The World Health Organization (WHO) and United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) just released State of the Science of Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals, a disturbing report that takes on the link between endocrine disrupting compounds (EDCs) and disease in both humans and wildlife. It calls for more research, testing, reporting, and collaboration between scientific communities and countries. “Chemical products are increasingly part of modern life and support many national economies, but the unsound management of chemicals challenges the achievement of key development goals, and sustainable development for all,” said UN Under Secretary-General and UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner.

EDCs are synthetic chemicals that mimic hormones in the body or alter regular hormonal functions. The  health issues  associated with endocrine disruption include hormonal cancers (breast and prostate), thyroid disorders, diabetes, autism, obesity, decreased sperm count, reproductive problems, ADHD and early puberty.

One of the most widely used chemicals suspected of endocrine disruption is the cosmetic preservative known as the paraben. It is listed on labels as butylparaben, isobutylparaben, isopropylparaben, methylparaben, and propylparaben and can be found in at least 67,000 personal care products on the market. It is a popular choice for companies due to its low cost, efficacy and favourable worldwide regulatory status.

Last year, a report published by the Journal of Applied Toxicology measured the amount of parabens in tissue samples from the mastectomies of 40 different breast cancer patients. Of the 160 tissue samples tested, 158 had parabens in them – 99%. It was also noted that the levels of parabens were found to be significantly higher in the region closest to the armpits, making underarm products with parabens highly suspect.

Another study published by Toxicology and Applied Pharmacology showed that parabens had weak estrogenic activity in the body and suggested that the safety of these ingredients needed to be reassessed. Interestingly, there was no estrogenic activity when administered orally; it only occurred when topically applied. This supports the idea that chemicals in personal care products can be more hazardous to the body than the same chemicals in food, because they go directly into the bloodstream.

The chemical industry dismisses these reports as flawed and does not acknowledge cause for concern even though their safety testing is based on skin irritation and does not take into account absorption and prolonged, repetitive exposure. Many consumers, though, are erring on the side of caution and the demand for paraben-free products has grown substantially. There are now many safer options that didn’t exist 10 years ago so always check your labels for ingredients listed as butylparaben, isobutylparaben, isopropylparaben, methylparaben and propylparaben or look for the term ‘paraben-free.’

Read the rest of this series: Fragrance | Petrochemicals | Triclosan | Formaldehyde. Visit Environmental Defence Canada for a list of safe, paraben-free brands.

Jessica Burman is the founder and owner of organic skin care line Cocoon Apothecary. She likes getting down to the bottom of things and exposing toxins lurking in every day products, and blogs for A\J about how everyday consumer choices can effect your health and the state of the planet. She is passionate about ditching synthetic chemicals in favor of simple, time-tested alternatives. She lives in Kitchener and is a mom to two youngs girls and too many pets. 

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