“What’s your beauty routine?” sounds more fitting for a Sephora counter than a doctor’s office, but it’s par for the course for Tiffany Lester, M.D. As a functional medicine doctor and national clinical director of community for Parsley Health, Dr. Lester carefully considers her patients’ lifestyles. And that includes encouraging them to limit exposure to endocrine disruptors — a particularly insidious class of chemicals in conventional beauty products that have been linked to everything from cancer to endometriosis. Here, she explains why clean beauty is more than skin-deep — it’s a health issue.
Endocrine disruptors are chemicals — mostly man-made — found in everyday products that interfere with our endocrine system and can wreak havoc on our sex and thyroid hormones. They do this by mimicking these naturally occurring hormones, causing overproduction or stimulation. And they also interfere with efficient liver metabolism.
Yes and no. If your detoxification systems are working properly, then yes. But for most of us this is not the case. We need additional support in terms of lifestyle modifications and supplements. For example, getting adequate sleep every night — something that many of my patients struggle with—is crucial, as this is when our bodies’ detoxification process is at its peak.
While it’s likely correct that small amounts of exposures aren’t harmful, the truth is that most of us are exposed to high amounts cumulatively on a daily basis. Beyond beauty products, they’re present in household cleaners, fumes from our furniture — even in the pesticides in our produce. What’s more, we just don’t know the long-term effects of these chemicals on our systems because they’re relatively new. They haven’t been around long enough for us to collect adequate data. This is why it is essential to control what you can and limit your exposure as much as possible.
This is typically due to the fact that as women we use more beauty products than men — on average about 6 times more — so we’re exposed to more endocrine disruptors on a daily basis. And they can impact fertility and pregnancy. Two concerns are: Are these chemicals causing disruption to a woman’s hormone cycle? And will this negatively affect a fetus? The answer to both of these questions is yes. The goal is to limit your exposure as much as possible while trying to get pregnant and during pregnancy.
Parabens: These are preservatives found across the board in beauty products (it makes them stable).
Phthalates: Found in everything from plastic bottles to virtually all synthetic fragrance, they act as plasticizers and solvents.
Sulfates: These industrial degreasing agents, which include sodium lauryl sulfate and sodium laureth sulfate, are used to make soaps and shampoo foam.
Synthetic colors: Many artificial colors and dyes, which you can see listed on a label like D&C red 27, are actually banned in Europe. But in the United States you’ll find them in makeup, lotions, shower gels, pretty much anything.
Triclosan: This antimicrobial agent was recently banned from use in anti-bacterial soaps, but you’ll still find it in other personal care products like toothpaste.
Chemical sunscreens: Ingredients like benzophenone, PABA, avobenzone, homosalate, and octinoxate are frequently used SPF chemical filters in the US.
The number one change I have my patients make is swapping out their water bottles and tupperware dishes to glass only. No exceptions. The chemicals in plastic leach into our food and water especially when heated which we then ingest. The other simple thing you can do is bring your own travel mug when grabbing coffee or tea — or at least don’t use the top when grabbing a cup to go. The lid is full of chemicals that combine with heat to literally drip right into our beverages.