Is Your Skin Care Routine Destroying Your Health?

Dr. Janet Zand
March 8, 2019

As women, it’s easy to blame problems on our hormones. They’re an easy scapegoat for everything from mood swings to weight gain to breakouts. And in many cases, hormones are a driving force in these issues. But many of us never stop to ask ourselves why this is – and what we can do about it. Yes, our hormones play important roles in our body. But in general, they should benefit our health, not harm it.

Hormonal imbalances and the surrounding issues are often the result of problems in our environments. So let’s take a look at the true source of the blame – and what we can do about it.

Women are excellent problem solvers. We get a blemish, so we apply a spot treatment. We’ve had a bad day, so we take a long bath to relax. We’re going to spend a day at the beach, so we apply (and re-apply) sunscreen. On the surface, these all seem like excellent solutions. But if you dig deeper, you could find that these “fixes” could actually perpetuate the problems.

That’s because far too many of our personal care products contain ingredients that can disrupt the delicate balance of our hormones. In fact, researchers from George Mason University (GMU) have gathered some shocking data about just how widespread the problem is.

For their study, the researchers gathered 509 urine samples from 143 women ranging in age from 18 to 44. You’ll recognize this age range as representing women’s typical reproductive years. None of the women had known ongoing health problems or were taking birth control.

Many women choose to avoid birth control pills because they don’t want a drug to affect their reproductive hormones. But the researchers found that these women’s urine was full of chemicals that do just that. Some of these chemicals decrease reproductive hormones. Others increase them. But they aren’t likely to leave you with an even balance that mimics what you would have without such chemical interference.

Are These Chemicals Disrupting Your Hormones?

The researchers noted that parabens in particular may increase estrogen levels. This could affect not only fertility but also estrogen-dependent breast cancer.

We need more research on parabens to confirm their effects – and how significant they are. But there’s a reason the GMU researchers were looking at the chemical mixes in women’s urine. Researchers often study ingredients like parabens in isolation. But that’s not how we use them in the real world.

In fact, the average woman applies 12 different personal care products before she walks out the door in the morning. And doing so exposes her not just to parabens, but to a cocktail of 168 different chemicals.

Many of these chemicals are known hormone disruptors. And these disruptions are affecting our weight, our moods, our sleep, our health, our fertility, and our skin.

These problems are why I’m so passionate about products that contain only safe, natural ingredients. Finding safe yet effective alternatives to 12 or more products might feel overwhelming. But it’s absolutely worth it. And removing these chemicals may have such profound effects on your mood that you feel up for tackling even more challenges in your life!

Even replacing one product at a time can slowly and surely make a difference. As you begin to scrutinize your products, here are some of the most dangerous chemicals to look out for:

The Chemical Used in Biology Class to Preserve Dead Tissue

First up is formaldehyde. You might find this carcinogen in your nail products, hair dye, false-eyelash glue, or shampoo. Most countries don’t allow formaldehyde in any personal care products. But it’s not one of the whopping 11 ingredients the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has banned. So you’ll need to take matters into your own hands to ensure you avoid it.

The next ingredient to avoid sounds a lot more innocuous: fragrance. Unfortunately, manufacturers can use the term “fragrance” to cover a multitude of chemicals. And many of these chemicals are hormone disruptors. Choose products that use natural scents instead.

Watch out for lead and mercury as well. Like formaldehyde, we know these metals cause cancer and harm the brain and nervous system. Yet they still pop up in eyeliners, hair dye, lipsticks, and other products.

As I mentioned above, parabens may also be dangerous. Look for ingredients that begin with the prefixes propyl-, isopropyl-, butyl, or isobuyl-. Early research has linked parabens to breast tumors. Their estrogenic properties concern me.

What About Sunscreens and Soaps?

You probably know that I prefer sunscreens that provide a physical rather than a chemical block. That’s in part because many chemical sunscreens contain the hormone disrupter oxybenzone. Oxybenzone can build up in your tissues and damage your cells. Look for a sunscreen with zinc instead.

Now it’s on to the acronyms: DEA/TEA/MEA, SLS/SLES, and DEG. The first three are ethanolamines. They help shampoos, soaps, body washes, and other cleansers emulsify and foam. They also seem to help animals develop cancer. Another soap foamer, sodium lauryl (ether) sulfate is also an industrial degreaser. And diethylene glycol (DEG) depresses the central nervous system and is toxic to the kidneys and liver. It’s occasionally an ingredient in “fragrance” (see above). And DEG can contaminate glycerin and propylene glycol, so you’re best off avoiding those too. 

What to Do if Your Hormones Are Out of Balance

If you’re concerned that your hormones are out of balance, talk to your doctor about testing them. Ask for a comprehensive panel that measures reproductive and adrenal hormones. You can also have them tested again after you’ve switched out your products to disruptor-free versions. You may be shocked at the difference!

While you’re phasing out unhealthy products, be sure to give your body the tools it needs to support its natural detox processes and repair damage. Eating lots of fruits and vegetables will supply antioxidants to combat oxidative stress. And drinking plenty of water and antioxidant-rich beverages like green tea and black coffee will help flush out toxins too. Exercise will promote blood flow, ensuring all those repair allies like antioxidants get where you need them.

It can be frustrating to learn that many of the products we use to make us look better are actually making us feel worse. But there are products out there that don’t contain these dangerous chemicals. I made sure to avoid them in the Système 41 line of products. And there are plenty of other companies that make hair care products, makeup, and other personal care products that will make you look great and feel great too.

Hormones can be a good scapegoat for a number of problems. But it’s better not to have the problems in the first place. Keeping hormone disruptors in check can go a long way toward this goal. You may be able to solve some nagging problems for good just by removing chemicals from your routine.

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