The Ugly Truth About Endocrine Disruptors in Cosmetics

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When it comes to the means by which the human body operates, there is still much to be discovered as scientists continuously poke and prod to see what outcomes are expressed. Similarly, hormones convey messages throughout the body in tiny amounts even as synthetic chemicals mimicking the body’s natural hormones  raise cause for alarm. Even at extremely low levels of concentration, these mimicking chemicals ( also known as endocrine distributors) are used in  many personal care products, and may have serious effects on metabolism, reproductive development and potential risks for long term adverse health effects.

For centuries, the prevailing wisdom was that “the dose makes the poison.” This theory was put forth by Paracelsus, a scientist and physician during the 16th century European Renaissance. His idea was that any substance was considered a poison if ingested in high quantities, and that any substance could be safe if the exposures were small enough. However, studies on endocrine disruptors continue to provide evidence supporting that there are no safe exposure levels for such chemicals -for instance, lead exposure can affect brain development even at parts per million. These effects are often qualitatively different from those found in traditional toxicology testing.

Low-dose effects are especially likely in developing tissues, during the early developmental periods when even minuscule levels of naturally occurring hormones shape the development of the brain, reproductive organs, and metabolism (see Vandenberg et al., 2012 for an overview).[1] EDC effects are often strongest at low doses at developmental stages when the complex hormonal regulation has not yet been established.[2],[3],[4] The timing of these low dose exposures also matters. Low dose exposures at certain points in development – prenatal as well as during puberty, may have stronger or qualitatively different effects on health outcomes.  Therefore, continued research and monitoring of such chemicals and their interactions with body functions are crucial to better understanding these ambiguous areas of chemical safety and toxicity.


[1] Vandenberg L.N., Colborn T., Hayes T.B., Heindel J.J., Jacobs D.R. Jr, Lee D.H., Shioda T., Soto A.M., vom Saal F.S., Welshons W.V., Zoeller R.T. and Myers J.P. (2012). Hormones and endocrine-disrupting chemicals: low-dose effects and nonmonotonic dose responses. Endocr Rev. 2012 Jun;33(3):378-455. doi: 10.1210/er.2011-1050.

[2] Diamanti-Kandarakis, E. (2009). Endocrine-Disrupting Chemicals: An Endocrine Society Scientific Statement. Endocr Rev, 30, 293–342.

[3] Welshons, W., Nagel, S., & Vom Saal, F. (2006). Large effects from small exposures. III. Endocrine mechanisms mediating effects of bisphenol A at levels of human exposure. Endocrinology, 147, 56–69.

[4] President’s Cancer Panel (2010). Reducing Environmental Cancer Risk: What We Can Do Now. 2008-2009 Annual Report of the President’s Cancer Panel. National Cancer Institute. Available online

Reference Article: here