaminated with phthalates. They were JUST rose petals. They shouldn’t have had anything else in them. But, they found phthalates, one of the ingredients on their never list. They had to dig and figure out how the rose petals were being collected to determine where the phthalates were coming from. Turns out, they were collecting them with plastic bags. From the time the petals were collected to the time they entered the factory for processing was just enough time to contaminate the entire batch with phthalates. BC worked with this particular distributor to change their collection process and now that company collects rose petals using burlap sacks. No more phthalates. The best part? They don’t just do this for Beautycounter, they do this for every company they distribute rose petals too. It is their new standard practice.
Here’s the takeaway from this story: companies do not have to test their products for phthalates because it is connected to the fragrance and that information is proprietary. No one is making a company assess the safety of those ingredients and so they just aren’t. That costs extra money and takes time and resources.
Simple Resource: Healthy Living App
I know just how overwhelming it can be (picture me with a squirmy toddler on my back trying to read labels in a natural food store a few years back…) to figure out what is safe and what isn’t. Today, we have more resources at our fingertips, literally. Download the HealthyLiving App on your phone and then you can literally scan the products in your bathroom and see what the safety rating is. (Warning: Highly addictive, and if you have kids, they are going to scan EVERYTHING.) You may not want to clean out all of your products, but at least you can be informed about what you are using on a day-to-day basis and make a decision about what you want to do next.
Here’s The Best News:
In a study done on teenage girls, by switching to safer products with cleaner ingredients, the girls significantly reduced the concentration of chemicals in their urine in just three days. (10) Just three days. This study demonstrated the powerful impact we can have on our body burden by just becoming more conscious consumers.
2: # Chemicals https://www.epa.gov/sciencematters/improved-methods-estimating-chemical-exposure (last accessed 10/24/17)
3: High Production Chemicals: https://nepis.epa.gov/exe/ZyPDF.cgi/7000052X.PDF?Dockey=7000052X.PDF (last accessed 10/24/17)
4: Kids: https://www.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2015-09/documents/20110721-11-p-0379.pdf (last accessed 10/24/17)
5: FDA Regulations: http://www.fda.gov/cosmetics/guidanceregulation/lawsregulations/ucm074162.htm (last accessed 10/24/17)
6: Fragrance: http://www.ifraorg.org/en-us/ingredients#VJM8HmTF9bU (last accessed 10/24/17)
7: Steingraber, S. (2007). The Falling Age of Puberty in U.S. Girls: What We Know, What we Need to Know. San Francisco: Breast Cancer Fund.
8: Kim and Park. Phthalate exposure and childhood obesity. Ann Pediatr Endocrinol Metab. 2014 Jun; 19(2):69-75.
9: Lind, PM., Zethelius, B., Lind, L. (2012). Circulating levels of phthalate metabolites are associated with prevalent diabetes in the elderly. Diabetes Care. 1935-5548.
10: https://ehp.niehs.nih.gov/15-10514/ (last accessed 10/24/17)