Monday, June 28, 2010

Chemicals to Avoid: Part 2 Xenoestrogens

Xenoestrogens are synthetic chemicals that enter the body and mimic estrogen. There are many sources of xenoestrogens, from air pollution, plastics, and water pollution. This article will cover the common estrogenic compounds found in personal care / cosmetic items. 
Estrogen receptors are complex molecules within certain cells in our bodies. They have a complex shape that is designed to accept estrogen—just like a lock and key.

Estrogen receptor molecule
Estradiol, one of the body's forms of natural estrogen

Estrogen receptors are designed to accept estrogen molecules. When estrogen locks in to a receptor, certain things happen—particular cells are spurred to grow and divide, other levels of hormones are signaled to release. It's a very complex process that affects many parts of our body, the heart, our bones, as well as our reproductive organs (men too!) When estrogen has done its job in the receptor, it's released and metabolized (broken down) and leaves the body.

When a xenoestrogen enters the body, it's different. Because these chemicals are similar in shape to estrogen, it locks in to these receptors--but not quite correctly. Because they're shaped differently, the all of the chemical bonds aren't formed correctly. The receptors are stimulated in negative ways, creating cells where they shouldn't be. This can lead to reproductive disorders such as:

  • Anovulatory Dysfunctional Uterine Bleeding (having a period without ovulating)
  • Uterine Fibroids
  • Ovarian Cysts
  • Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome
  • Endometriosis
  • Adenomyosis
  • Reproductive cancers, uterine, ovarian, breast, etc.

There are a number of xenoestrogens in personal care products. One is a group of chemicals that you've probably heard of, parabens. They're listed on labels as methylparaben, propylparaben, butylparaben, etc. Parabens have been studied numerous times and have been found to act estrogenically in cells, and to accumulate in breast cancer tissue. They are used in a wide variety of products as a preservative. For expanded information on parabens, visit this page.

Methylparaben. Note the similar ring-like structure to the estrogen.

Phthalates—phthalates are a very harmful group of synthetic chemicals that can mimic estrogen. The problem is that phthalates aren't usually listed in the ingredients list—they're used as fragrance compounds, so whenever you see the listing for “fragrance” you don't really know what it is. There are over 3000 different chemicals used in fragrances, and many of them are phthalates. Also found in plastics--avoid heating foods with plastic wrap (or using it altogether.)

Aluminum is a known metallogestrogen and a toxin in all its forms. (More info here) Aluminum chlorohydrate found in anti-perspirants is what we usually think of, but did you know there's a higher concentration of aluminum in "the crystal" deodorants? They're pure aluminum salts! Other sources of aluminum include vaccines and some antacids. 

Triclosan is also a common xenoestrogen. Triclosan is a compound used in hand sanitizers and anti-bacterial hand soaps. It has become a major problem because so many people are using these anti-bacterial soaps and washing them down the drain. Downstream the waters become polluted with triclosan, which then acts like estrogen in aquatic life—then you have fish and frogs and other animals that die off because they can't reproduce. We think that we need these antibacterial agents, but we don't. It's not about killing the bacteria, but washing it away. Triclosan only kills 99.9% of bacteria--that .1% ends up surviving and getting stronger. We then have more resistant strains of bacteria that lead to higher incidence of staph infections in hospitals, schools, and even homes.

Phenoxyethanol is a preservative commonly used in place of parabens, but it also exhibits xenoestrogenic activity. (More info here.)

Salicylic acid, commonly used as an anti-aging or anti-acne treatment, is a suspected xenoestrogen.



Theophila said...

I noticed salicylic acid is one of them. Is this another situation, like the honeysuckle extract, where products rich in natural salicylates, such as strawberries, willow bark extract, or aspen bark extract, cannot be used either? I ask this because I am in the process of formulating (and testing and retesting, of course!) a natural preservative system using a mixture of aspen bark extract, leucidal (and I'd like your opinion on this product!), and black currant powder extract.

Theophila said...

Also, to follow up with my earlier comment. There are a lot of phytoestrogens as well - from soy to sunflower (which I love for use in my personal products because it goes on so smoothly and doesn't stay greasy!) to chamomile, and plenty of EOs used traditionally (and sparingly) as fungicides, bactericides, and antiviruals, such as clove, thyme, oregano, etc. What is your opinion on phytoestrogens in skin/bodycare. We know now that the lavender scare was just one single poorly conducted study, but these others are common natural phytoestrogens. Do you think they should be avoided altogether? Or should they be restricted to specific use, such as to ease symptoms of menopause?

Charlotte said...

Do you know if chlorine is a xenoestrogen? I've read in some places it is.

Stephanie Greenwood said...

Chlorine itself isn't a xenoestrogen, but it can form chemicals that are endocrine disruptors, like dioxane.