7 Ways Hormones Can Hide in Your Skin Care
What to watch out for.
It seems it would be obvious if a personal care product contained hormones, right? Wouldn’t it just say “estrogen” or “estrogen-like compound”?
Unfortunately not. Many of my patients who had become sick due to elevated hormone levels – some testing up to ten times the upper limit – were not taking hormones of any kind.
Hormones often absorb very effectively through the skin. This is why the estrogen patch and prescription hormone delivery via topical creams are common and effective. Aside from medication – hormones, in a variety of forms (bio-identical, synthetic, phyto-estrogens, xeno-estrogens), hide abundantly in our personal care products.
The problem is, for each of us individually, hormones must remain balanced within a specific and healthy physiological range for our age. Serious issues can occur if they are too high or too low.
What’s more, a symptom appearing as deficiency may actually be too much of a certain hormone. For example, hot flashes with too much estrogen. (1) When our hormone receptors become saturated, our bodies slow down our own natural hormone production to compensate and protect us. It is important that hormone levels are measured (via blood, saliva, or urine) when there are symptoms of any kind. It could mean that there is too little or too much of a hormone.
Besides being uncomfortable, too much of a hormone – especially estrogen (estrogen dominance) – can have serious consequences. And as a general rule, we (women, men, and children) are getting too much estrogen / estrogen-like chemicals in our environment and daily lives.
Oftentimes, especially in anti-aging lines, hormones or chemicals that mimic hormones are added to skin care products to combat what would normally be considered deficiency symptoms. This may actually make an imbalance much worse.
Some common symptoms of hormone imbalance include: unexplained or resistant weight gain, blood sugar issues, fatigue, depression, anxiety, acne (often cystic and scarring), thyroid problems, ovarian cysts, uterine fibroids, tumors, migraine headaches, low libido, infertility, and erectile dysfunction – even in teen men.
Here’s what to watch out for:
Anything ending in –Paraben (ex. methylparaben, propylparaben…) – are potent hormone disruptors that interfere with estrogen metabolism by attaching to the body’s estrogen receptor sites and affecting the enzymes that would normally breakdown excessive estrogen. (2) The overall affect: More potent and too much estrogen in our body – which has been linked to cancers and other health issues.(3)
Other ways paraben-like compounds may be listed on label: p-hydroxybenzoic acid, methyl vanillate, ethyl vanillate
Triclosan and Triclocarban– alters estrogen, (4) testosterone, and especially thyroid hormones. These are toxic, have a chemical structure similar to “Agent Orange” and are still commonly found in haircare, toothpaste and anti-bacterial soaps. Watch out especially for anti-acne cleansers. (5)
2. FRAGRANCE, PERFUME, PARFUM – including “Natural Fragrance”
The term “fragrance” encompasses a category that includes several thousand chemicals, many of which are unhealthy and specifically affect hormone levels.
Some of the most common and most potent include:
Phthalates – plastic-like compounds commonly found in fragrances, nail polish, and hair care products. Assume phthalates are present in any cosmetic fragrance unless the fragrance is composed of pure essential oil and nothing else. A potent estrogen-like compound that has been linked to: birth defects, obesity, low sperm count, reproductive cancers, thyroid problems, and diabetes. Studies showed both slowed thyroid function and slowed growth in children due to phthalate exposure (6,7) – so that lovely smelling baby lotion may not be healthy or particularly safe long term for your little one.
Tolulene – a volatile toxic chemical found in nail polish, hair dye, and synthetic fragrances that can impact hormones, the brain and the central nervous system – even at low level exposure. Other similar toxic solvents include: benzene, ethylbenzene and xylene. (8,9,10)
Ethyl Vanillate & Methyl Vanillate – structurally similar to Parabens and have a similar effect. Often added as an artificial soft “vanilla”-like scent.
3. PACKAGING – plastics / plastic lined packaging – especially BPA free!
BPS often replaces BPA and is then marketed as BPA free. Studies have found that BPS is as toxic and may be even more toxic than BPA. (11,12,13,14,15,16)
Phthalates are estrogenic plasticizers that can be included in this category as well. It is best to choose products that are packaged in glass, especially if they contain acids (glycolic acid, AHA, Hyaluronic Acid- HA) as the hormone disruptive chemicals from plastic packaging can leak into the products that you apply to your body. Many highly toxic compounds leach into products and environment from packaging, and are not required to be disclosed. (12,17)
4. PESTICIDES / GMO INGREDIENTS
Besides the many concerns over GMO foods and ingredients, our focus is on the fact that the pesticides used during the process are often either neurotoxic (toxic to the brain and nervous system) or toxic to the hormonal system and often make their way into skin care products.
Genetically modifying an ingredient makes it resistant to the pesticide (not the pest) – ex. “Round-up ready corn.” This means that much more of the chemical can be applied without actually killing the plant, and much more is available to absorb into our bodies.
With respect to pesticide application to grains in particular – oats, wheat, corn, etc.- the grain will be sprayed during the growth period and then saturated again with pesticide prior to harvest. Pesticides are now being used as desiccants, meaning they are used to artificially dry the grain, making it quicker to harvest and lighter for transport. Many cosmetic ingredients such as peptides (proteins) and ceramides are made from grains affected by these higher concentrations of pesticide. (18,19) Remember, as a skin care ingredient they are intended to be absorbed.
5. “TRADE SECRETS” – ingredients not listed
In the category of flavoring or scenting – a full list of ingredients is not required to be disclosed as they are considered by the FDA as a “trade secret.” These can simply be listed as “Fragrance” or “Flavor.” Additionally, if a company feels that another ingredient should remain a secret, they can apply for trade secret status and not disclose them on the label at all. (21)
6. CONTAMINATION / FILLERS – heavy metals
Cadmium has been shown to be carcinogenic (cancer causing), estrogenic, and is commonly found as a contaminant in pigments (think nail polish, hair dye and make-up) as well as plastics. Cadmium can artificially lower progesterone, can cause testicular toxicity, and is bio-accumulative – meaning that it builds up easily in our bodies and earth. (22,23,24,25)
Aluminum – common in deodorant and dry shampoos. With dry shampoo, the concern is not only that aluminum is applied to the scalp, but is easily inhaled directly into the lungs via tiny aerosol particles. Aluminum is neurotoxic and estrogenic, and has been linked to Alzheimers as well as breast cancer. Look for dry shampoos that are rice based, rather than aluminum on the label.
Mercury – may be found in skin-lightening products and can be listed as: mercurous chloride, calomel, mercuric, mercurio, or mercury. Mercury is particularly toxic to the central nervous system, but has been shown to have broad-reaching affects within the hormonal system as well. Avoid skin-lightening products, especially those from overseas. (26,27,28,29,30,31)
7. HERBS / PLANTS: Soy, Hops, Red Clover, Wild Yam
There have been numerous articles about the positive effects of phyto-estrogens (plant estrogens). While plant estrogens have a tendency to be relatively weak in comparison to our own bio-identical hormones or to xeno-estrogens (chemicals that mimic estrogens), care must still be taken as they do have a hormonal impact. If a client’s hormones are tested, found to be low, and the appropriate amount of plant estrogen is recommended, then it can be helpful. However, plant estrogens are often added to skin care in blanket fashion to attempt to mitigate aging of the skin. This can be a problem, especially in men and boys. Also note, a more concentrated and more potent hormone can be present when the label simply says “soy” or “wild yam” extract, as actual hormone identical to your body’s own hormone can be made from these plants. Avoid products with these ingredients, unless your hormones have been tested and these ingredients have been recommended by a doctor, specifically for you.
TIP: ** Be especially careful of products using nano-technology or Hyaluronic Acid (HA) that do not use healthy, pure ingredients as these are both carriers that assist in delivery of other ingredients deeper into the skin and to the blood circulation – making absorption of chemicals and hormones even more potent. When these ingredients are combined with only pure and healthy ingredients, those ingredients will become more absorptive and more beneficial as well.