Lifestyle

Dangerous skin care cocktails

A recent German study on cosmetics shakes consumers. A huge research project conducted by the environmental organisation Bund für Umwelt und Naturschutz Deutschland (BUND) found out that about one third of cosmetic products on the German market contain harmful hormones. Shampoos, creams, make-up, soaps: many products could cause severe diseases and disorders. The products can be especially dangerous for babys and children.

Dermatology products

In February the World Health Organisation (WHO) published a research paper on a new “global threat”: EDCs – Endocrine Disruptive Chemicals. These are partly natural but mainly man-made substances that can affect the hormone system of mammals. A panel of 16 scientists from 10 nations found out that

It is clear that some of these chemical pollutants can affect the endocrine (hormonal) system, and certain of these endocrine disruptors may also interfere with the developmental processes of humans and wildlife species.

The effects of Endocrine Disruptive Chemicals

By interfering with natural hormones EDCs alter developmental processes, leading to a feminisation of boys, earlier puberty of girls and higher risks of certain cancers. The WHO paper states alarming trends and tendencies that are related to the human exposure to EDCs:

  • Large proportions (up to 40%) of young men in some countries have low semen quality, which reduces their ability to father children.
  • The incidence of genital malformations, such as non-descending testes (cryptorchidisms) and penile malformations (hypospadias), in baby boys has increased over time or levelled off at unfavourably high rates.
  • The incidence of adverse pregnancy outcomes, such as preterm birth and low birth weight, has increased in many countries.
  • Global rates of endocrine-related cancers (breast, endometrial, ovarian, prostate, testicular and thyroid) have been increasing over the past 40–50 years.
  • The prevalence of obesity and type 2 diabetes has dramatically increased worldwide over the last 40 years.
English: Pregnant woman at a WIC clinic in Vir...

EDCs can be especially harmful for unborn children. (photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

To counteract to these tendencies the UN launched the Strategic Approach to International Chemicals Management (SAICM) ) in February 2006. The overall goal is “to achieve the sound management of chemicals throughout their life cycle so that, by 2020, chemicals are used and produced in ways that minimize significant adverse effects on human health and the environment.”

Today, there are about 800 chemicals known or suspected to have interfering effects with our hormonal systems. However, the WHO report states, “the vast majority of chemicals in current commercial use have not been tested at all!”

We can absord EDCs by eating and drinking food, inhale air, or through our skin: Yes, many personal care products contain these harmful chemicals.

EDCs in personal care products

Because the ingredients of cosmetics are easily trackable, in comparison to finding out which pesticides were used for the apple you are eating, we as consumers have a better chance of avoiding them.

Photo Credit: BUND

The German environmental organisation BUND just published a big study on over 60.000 personal care products that are sold on the German and global market. The results are shocking: about one third of all products contain chemicals that are capable of interfering with the endocrine system.
Looking at the products of market leaders the numbers are even more crucial: 46% of all products of Beiersdorf, the company behind Nivea and Labello, and 45% of L’Oreal products, including Garnier and L’Oreal Men Expert, contain EDCs. Unilever, the company producing Axe/Lynx, Sunsilk and Rexona, has „only“ a rate of 19%.

It doesn’t get any better when you look at expensive, luxury cosmetic brands: 66% of all Chanel products and 50% of Shiseido products contain these chemicals.

EDCs are especially dangerous for babys and children, as their hormone systems are developing. Using products for children is not a guarantee that they are free of harmful chemicals as the research shows that they also contain EDCs. The BUND thus recommends: „Especially pregnant women and parents of infants and teenagers should pay attention that the cosmetic products they use are free of hormonal substances.“
Even unborn children can be affected by the chemicals in the products their mums uses.

The chemical cocktail

Of course, there are laws, which chemicals can be used in which dose. Laboratory tests have shown, that giving a pregnant rat one substance hardly has any effects on an unborn child. But, combining two or more substances during pregnancy it often caused severe diseases and disorders for the foetus.

This phenomenon is called “Cocktail effect”. Different EDCs can reinforce each other. It is widely assumed that during a day we have contact with at least 7 personal care products. However, the cocktail effect is not considered by the risk assessment by the European Union. According to the BUND the guidelines focus on the critical value of single substances.

There is also some good news. Most natural brands, such as Weleda, Dr. Hauschka and Martina Gebhardt, contain 0%  EDCs. One more reason to go natural.

Photo Credit: BUND

 

To help consumers through the jungle of advertisement lies the BUND also launched a handy application for iPhone and iPod: ToxFox. After scanning the bar code it indicates whether the product contains EDCs or not.

Owners of other phones can use the mobile check. Unfortunately, both of these tools are in German, but they are mainly self-explanatory.

 

More information:

WHO report: State of the Science of Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals – 2012

WHO report: Endocrine Disrupters and Child Health

BUND: Study on Cosmetics (German)

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