Some endocrine-disrupting chemicals are thought to be absorbed through the skin – the largest organ in our body. Indeed, some groups of chemicals specifically used to help products penetrate the skin have hormone-disrupting properties.
Women, especially, use creams to moisturize, tone and color the skin. Young women and women of reproductive age are a key target for cosmetics advertising, and there are concerns that an unborn baby can be vulnerable to chemicals absorbed by their mother.
Men are just as vulnerable as women, particularly to hormone-disrupting chemicals that can affect sperm.
When you do reach for your favorite beauty product, there are a few key chemicals to look for and avoid:
Parabens are a group of chemicals found in some cosmetics, body creams, hair products and sunscreens. They can be absorbed through the skin. Some parabens have hormone-disrupting properties and have been linked to breast cancer. Limit your exposure by choosing products labelled paraben-free.
Breast Cancer UK has a useful factsheet (pdf) on parabens.
Triclosan is used as an anti-bacterial agent, and can be found in toothpaste, soaps and hand washes. It is known to have hormone-disrupting properties.
Per and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are added to some cosmetics, such as foundations and moisturising creams, to help them penetrate the skin. Some PFAS have hormone-disrupting traits. Many countries (except the USA) have banned cosmetics containing PFAS from its shops because of concerns over these harmful chemicals.
Limit your exposure by opting for cosmetics that don’t contain PFAS – these will be labelled in ingredients lists as a chemical with “fluoro” in the name or “PTFE”.
Some other products, such as dental floss, may also contain PFAS. Limit your exposure by choosing PFAS-free dental floss.
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