Updated: Mar 16
Are your beauty products making you sick?!
If you haven't thought much about this in the past and made an effort to choose safe products, they very well may be! Let me explain the science behind how our beauty products might be creating or complicating a health concern. When we eat something, our gastrointestinal tract does a pretty great job of protecting us from anything harmful that we have consumed. Our GI tract is actually a huge part of our immune system. It has a selective barrier than (unless damaged) protects us from much of what we eat that might otherwise easily make us sick.
Our skin is not so helpful!
As much as you would think the opposite is true, our skin doesn't have this same protective mechanism like our GI tract. So if we apply something harmful to our skin, hair, or nails, it is very likely to be absorbed and cause trouble. You could say our skin has #nofilter.
So what's the big deal?
Once absorbed, these potentially harmful substances can travel through the body and cause a whole host of problems. Two of the most studied and documented of these includes sex hormone imbalances and cancers. I am including some sources below this blog for you to read more on this topic.
Have you heard of xenoestrogens?
One big topic in toxic beauty products is xenoestrogens. Xenoestrogens are found in many beauty products, but can also be found in many consumer goods including plastics. Once absorbed, they are able to travel to the receptor sites in the body that were intended for estrogen. They may bind to these sites irreversibly and prevent estrogen from having its necessary action in that part of the body.
Xenoestrogens can disrupt our natural hormone balance (one of many endocrine disruptors that can be absorbed through the skin), and this can lead to a wide array of issues. Depending on her stage in life, xenoestrogens can affect a woman's growth and development, menstrual cycles, mental health, impair digestion, fertility, weight, risk for autoimmune diseases, development of neurologic conditions, and risk for hormone mediated cancers like breast cancer. Xenoestrogens can also impair the effectiveness of cancer treatment (Boszkiewicz et al., 2020). Many women struggle with the harmful effects of xenoestrogens during menopause- where they may experience unpleasant and unnecessary symptoms of menopause as a result.
What beauty products are we talking about here?
So what types of products are we talking about? ALL OF THEM- shampoo, conditioner, body wash, toothpaste, deodorant, lotion, make-up, nail polish......you name it! And yes, I know that sucks!
What can we do about it?
When I learned this, I went a little overboard replacing products, so I want to start by suggesting you research and replace products as they run out. When its time for new toothpaste, buy a less toxic version. The most reliable resource I have found for identifying less toxic options is www.ewg.org. The Environmental Working Group is a nonprofit organization that researches and advocates for cleaning up our stores shelves. Although not perfect, their Healthy Living app is a great tool for looking up your current products, researching replacements, and finding out WHY a product might cause harm. I will mention here it doesn't have every product, but it has most.
When you look up a product, it gives you specific reasons why it receives their score. Their best score is EWG Verified- meaning it has met their strict standards for safety. Below that, a score of one is best, and higher numbers are worse. One glitch I have noticed is that it marks down otherwise potentially good options because of Fragrance. To be fair, most products that list Fragrance as a ingredient are hiding behind that generic term, and their version of Fragrance is at the top of the list of xenoestrogens. But, I've also found a proprietary blend of lovely essential oils to count as a marked down Fragrance score, so take that for what its worth to you. If you're particularly worried, you can write the product manufacturer to see if they will provide more detail on what Fragrance means in their product.
What else can I do?
In the Functional Medicine for Nurses™ course that I teach through the Integrative Nurse Coach Academy in partnership with the Institute for Functional Medicine, my students research products they currently use, and they are often shocked to find out how much of the products on store shelves are greenwashed. Greenwashing is an incredibly common practice of misleading consumers into believing that a product is safe and environmentally friendly using deceptive marketing and labelling. The nurse and nurse practitioners students also find and share a recipe to make a product at home. This is surprisingly easier and cheaper than you might think. Most recipes are actually fast and easy. When you use your own ingredients from a known, organic source, you can feel confident what you are applying to your skin won't end up making you sick!
Helpful Sources to Learn More About Xenoestrogens
Adegoke, E. O., Rahman, M. S., & Pang, M. G. (2020). Bisphenols Threaten Male Reproductive Health via Testicular Cells. Frontiers in endocrinology, 11, 624. https://doi.org/10.3389/fendo.2020.00624
Ahmed, I. A., Mikail, M. A., Zamakshshari, N., & Abdullah, A. H. (2020). Natural anti-aging skincare: role and potential. Biogerontology, 21(3), 293–310. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10522-020-09865-z
Aljadeff, G., Longhi, E., & Shoenfeld, Y. (2018). Bisphenol A: A notorious player in the mosaic of autoimmunity. Autoimmunity, 51(8), 370–377. https://doi.org/10.1080/08916934.2018.1551374
Boszkiewicz, K., Sawicka, E., & Piwowar, A. (2020). The impact of xenoestrogens on effectiveness of treatment for hormone-dependent breast cancer - current state of knowledge and perspectives for research. Annals of agricultural and environmental medicine : AAEM, 27(4), 526–534. https://doi.org/10.26444/aaem/124165
Bustamante-Barrientos, F. A., Méndez-Ruette, M., Ortloff, A., Luz-Crawford, P., Rivera, F. J., Figueroa, C. D., Molina, L., & Bátiz, L. F. (2021). The Impact of Estrogen and Estrogen-Like Molecules in Neurogenesis and Neurodegeneration: Beneficial or Harmful?. Frontiers in cellular neuroscience, 15, 636176. https://doi.org/10.3389/fncel.2021.636176
Hu, Q., Guan, X. Q., Song, L. L., Wang, H. N., Xiong, Y., Liu, J. L., Yin, H., Cao, Y. F., Hou, J., Yang, L., & Ge, G. B. (2020). Inhibition of pancreatic lipase by environmental xenoestrogens. Ecotoxicology and environmental safety, 192, 110305. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ecoenv.2020.110305
Kumar, V., Yadav, C. S., & Banerjee, B. D. (2022). Xeno-Estrogenic Pesticides and the Risk of Related Human Cancers. Journal of xenobiotics, 12(4), 344–355. https://doi.org/10.3390/jox12040024
Maharjan, C. K., Mo, J., Wang, L., Kim, M. C., Wang, S., Borcherding, N., Vikas, P., & Zhang, W. (2021). Natural and Synthetic Estrogens in Chronic Inflammation and Breast Cancer. Cancers, 14(1), 206. https://doi.org/10.3390/cancers14010206
Oliviero, F., Marmugi, A., Viguié, C., Gayrard, V., Picard-Hagen, N., & Mselli-Lakhal, L. (2022). Are BPA Substitutes as Obesogenic as BPA?. International journal of molecular sciences, 23(8), 4238. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijms23084238
Reddy, V., McCarthy, M., & Raval, A. P. (2022). Xenoestrogens impact brain estrogen receptor signaling during the female lifespan: A precursor to neurological disease?. Neurobiology of disease, 163, 105596. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.nbd.2021.105596
Sirasanagandla, S. R., Al-Huseini, I., Sofin, R. G. S., & Das, S. (2022). Perinatal Exposure to Bisphenol A and Developmental Programming of the Cardiovascular Changes in the Offspring. Current medicinal chemistry, 29(24), 4235–4250. https://doi.org/10.2174/0929867328666211206111835
Wang, X., Ha, D., Yoshitake, R., Chan, Y. S., Sadava, D., & Chen, S. (2021). Exploring the Biological Activity and Mechanism of Xenoestrogens and Phytoestrogens in Cancers: Emerging Methods and Concepts. International journal of molecular sciences, 22(16), 8798. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijms22168798
Zota, A. R., & Shamasunder, B. (2017). The environmental injustice of beauty: framing chemical exposures from beauty products as a health disparities concern. American journal of obstetrics and gynecology, 217(4), 418.e1–418.e6. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ajog.2017.07.020