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Researchers are learning about endocrine disrupting chemicals. IVAN GENER / Stocksy
  • New research found that common toiletries may affect your hormones.
  • They found that people who avoided products with parabens, triclosan, and fragrances were twice as likely to be in the group with the lowest chemicals in the body.
  • However, people who tried to avoid BPA still had a significant amount of that chemical in their system.

While the bath products we choose are theoretically designed to clean our bodies, that doesn’t necessarily mean the products themselves are “clean.”

When bath and toiletry products are referred to as “clean,” it means they’re created with a mindfulness for the environment and for our bodies. Clean products are free of certain chemicals called endocrine disruptors, which can do harm.

Research on endocrine disruptors in products we use daily has been available for quite some time. But a new study conducted by the Silent Spring Institute confirmed that consumers who avoid products containing specific endocrine disruptors had significantly lower levels of the chemicals in their bodies.

“This study reinforces the real and immediate changes in the human body that can occur when you take safe and simple steps to prevent exposure to endocrine disruptors,” said Dr. Leonardo Trasande, a professor in the Department of Environmental Medicine at NYU Langone Health.

“You can see immediate levels of endocrine disruptors in days. Then there are medium and long-term effects.”

Endocrine disruptors are chemicals that are widely used in personal care products as well as household products. Researchers are watchful of the public’s exposure, as these chemicals can disrupt the body’s hormones and lead to health problems like reproductive disorders, thyroid disease, asthma, and cancers.

In the new study, researchers assessed the influence of different types of bath products on people’s exposures.

The researchers collected urine samples from 726 participants, which were analyzed for 10 common endocrine disruptors.

According to the report published in the International Journal of Hygiene and Environmental Health, researchers found that 87 percent of participants were taking steps to avoid certain chemicals in products.

When the researchers compared participants with each other, they found that people who avoided products with parabens, triclosan, and fragrances were twice as likely to be in the group with the lowest “body burden” for all chemicals combined.

“Body burden” is a term often used by environmental groups to refer to the amount of chemicals a person may be exposed to or the levels of certain chemicals in the body.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) refers to looking at the amount of chemicals in a person’s body as biomonitoring.

“This is one of those things that would be intuitively expected,” said Dr. Kenneth Spaeth, medical director of Occupational and Environmental Medicine Center at Northwell Health in Great Neck, New York.

“It’s almost going to be part of our general understanding that everyday products are contributing to our exposure.”

While people who tried to avoid certain chemicals were less likely to have signs of these chemicals in their system overall, this wasn’t true of all chemicals.

Researchers found those who tried to avoid products containing bisphenol A (BPA) by not eating food out of plastic containers or drinking out of metal cans still had levels similar to those who didn’t avoid the chemical. This means that these chemicals are being consumed in other ways that people may not be aware of.

“Although 86 percent of participants in this study reported avoiding BPA, urine concentrations of BPA, BPF, and BPS were not significantly different among avoiders and non-avoiders,” the researchers found.

The chemicals that researchers tested for included:

  • parabens
  • BPA
  • triclosan
  • benzophenone-3

Parabens are one of the most popular preservatives used in cosmetics pharmaceutical products. They’re also easily absorbed into the human body.

According to a 2019 study published in Dermatitis, parabens are associated with endocrine activity, carcinogens, infertility, spermatogenesis, and psychological and ecological disruptions.

When looking for parabens on ingredient labels, look for methylparaben, propylparaben, isoparaben, or butylparaben.

BPA is used to make polycarbonate plastics and epoxy resins, which are found in many packagings. It’s also found in toiletries and feminine hygiene products.

Another study published in Endocrine Reviews suggests that BPA may interact with hormone receptors, such as those for your thyroid, which can alter their function. BPA is found in polycarbonate plastic and is often used in containers that store food, beverages, and consumer goods.

Look for products labeled as BPA-free. If there’s no label, remember that plastics marked with recycle codes 3 or 7 may have BPA in them.

Triclosan is an antimicrobial agent that’s used in personal care products. It’s easily absorbed into the skin, and studies in Journal of Toxicology and Environmental Health show that exposure can lead to reproductive problems and may also affect immune response and cardiovascular function. Triclosan will be listed as itself.

Benzophenone-3 is used in sunscreen and cosmetics for its protection from ultraviolet (UV) rays. However, a study in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health has found that the chemical is involved in the disruption of the hypothalamic-pituitary-gonadal system, which regulates the reproductive and immune system. It will be listed as itself on an ingredients list.

Another chemical that experts suggest avoiding is phthalates. Phthalates are endocrine disrupting chemicals that are associated with pregnancy loss and adverse obstetrical outcomes, according to a study published in Scientific Reports.

They may be listed as “fragrance” on a variety of products. Phthalates are a group of chemicals that will have the word “phthalate” in them. They can be found in nail polish, hair sprays, aftershave lotions, soaps, shampoos, perfumes, and other toiletry items.

“To what extent are [endocrine disruptors] impacting things like the potential to increase certain types of cancer, asthma, autism, or neurological issues — that’s ultimately where studies like this one beg those kinds of questions and warrant that kind of research,” said Dr. Spaeth.

Here’s where it’s all about clean beauty. Choosing beauty products and toiletries that are clean is one of the fastest growing trends. “Clean beauty” refers to products made without ingredients that harm your health.

These ingredients include sulfates, parabens, phthalates, mineral oil, retinyl palmitate, coal tar, hydroquinone, triclosan, triclocarban, formaldehyde and formaldehyde-releasing agents, and all synthetic fragrances.

Bear in mind that “clean” isn’t a government-mandated term, and there’s still a lot of debate between groups to nail down an official definition. But basically the clean movement is about raising awareness over what we’re putting in our bodies.

You can also look for stamps like USDA organic, non-GMO, and Environmental Working Group (EWG). These don’t necessarily guarantee the products are safer, but it does mean they’ve passed additional tests and met certain guidelines.