Discover where they hide in cosmetics and household products
Hormone disruptors, also known as endocrine disruptors (EDCs), are synthetic chemicals and compounds that hinder the body’s endocrine (hormone) system by producing adverse effects on the endocrine glands.
They interfere with the production, transport, metabolism and excretion of natural hormones in the body causing a host of hormonal issues including infertility, endometriosis, early puberty and hormone-related cancers.
EDCs also negatively affect growth and development, immune function, the brain and nervous system.
Learn more about hormone disruptors, where to find them lurking and how to avoid these toxic chemicals in cosmetics, personal care products and household items.
What is the endocrine system?
The endocrine system represents a collection of glands that secrete hormones directly into the bloodstream. The glands include the hypothalamus, pituitary and pineal gland (all located in the brain), the thyroid gland, four parathyroid glands (located in the neck, next to the two thyroid gland lobes), two adrenal glands (these sit on top of the kidneys), the endocrine portion of the pancreas, the thymus (located in the chest) and the gonads (ovaries and testes).
Hormones are chemical messengers that travel through the bloodstream to arrive at target tissues with specific receptor sites. They enable cells to talk to each other and are responsible for most functions on the body. Each hormone has target cells it communicates with; messages will only be passed on to cells that recognise the specific hormones.
Common endocrine disruptors
- Atrazazine is a type of herbicide used on crops such as corn and on golf courses and residential lawns.
- Bisphenol A (BPA) is found in many plastic products including water bottles, tap water, food storage containers and canned food.
- Dioxins are a group of chemicals classed as persistent environmental pollutants (POPs). They are a by-product of manufacturing processes such as herbicide production and paper bleaching which are released into the air from waste burning and end up in the food chain.
- Glycol ethers are a group of solvents used in paints, cleaning agents, liquid soaps and cosmetics.
- Parabens are used as preservatives in many personal care products and pharmaceuticals.
- PFAS (per- and polyfuoroalkyl substances) are a large group of chemicals used in food packaging, non-stick pans, fire-fighting foams, paints, cleaning products and drinking water (due to contamination).
- Phthalates give plastics flexibility and durability so they are used in food packaging, vinyl flooring, wall coverings and children’s toys. Phthalates are also used in makeup, personal care products (shampoos, body wash etc), fragrances and perfumes as they help the longevity of the product and also make the scent linger after it has been washed off.
- Polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDE) are used to make flame retardants and are added to plastics, carpets and foam to prevent them burning.
- Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) are highly toxic industrial compounds that are used in electrical and hydraulic equipment, products that transfer heat, plasticisers, rubbers and lubricants. Exposure to PCBs can cause developmental and neurological problems for babies (including in utero) and children. 
What are xenoestrogens?
Xenoestrogens are a type of endocrine disruptor that specifically exert oestrogen-like effects. They are found in plastics, tap water, pesticides, birth control pills, cosmetics and personal care products such as shampoo/ conditioner, body creams and shower gels.
Oestrogen is an important hormone for reproductive health and the body regulates oestrogen levels through a complex network of biochemical pathways. The chemical structure of xenoestrogens is almost identical to the chemical structure of natural oestrogen.
When xenoestrogens enter the body, they have the ability to increase oestrogen levels and bind to oestrogen receptor sites in the same way that natural oestrogen does. This can result in a build-up of oestrogen which can have incredibly detrimental effects.
Xenoestrogens have been linked to breast, prostate and testicular cancer, fertility problems, miscarriages, obesity and diabetes.
Endocrine disruptors: where are they hiding?
11 ways to avoid hormone disruptors
Avoid using plastics completely and this includes plastic water bottles, food packaging (cling wrap) and food storage containers. Even BPA-free plastic products (which are marketed as safe) may pose a health risk as they contain a substance called BHPH which may also be harmful to health. Use glass storage containers, glass or stainless-steel water bottles and reusable beeswax wraps or vegan soy wax wraps for food wrapping. Learn other ways to minimise your use of plastic.
Eat more plant-based foods and limit your consumption of meat. Meat is high in dioxins and pesticides; these chemicals accumulate in the fatty tissues of animals. Plant foods are highly nutritious and contain plenty of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants that are vital for health. Learn more about plant-based eating.
Opt for organic produce especially fruits and vegetables and animal-derived products (eggs, meat) to avoid toxic pesticides, herbicides and other endocrine-disrupting chemicals. Grow your own vegetables, fruit and herbs at home. Even if you don’t have a garden, you can still grow produce like herbs, tomatoes and strawberries on window sills and balcony containers. Learn more about the benefits of organic food.
Avoid dairy products (even raw and organic milk), especially if you’re experiencing any hormone-related issues. Milk may contain dioxins, PCBs, insecticides and pesticides as the chemicals from environmental and feed contamination, leached milking machine components and cleaning agents transfer into the milk. Learn how to go dairy-free.
Drink filtered water using a high-quality water filter to avoid toxins including bisphenols (BPA), phthalates, pesticides and xenoestrogens.
Swap your non-stick cookware for stainless steel or cast iron to avoid exposure to PFAs.
Start reading labels so you know exactly what’s in the food you’re eating and the products you’re putting on your skin and in your home.
Steer clear of products that contain parabens, fragrances, phthalates and other toxic ingredients that sound like they’ve come straight out of a lab.
Choose fragrance-free, chemical-free and eco-friendly personal care products or consider making your own natural skincare products. On CNM’s Natural Skincare and Nutrition short course, you can learn more about chemicals to avoid and how to make a range of natural personal care products using little ingredients.
- For cleaning, use lemon, vinegar, bicarb and water in a spray bottle.
- Commercial sun creams are also a source of hormone disrupting chemicals. Learn more about the toxic chemicals in sun cream and what you can use instead.
When buying new home furnishings (such as carpets, sofas and beds), opt for flame-retardant-free versions to reduce your exposure to polybrominated diphenyl ether chemicals.
Regularly vacuum and clean surfaces with a damp cloth to clean away the particles of endocrine-disrupting chemicals that accumulate in household dust.
Avoid canned food as cans are lined with BPA (to prevent corrosion) which leaches into the food. Use fresh, dried (beans, lentils etc) or frozen foods instead.
Do your research before buying children’s toys to assess what chemicals they may contain. Examples of toys and products aimed at children that contain toxic chemicals include balloons, slime, squidgy toys, plastic footballs, plastic toys (especially soft plastic toys), electronic toys and gadgets (such as electric cars/trains, games consoles) and art/craft materials.
- Buy eco-safety tested wooden toys instead of plastic toys.
- Wash soft toys before use.
- Opt for organic rag dolls with eco labels.
- Make your own finger paints or playdoh.
- Choose preservative-free arts and crafts materials that use food or plant colourings instead of harsh chemicals.
Chemicals and toxins are all around us and at times are difficult to avoid. However, you do have total control over the foods you eat, the products you put on your skin and what you use to clean your house. Avoid harmful endocrine disrupting chemicals and xenoestrogens by eating more organic, plant-based foods, drinking filtered water and using homemade skincare and cleaning products such as vinegar and water. Start reading the ingredient labels on food packaging and cosmetics, and steer clear of dairy, plastics and non-stick cookware.
To learn more about how to avoid harmful toxins and detoxifying chemicals from your body, take a look at CNM’s Nutrition for Everyday Living Short course which is available online and in-class.