Chemicals in Our Cosmetics: It’s Not Pretty

As women, we all want to look and feel our best. We know the confidence that comes from within when we have a great hair day, our skin is clear and bright, and we feel beautiful. I see so many women at Women to Women struggling with hormonal imbalance or adrenal fatigue and my patients often tell me that it’s hard to look great when you are not feeling great.

That’s why we work together to get at the root cause of the symptoms and to actually treat them rather than just cover them up. To look and feel great, you need to be physically symptom-free so your hair, skin and body can radiate good health and you also need a healthy mood and emotional state as well.

At Women to Women, we work with our patients to resolve and clear the emotional and mood-based symptoms of hormonal balance as well as the physical ones. We also believe it’s important to remove emotional blocks and barriers and resolve any buried emotions; they may be hidden but often surface during menstruation or menopause as a gift from our body to us to heal them.

We know first-hand that women can restore their inner and outer beauty with good nutrition and lifestyle choices and some transitional supplementation support. Our Personal Products have helped thousands of women to do just that and we’ve witnessed many extraordinary transformations. Getting there, however, is a process that takes a little time and support.

During that time, we may need a little help and many of my patients turn to cosmetics and beauty products to help them look better. Unfortunately, the beauty industry is largely unregulated and many of the ingredients used in these products contain chemicals that can disrupt your hormones even further, make things worse, and lead to a number of health concerns over time including metabolic syndrome and even cancer.

That’s a high price to pay! But there are other options. Let’s look at what you need to know about chemicals in our cosmetics and why it’s important to make better choices.

Women are Exposed to 168 Chemicals A Day

A recent study by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) revealed that women use on average 12 personal care or cosmetic products a day and that those products contain as many as 168 different chemicals. While they may be in low doses, studies have shown that ongoing low-dose exposure and the cumulative effect it has over time can be as damaging or even more damaging than a single large dose exposure. And we are talking about 168 different chemicals: how they interact with each other has not been studied.

More concerning is that teenagers use an average of 17 products a day, putting their potential exposure on their developing minds and bodies at over 200 different chemicals.  If you’re wondering about your man, men use fewer products, but still get exposure to about 85 chemicals a day. Given that this exposure occurs over a lifetime, this is cause for concern.

We are now more focused on eating better foods and choosing organic, but the truth is that applying chemicals to skin enhances the likelihood of absorption into the blood: what we put on our bodies matters even more than what we are eating. (Just rub a piece of garlic on the bottom of your foot and see how long it takes until you taste garlic in your mouth!)

In fact, when EWG looked at the presence of chemicals inside the bodies of teenagers, they found 16 different hormone-altering chemicals, including phthalates and parabens. Just what a teenager needs: more hormone disruption!

One of the problems is that in the US, there is very little regulation of beauty and personal care products. Unlike in Europe where over a thousand of ingredients have been banned from personal care products, in the U.S., the FDA only prohibits eleven chemicals/chemical groups from use in products.  Instead, the industry is self-regulated by a review board, which in its 30-year history has only restricted 11 items from use, and even then, its decisions are not binding.

In addition, there are little to no labeling requirements for cosmetics and personal care products: companies can use the terms, “natural,” “hypoallergenic” and even “organic” with little regulation. In fact, organic personal care products may contain as little as 10% organic ingredients and may still contain harmful petrochemicals even though they claim to be organic.

We’ve known for some time that these chemicals can disrupt our body’s natural processes and interfere with our hormones, causing a number of health concerns. At our practice, we see the impact they can have on women’s menstrual cycles, including more severe PMS and menopausal symptoms. Now a new study concludes that exposure to beauty products can actually trigger early menopause.

Chemical Exposure Can Lead to Early Menopause

One of the most comprehensive studies ever done on menopause and endocrine disruptors shows that exposure to chemicals such as dioxins from pesticides, phthalates from fragrances, plastics, cosmetics and hairspray, and polychlorinated biphenyls can result in menopause as many as four years earlier.

The study took blood and urine samples from women over a ten-year period and analyzed them for chemicals such as pesticides and other endocrine disruptors. They also asked the women questions about health nutrition and menopausal status every two years. In total, the researchers found 111 chemicals present in their blood and urine and they showed that the women with the highest levels of the chemicals entered menopause on average between 2 and 4 years earlier than the women who had lower levels.

The study concluded it wasn’t simply exposure to the chemicals that triggered the body’s response; it was increasing exposure over time that led to the impaired ovarian function. When they looked at all women over 30, those with the highest levels of exposure in their blood and urine were 6 times more likely to be menopausal than the women with lower exposure levels.

While more studies will be needed before we can conclude with certainty that one causes the other, the link between the two has now been proven. Previous studies have already linked endocrine disruptors to disturbances and imbalances in reproductive hormones such as estrogen, so following that disruption through to its next logical impact, early menopause, makes sense. In time, I think we’ll also see verification of a comparable impact on the age that young girls reach puberty.

What is especially concerning is that it is very difficult for women to reduce their exposure to all of these toxins. Many of the environmental chemicals have half-lives that take decades for them to break down; even if they have been banned in the US in the 1970’s as PCB’s were, they remain in the air, soil and water. In addition, several of these substances are still in use in other countries and make their way into our air and food supply.

But many of them, however, are well within our control. There are things that we all can – and should – do to reduce our exposure including going “green” in our household products and choosing organic in our food and beauty product purchases.

Given that it is the exposure over time that adds up and makes a difference, every little choice that we can make to avoid adding to our toxic load may be one that keeps our hormones and our bodies functioning optimally over time.

Here are a few ways to avoid chemical exposure in your daily life:

  • Avoid plastics, especially in food packaging
  • Minimize microwaving and only do so in glass containers
  • Avoid handling cash register receipts
  • Choose organic health and beauty cosmetics and products that don’t contain pesticides and other chemicals. There are some great ones out there but you’ll have to read the labels.  Especially try to avoid “fragrance” or “parfum” which contains phthalates, and look to avoid parabens. The Environmental Working Group has a list that can guide you.
  • Try using natural remedies and products. Coconut oil is a great moisturizer for skin, nails, lips and hair.
  • Eat organic fruits and vegetables, grass-fed meat and wild caught fish. Minimize packaged, processed foods.
  • Take a high quality multivitamin such as the one we offer to keep your body and your immune system strong.
  • We now know that digestive microbes impact our overall health so we recommend that every woman take a probiotic supplement as well. You can learn more about probiotics in our article here.

There are a lot more things that we can do; at Women to Women, we’ve been talking about the harms of exposure to these products for decades. We have much more information on endocrine disruptors to share with you in our library at www.womentowomen.com.

To learn more about our hormonal balance support products and our nutritional supplementation in order to minimize the impact of chemical exposures, click here.