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Hormone Disruptors in Skin Care Explained


Clean beauty has exploded over the past decade and with it has emerged an ever-growing list of chemicals we should avoid in our skin care products. You may have wondered exactly why many of these ingredients have been called out and eliminated. One broad class of no-fly ingredients are hormone disruptors. Below, we’ll break down how certain ingredients act as hormone disruptors, the sources and consequences of these chemicals, and how to account for this in your daily life.  

Hormone disruptors, formally known as endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs), are natural or manmade molecules that interfere with our endocrine system [1]. EDCs typically interfere with estrogen receptor (ER) signaling by either mimicking the structure of estrogen, thereby competing with our body’s endogenous estrogen for access to the receptor, or various other mechanisms that result in modified ER signaling [2]. Many of these compounds are lipophilic which results in their bioaccumulation in our fattier tissues over time, even if the exposure is external (i.e. topical skin care) [3]. Chronic exposure to EDCs, especially during periods of development, can have subtle but sometimes drastic consequences on our health depending on the dose [4]. 


There is a long list of EDCs but the ones you will commonly find in everyday products include:

  • Parabens- chemical preservatives, explicitly listed [5]
  • Phthalates- often a hidden ingredient in proprietary blends of “fragrance” or “parfum” [6]. They are also used in plastic packaging with resin code 3. Banned in Europe
  • Phytoestrogens- found in soy products. Soy provides many benefits however phytoestrogens may compete with a cell’s endogenous estrogen signals [7]
  • bisphenol A (BPA)- found in some plastic packaging. Avoid those with resin code 7. Banned by the FDA in the manufacturing of infant products; it is still widely used elsewhere however it’s found to be rapidly cleared from the body [8]
  • DDT- a banned pesticide in the US but sometimes still use in agriculture in other countries [9]


EDCs are omnipresent in our environment from cosmetics to food packaging to agriculture to the air to pharmaceuticals and beyond. Many studies have linked exposure to EDCs with metabolic disorders, neurodevelopmental disorders, reproductive problems, and cancer [2,10]. It’s important to note that most studies assess the ability of chemicals to act as EDCs occurred in cell models however hormone signaling in the body is extremely complex. Studying subtle, chronic exposure over long periods of time in humans has presented many challenges to researchers and thus, our understanding of EDCs is incomplete [11]. For an official list of EDCs recognized by the UN, visittheir website.


It’s impossible to completely avoid EDCs but we can take steps to manage our exposure to them, especially in developing children and pregnant women. Using glassware whenever possible, buying organic produce, assessing water quality, and checking the ingredient lists of skin care and household products can help you reduce your exposure to is a website dedicated to simplifying your path to better will help you assess ingredients in household and beauty products as well as your tap water quality. Using your money to buy clean cosmetics not only provides you with higher quality, safe skin care products; it also shows that you expect more from the beauty industry at large.


  1. Kabir ER, Rahman MS, Rahman I (2015) A review on endocrine disruptors and their possible impacts on human health.Environmental Toxicology and Pharmacology 40, 241–258.
  2. La Merrill MA, Vandenberg LN, Smith MT, Goodson W, Browne P, Patisaul HB, Guyton KZ, Kortenkamp A, Cogliano VJ, Woodruff TJ, Rieswijk L, Sone H, Korach KS, Gore AC, Zeise L, Zoeller RT (2020) Consensus on the key characteristics of endocrine-disrupting chemicals as a basis for hazard identification.Nature Reviews Endocrinology 16, 45–57.
  3. Sandanger TM, Huber S, Moe MK, Braathen T, Leknes H, Lund E (2011) Plasma concentrations of parabens in postmenopausal women and self-reported use of personal care products: the NOWAC postgenome study.Journal of Exposure Science & Environmental Epidemiology 21, 595–600.
  4. Calaf GM, Ponce‑Cusi R, Aguayo F, Muñoz JP, Bleak TC (2020) Endocrine disruptors from the environment affecting breast cancer (Review).Oncology Letters 20, 19–32.
  5. Maipas S, Nicolopoulou-Stamati P (2015) Sun lotion chemicals as endocrine disruptors.Hormones 14, 32–46.
  6. Safe Cosmetics, Phthalates.
  7. Patisaul HB (2017) Endocrine disruption by dietary phyto-oestrogens: impact on dimorphic sexual systems and behaviours.Proc Nutr Soc 76, 130–144.
  8. (2017) Don’t Confuse Me With The Facts… About BPA.Facts About BPA.
  9. Soto AM, Sonnenschein C (2010) Environmental causes of cancer: endocrine disruptors as carcinogens.Nature Reviews Endocrinology 6, 363–370.
  10. (2020)Endocrine Disruptors and Your Health, National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.
  11. Mallozzi M, Leone C, Manurita F, Bellati F, Caserta D (2017) Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals and Endometrial Cancer: An Overview of Recent Laboratory Evidence and Epidemiological Studies.International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health 14, 334.