Ask the Doctor: Endocrine Disruptors in Personal Care Products

Posted on Apr 16, 2013 in Research

Q:  I’ve been reading about endocrine disruptors in personal care products. Can you explain these and suggest safer alternatives?

— Danika in San Diego, CA


Endocrine disruptors are chemicals that imitate or alter the function of normal body hormones. For example, they may mimic estrogen, interfere with thyroid hormone, or bind up testosterone.

Estrogen mimics may increase the risk of hormone sensitive cancers such as breast, ovarian, and prostate cancer. Thyroid disruptors increase the risk of hypothyroidism. In hypothyroidism, elevated TSH acts as a growth signal for thyroid cancer and melanoma.

Phthalates make plastics soft and also mimic estrogen. Phthalates make a sandwich bag pliable or a food container squishy. Phthalates leak into your food when it is heated or frozen. So, I recommend heating and freezing food in Pyrex or glass instead. It’s probably okay to store refrigerated items in plastic, though Pyrex is still preferable. Fat picks up phthalates more easily than water does. So avoid wrapping cheese in plastic wrap. Instead, wrap cheese in butcher paper before putting it in plastic. Or, just store it in glass.

Because of phthalates, bottled water is not preferable to tap water. Buy a refillable filter cup instead.

Many personal care products have estrogen and progesterone added, though that’s not on the label. Estrogen is commonly added to “antiaging” creams and is labelled as “placental extract”.

For more information about hidden sources of endocrine disruptors and their safer alternatives, visit the Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep Shopping Guide.