a cartoonish image of various personal hygiene products

Xenoestrogens in Hygiene Products

Many people consider their bathrooms to be a pretty safe and cozy place. Hot showers and some privacy serve as a nice escape from the hustle and bustle of modern day-to-day life. Unfortunately, certain aspects of that modern life have managed to bleed into some products we consider to be pretty basic aspects of our personal hygiene. This includes our shampoos, deodorants, soaps, shaving creams, and even our toothpaste. Too many health sites recommend avoiding all “chemicals” and using only natural ingredients, but those are silly suggestions. Everything is chemicals, and many natural ingredients also have estrogenic effects. There are many xenoestrogens in hygiene products, and it’s difficult to avoid them all.

MOST COMMON XENOESTROGENS IN HYGIENE PRODUCTS

There are several different kinds of xenoestrogens in hygiene products, some more common than others. Let’s take a look at the biggest offenders.

PARABENS

Parabens are found in all kinds of hygiene products, usually listed as propylparaben, butylparaben, or methylparaben. You may also see ethylparaben or parahydroxybenzoate. Parabens may cause several issues with the skin, like skin irritation and rashes 1. And of course, they also have xenoestrogenic effects. Parabens can function as endocrine system disruptors, potentially causing fertility issues, breast cancer 2, and obesity, among other issues 3

SULFATES

Sulfates are found in all kinds of “lathering” or “foaming” products, including shampoo. They come in many different forms, including SLES, SLS, ALES, and ALS. You should avoid all of them when possible 4. In shampoos, you’ll most often find it as SLES (sodium laureth sulfate) or ALES (ammonium laureth sulfate). These substances are absorbed through the skin 5 and act as xenoestrogens.

PHTHALATES

Phthalates are pretty sneaky and a little harder to avoid since they’re rarely listed in the ingredients of a product, instead hiding behind the generic “fragrances” listing. They may be useful for making things smell good and helping that scent linger, but unfortunately phthalates are also associated with hormonal issues like reduced sperm count, obesity, and birth defects, among others 6. They have even been associated with reduced testosterone levels in men 7


WHAT HYGIENE PRODUCTS CONTAIN XENOESTROGENS?

The three most common xenoestrogens in hygiene products we just went over are found abundantly in almost every type of personal hygiene product. This means shampoo, deodorant, toothpaste, and many more. It’s worth being extra cautious with things that spend a long time on your skin, like deodorant or lotion, because they will have plenty of time to be absorbed.

SHAMPOO

A generic bottle of shampoo.
Shampoos contain a lot of xenoestrogens, many that can be absorbed through the skin.

Shampoo is one of the most basic hygiene products people use today. Not everyone uses conditioner, but pretty much everyone uses shampoo. Nobody wants oily, greasy hair. Unfortunately, almost all commercial shampoos available today are loaded with XEs. Some few offer sulfate or paraben free versions, which is definitely better than nothing. But those chemicals are only part of this issue. Most shampoos also contain phthalates. I’ve found a handful of XE free shampoos you might try:

 

 

 

 

DEODORANT

Deodorants contain many of the common XEs found in hygiene products, like phthalates and parabens. Many also contain aluminum which is not a xenoestrogen, but has many health issues of its own 8. Some XE free deodorants are:

 

SOAP

Two boring blocks of soap that likely contain xenoestrogens.
Many soaps contain fragrances, dyes, and other added chemicals. Unfortunately, many of them are xenoestrogens.

Almost all soaps contain a number of parabens and phthalates, which are best avoided. However many soaps also contain substances such as triclocarban and triclosan. You’ll find these in anti-bacterial soaps and other washes, where they are used for their – you guessed it – anti-bacterial properties. Such unnecessarily stringent standards of hygiene are not without their issues 9 where they have been found to build up populations of antibiotic resistant genes in bacteria 10, which is a significant issue. But as xenoestrogens, they have also been found to reduces testicular testosterone production 11 in men (obviously). And here’s an appropriately manly soap to counteract those anti-testosterone effects.

SUNSCREEN AND SUNBLOCK

A simple image of a bottle full of sunscreen.
Xenoestrogens found in sunscreens have a long time to be absorbed through the skin, and may be broken down by the sun.

Sunscreens are an unexpected source of a number of XEs and other troublesome substances. People use sunscreens to protect them from sunburn and skin cancer, but it may be that sunscreens containing avobenzone, benzphenone, ethoxycinnamate, and PABA may actually contribute to the development of cancers 12 13. This is thanks In large part to the effect UV light has on these compounds, breaking them down into free radicals. As for xenoestrogens, sunscreen also frequently contain parabens, sulfates, and phthalates. However they also usually contain benzophenones, which have been studied for concerns over their ability to reduce the activity of enzymes that aid in testosterone production 14 15. For a sunscreen without everything we just mentioned, look for a sunscreen that uses zinc oxide. The disadvantage with these though is that unlike most sunblocks which are absorbed by the skin, these stay on the surface and can be quite thick, which can make you look paler than you actually are and can be hard to apply to already wet skin. So if possible, try wearing light long-sleeved clothing and wide-brimmed hats to protect your skin from the sun. Alternatively, you might try an astaxanthin supplement. Not something you’d expect from a pill, but astaxanthin has the ability to make your skin temporarily more resistant to sunburn and skin cancer 16. This is very handy for moderate sun exposure, but you can still be burned by extended intense sun exposure so keep that in mind.

SHAVING CREAM AND MOISTURIZER

These two, shaving cream and moisturizers, have a lot in common. Once again, they both contain parabens (often as preservatives), sulfates (for foaming action), and phthalates (for scent and emulsifying). Just that stuff is bad enough. But what makes these potentially more dangerous than shampoo is that they are rubbed into the skin on your face, which is very sensitive and rich and more absorbent than most other skin on the body. Add warm water and steam to expand the pores, and you’ve got a lot of this stuff being absorbed very easily. Luckily, there are alternatives without the harmful XEs and other bad stuff.

TOOTHPASTE

Toothpaste being put on a toothbrush.
Xenoestrogens in toothpaste are of extra concern because of how easily they can be swallowed or absorbed through the mouth.

Last but definitely not least, let’s take a look at toothpaste. You don’t have to look very hard to see the issue with XEs in your toothpaste. The tissues that make up the inside of your mouth are more absorbent than the skin, much more. Sublingual dosing, where you hold something under your tongue until it dissolves, is the method of choice for some drugs and medicines. And of course, anything you put in your mouth can be swallowed easily. Most people know better than to swallow toothpaste, but that doesn’t stop some small amounts from mixing with saliva and making it down anyway. Despite that, there are a number of xenoestrogens found in almost all toothpastes like parabens, sulfates, and fluoride. Here’s a few quality XE free toothpastes you might pick up next time your tube runs dry.

 

(Header image credit to BartuLenka at Pixabay)

Notes:

  1. http://www.cdc.gov/biomonitoring/Parabens_BiomonitoringSummary.html
  2. Charles AK, Darbre PD. Combinations of parabens at concentrations measured in human breast tissue can increase proliferation of MCF-7 human breast cancer cells. J Appl Toxicol. 2013 May;33(5):390-8.
  3. Meeker JD. Exposure to Environmental Endocrine Disruptors and Child Development. Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. 2012;166(10):952-958. doi:10.1001/archpediatrics.2012.241.
  4. El-Sharkawy GF “Awareness of Sodium Lauryl Sulfate & Sodium Laureth Sulfate Health Hazards among Users” Journal of American Science, 2011;7(4)
  5. Karande P, Jain A, Mitragotri S “Discovery of transdermal penetration enhancers by high-throughput screening.” Nature Biotechnology 2004 Feb;22(2):192-7
  6. Crinnion WJ. Toxic effects of the easily avoidable phthalates and parabens. Altern Med Rev. 2010 Sep;15(3):190-6.
  7. Meeker JD, Ferguson KK “Urinary phthalate metabolites are associated with decreased serum testosterone in men, women, and children from NHANES 2011-2012.” Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism 2014 Nov;99(11):4346-52. doi: 10.1210
  8. Lewis L, Carson S, Bydder S, et al “Evaluating the effects of aluminum-containing and non-aluminum containing deodorants on axillary skin toxicity during radiation therapy for breast cancer: a 3-armed randomized controlled trial.” International Journal of Radiation Oncology, Biology, Physics 2014 Nov 15;90(4):765-71. doi: 10.1016/
  9. Hartmann EM, Hickey R, Hsu T “Antimicrobial Chemicals Are Associated with Elevated Antibiotic Resistance Genes in the Indoor Dust Microbiome.” Environmental Science and Technology 2016 Sep 7
  10. Randall LP, Cooles SW, Piddock LJV, Woodward MJ “Effect of triclosan or a phenolic farm disinfectant on the selection of antibiotic-resistant Salmonella enterica” J. Antimicrob. Chemother. (September 2004) 54 (3): 621-627. doi: 10.1093/jac/dkh376
  11. Kumar V, Balomajumder C, Roy P “Disruption of LH-induced testosterone biosynthesis in testicular Leydig cells by triclosan: Probable mechanism of action” Toxicology, Volume 250, Issue 2, Pages 124-131
  12. Shin S, Go RE, Kim CW “Effect of benzophenone-1 and octylphenol on the regulation of epithelial-mesenchymal transition via an estrogen receptor-dependent pathway in estrogen receptor expressing ovarian cancer cells.” Food and Chemical Toxicology 2016 Jul;93:58-65. doi: 10.1016
  13. Vilela FM, Oliveira FM, Vicentini FT, et al “Commercial sunscreen formulations: UVB irradiation stability and effect on UVB irradiation-induced skin oxidative stress and inflammation.” Journal of Photochemistry and Photobiology 2016 Sep 5;163:413-420. doi: 10.1016
  14. Nashev LG, Schuster D, Laggner C, et al “The UV-filter benzophenone-1 inhibits 17beta-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase type 3: Virtual screening as a strategy to identify potential endocrine disrupting chemicals.” Biochemical Pharmacology 2010 Apr 15;79(8):1189-99. doi: 10.1016
  15. Kim Y, Ryu JC, Choi H, Lee K “Effect of 2,2′,4,4′-tetrahydroxybenzophenone (BP2) on steroidogenesis in testicular Leydig cells” Toxicology, Volume 288, Issue 1, Pages 18-26
  16. Rao AR, Sindhuja HN, Dharmesh SM, et al “Effective inhibition of skin cancer, tyrosinase, and antioxidative properties by astaxanthin and astaxanthin esters from the green alga Haematococcus pluvialis.” Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry 2013 Apr 24;61(16):3842-51. doi: 10.1021

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