Endocrine disruptors, everyone's talking about them. But what exactly are they? Why are they so controversial? In cosmetics, there are various substances considered to be endocrine disrupters, which are very harmful to health and the environment. Let's take a look.
What is an endocrine disruptor?
Endocrine, KESAKO? It's a medical term meaning "hormonal". You've probably heard about them in the media, notably through studies of 60 million consumers or Que Choisir.
Let's start at the beginning. A hormone is a molecule secreted by cells in our body that will have multiple effects on it. They regulate many of our functions in the body. It is asa chemical substance produced by a group of cells or an endocrine gland that has a specific action on the functioning of an organ."
An endocrine disruptor (ED) is a synthetic or natural molecule, external to the body. Its structure is similar to a hormone. When ingested in our body, PE can interfere with the hormonal system. It can cause disorders in the proper functioning of hormones and limit their actions.
This is the hormonal system:
Source: Guinea Pig Generations
Endocrine disruptors cause adverse health effects. They alter the function of the endocrine system. This obviously depends on the dose ingested in the body, the repetition of exposures to EDs and their accumulation in the body.
Consuming a product that contains very few endocrine disruptors and at a low frequency is not harmful to health. What is dangerous is not to pay attention to its daily consumption, because yes, endocrine disruptors are everywhere around us... They can be found in clothes, in hygiene and cosmetic products (which act as anti-bacterial and preservatives), in food, and even in water and air! (Yes, there is reason to become a hypochondriac, but don't panic, there are solutions to all this).
What are the effects of endocrine disruptors?
Endocrine disruptors disrupt the functioning of sex hormones. They cause:
- Early puberty
- Sperm abnormalities
- Decreased fertility or malformations
They are also suspected of developing certain pathologies such as cancer, diabetes and obesity. It also has a disruptive effect on the fetus during pregnancy.
Where are endocrine disruptors found?
Endocrine disruptors have strange names that often do not inspire confidence...
You'll probably recognize these:
It is found in: food containers, household appliances, printing inks, inside some cans and tins, plastics.
BPA has an action on the reproductive system (reduced fertility) and on cardiovascular pathologies. The effects have been proven on animals, on their thyroid, immune system and intestine. These effects are suspected in humans.
It is found in: PVC products, diapers, shoes, toys, detergents, furniture materials, cosmetics, medicines, and sometimes bottle plastics.
Suspected effects are on the reproductive system, the development of the fetus and the newborn.
They can be found in: cosmetics, food as a preservative and medicines. To find them (like phthalates) you have to look for molecules that end up as parabens. The food additives E218, E219, E214, E215, E216 and E217 are also part of the paraben family.
Let us focus particularly on endocrine disruptors in cosmetics, because yes, there are many of them:
- Cyclopentasiloxane (emollient in shampoos in particular) and dimethicone (silicone in foundations).
- Diethyl phthalate (found in varnishes)
- Methyl-, propyl-, buthyl-, ethyl-, isopropyl-, and benzylparaben (from preservatives)
- Phenoxyethanol (preservative and co-solvent)
- Triclosan (preservative, especially in toothpastes)
- EDTA (preservative in industrial soaps)
- Synthetic fragrance with phthalates
- Oxybenzone (UV filter present in many sun and anti-ageing products).
You can easily identify them on the INCI list on the packaging. According to the magazine Que Choisir, which studied 66 of them, they are found in Colgate toothpaste, Neutrogéna hand and nail cream, Nivéa Aqua Sensation face cream, Labello lip balm, etc.
Nanoparticles, 10,000 times smaller than a grain of salt, are particles used by many industries: cosmetics, clothing, food, packaging, household appliances, construction materials, aeronautics, furniture, cars... Presented in powder, gel or solution form, nanoparticles are a major concern.
In cosmetics, nanoparticles are found in sunscreens, beauty creams and toothpastes. Some hair dyes, lipsticks and other types of make-up can be composed of nanoparticles.
Nanoparticles are smaller than a cell and can therefore easily penetrate living organisms. They have an adverse effect on organs, DNA, the immune system, intestinal flora and even the nervous system.
Indoor air pollution
Did you know that? Indoor air pollution (our homes) is higher than outdoor air pollution. Building and decorating materials release chemicals into the air. Fine particles, carbon monoxides, allergens, volatile organic compounds, phthalates... In high concentrations, these agents are likely to cause health problems.
Food additives are natural or chemical substances that manufacturers add to foods to preserve or add colour to what we eat.
The 5 main food additives are :
- Colouring agents that add colour to food.
- Sweeteners that add sweetness and flavour
- Preservatives that prevent the growth of bacteria
- Antioxidants, which reduce oxidation phenomena
- Texture agents that improve the presentation of food (gelling agents, thickeners ...)
Source: Generation Guinea Pigs
Your mobile phone has become your everyday ally. However, used too regularly and over the long term, the waves it emits are harmful to your health. Scientific studies show that after more than ten years of using a mobile phone, there is indeed a higher risk of developing a malignant brain tumour, on the side of the ear most used for calls. TV, radio, microwave ovens and all devices that emit waves are considered to be endocrine disruptors.
Pesticides used on fruits and vegetables also contaminate the water and the air we breathe.
Herbicides, fungicides and insecticides are particularly dangerous to health and are suspected to be endocrine disruptors, carcinogens.
Nevertheless, there are many solutions today to fight against pesticides: eating organic, developing organic farming and short circuits, and above all, informing your family and friends to get things moving!
According to European regulations, a GMO is "an organism, with the exception of human beings, in which the genetic material has been altered in a way that does not occur naturally by multiplication and/or natural recombination". GMOs are genetic modifications of various organisms (animals, plants, microorganisms...) in order to be able to develop tolerance to pesticides, resistance to parasites...
GMOs are numerous and can be found in the cosmetic, food, medical and agricultural sectors. They are particularly problematic for farmers, listed as probably carcinogenic, and promote the development of leukaemia.
Synthetic hormones are endocrine disruptors. They have been specially created to effect a change in the hormonal system. The pill sends the information to the body that there is a pregnancy (when there is not), so the production of hormones that allow ovulation is stopped.
Endocrine disruptors are also found in other means of contraception: copper IUD, diaphragm, female and male condoms, the vaginal ring, the patch. These synthetic hormones are responsible for cardio-vascular diseases, modify the libido, and can cause fertility problems (this aspect is still much discussed, we do not have enough hindsight yet but it must be taken into account).
The pill for men is developing, which will also contain synthetic hormones.
Cosmetics: how can endocrine disruptors be avoided?
Endocrine disruptors, particularly phthalates, were previously widely used in the composition of cosmetics. This class of molecules was incorporated in products such as nail polish, perfumes and hairspray. In 2013, the European Union banned many phthalates in the composition of cosmetics because they were found to be carcinogenic, mutagenic and toxic to the human reproductive system.
The ones most commonly found in cosmetic tubes and bottles are phthalates. Fortunately, today there is a whole bunch of solutions for avoid endocrine disruptors in everyday lifeand particularly in cosmetics.
To avoid endocrine disruptors in cosmetics, it is preferable to choose organic cosmetic products. These products comply with charters that contain prohibited ingredients. The Cosmébio or Ecocert labels offer products that respect health and the environment. With these labels, you have the guarantee of a transparent composition.
However, be sure to check for certain organic products, if the names of endocrine disruptors have not been replaced by other harmful substances. In case of doubt, we advise you to use the "QuelCosmetic" application of the UFC-Que Choisir. By scanning the barcode of the product in question, which gives you an assessment of the risk level of a cosmetic product based on its potentially undesirable substances. Convenient, isn't it?
The good cosmetic products of Sybarite
The Sybarite offers a wide range of cosmetic products for the beard, the hair, the body and the men's faces. The products are which greatly limits the health risks! In addition to respecting your health, they respect the environment. They are not tested on animals, and offer a real feeling of well-being, by their compositions essentially based on plants and essential oils.
Be careful not to confuse allergens with endocrine disruptors. Allergens are not necessarily a problem, as long as the product is rinsed off, like a shampoo or shower gel. In Sybarite's products, the allergens in some products come from essential oils, where they are naturally present.
Focus on bulk cosmetics
For the respect of our environment, more and more brands and stores offer cosmetics in bulk. More and more consumers are coming to shop with glass jars or fabric packaging to collect and store their cosmetics. On the other hand, these bulk products may have come into contact with large plastic packaging before being put on the shelves. Cosmetics are therefore in direct contact with plastics and potentially contaminated by endocrine disruptors.
Who controls their presence in consumer products?
The crux of the controversy is here...
Discussions on MOUs have been ongoing since 1996. This is a positive development, but not as conclusive as could have been hoped for so many years later.
Discussions are raging around a plan for the European Union to adopt a regulatory definition of endocrine disrupters. This would make it possible to draw up a list of endocrine disruptors and to set up control procedures.
However, it would still be necessary to recognise all substances that can be considered as endocrine disruptors! The problem is that manufacturers whose products have been suspected of containing substances harmful to health are trying to restrict this definition and convince the European Commission to exclude certain products from the category of "endocrine disrupters".
The industry is fighting to make it clear that certain endocrine disrupters are useful in products, and is trying to slow down the adoption of measures that are binding on their companies.
In 2017, a highly controversial product definition has been adopted. In 2018, the EU executive launches a comprehensive review and publishes a new strategy. MEPs have proposed to deal with endocrine disrupters proven to be carcinogenic, mutagenic or toxic, and to ban them in EU cosmetics legislation.
However, Parliament believes that the response is not commensurate with the health threat. To be continued...