Ever since I was diagnosed with PCOS, I’ve been on a quest to remove endocrine disruptors from our home. That includes everything from our bathroom cabinet to our pantry. Unfortunately, there is no shortage of pesky ingredients in our household items and skincare products. In fact, most of us aren’t aware of how many we’re exposed to! As in like, 80,000 chemicals, every day. Over time, these unnatural ingredients wreak havoc on our hormones. They also impact our longevity, blood sugar, and more. The fewer we come in contact with, the better. And this begins at home.
So, what are endocrine disruptors? Today, digging into what they are, how they disrupt hormones, and top tips for limiting exposure.
Feature image by Michelle Nash.
Synthetic Chemicals Disrupt the Body’s Flow
Our bodies run on a network of hormones. These hormones regulate nearly all processes, functions, and emotions. Most often, we think of this system—the endocrine system—in the context of menstrual health. But it actually plays a starring role in our development, metabolism, and more. It’s a powerful yet delicate system (one that’s easily knocked out of balance).
While many factors can disrupt its flow, synthetic chemicals are certainly to blame. They’re found in plastics, food, fragrances, etc. They mimic hormones and interfere with our delicate endocrine system. We’re exposed to these synthetic chemicals—also known as endocrine disruptors—daily.
What are endocrine disruptors?
Endocrine disrupting chemicals—also known as EDCs—are harmful substances in the environment. They’re usually manmade, found in a wide variety of consumer goods. Think: carpets, cookware, household dust, fragrances, furniture, paints, skincare products, plastics, pesticides, certain pharmaceuticals, and unfiltered drinking water.
Once they’re in our bodies, they can disrupt our endocrine system. In essence, they mimic, block, or interfere with our hormones. Long-term, this can pose significant health risks. Luckily, it’s possible to limit (or avoid altogether!) endocrine disruptors by shopping smarter.
The Hidden Dangers of Endocrine Disruptors
Not to be the bearer of bad news, but endocrine disruptors play so many tricks on the body. They can increase the production of certain hormones, decrease the production of others, as well as bind to hormones to imitate them. EDCs are even known to turn one hormone into another, interfering with hormone signaling. Most notably, they accumulate in our organs, competing with essential nutrients. Long-term, emerging research shows that EDCs can put us at increased risk of developing a number of health conditions: including type 2 diabetes and cancer. When possible, we want to avoid them!
Common Endocrine Disruptors and How to Avoid Them
There’s a laundry list of endocrine disruptors out there, but these are the most common (as well as where they’re hidden):
- Bisphenol A (BPA) and other bisphenols: plastics and canned goods.
- Chemical flame retardants: furniture, mattresses, and kitchen items.
- High-risk pesticides: personal care, conventional food, weed killers, and unfiltered water.
- Methylisothiazolinone: preservative found in cleaning and personal care products.
- Oxybenzone: sunscreen and fragrances.
- Parabens: personal care.
- Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS): stain-resistant carpeting, nonstick cookware, cosmetics, some food packaging materials, and some menstrual health products.
- Phthalates: plastics, canned goods, fragrance
- Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs): paints, plastics, and rubber.
- Triclosan and triclocarban: cleaning products, labeled as “antimicrobial.”
7 Ways to Limit Your Exposure to Endocrine Disruptors
Knowing what endocrine disruptors are—and how they impact the body—is only one piece of the puzzle. Understanding how to limit your exposure is the other. Below are seven ways to limit your daily exposure to EDCs.
Switch to Clean Beauty
Here at CS, we’re clean beauty-obsessed. From moisturizers to mascaras, we’ve tried ’em all. When it comes to skincare and makeup products, clean is keen. On a daily basis, we are exposed to so many chemicals, and as women, we are particularly targeted. In fact, studies show that women use an average of 12 personal care products, daily, exposing themselves to over 160 different chemicals.
Although an individual beauty product may have small amounts of harmful chemicals, our overall exposure (and the combination of different chemicals) is what causes the problem. Thankfully, clean beauty brands are a dime a dozen. You can check your makeup products for their cleanliness ratings, here.
Ditch the Plastic
For your body and the environment. Studies show that plastics contain (and leach) hazardous chemicals, including endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs). EDCs disturb the body’s hormone systems and can cause cancer, diabetes, reproductive disorders, and neurological impairments of developing fetuses and children. The report describes a wealth of evidence supporting direct cause-and-effect links between the toxic chemical additives in plastics and specific health impacts to the endocrine system. Swap your plastic tupperware for glass!
Say Yes to Fresh Air
Did you know that indoor dust can be enriched with endocrine-disrupting chemicals (released from numerous indoor sources)? Here’s your gentle nudge to open the windows. Open windows prevent mold and humidity from forming, remove dusty, stale air, and even encourage higher serotonin levels. Fresh air is a beautiful thing. Equally important, change your furnace and air conditioner filters. If you have air conditioning, you can change this filter every six months. A good rule of thumb for your furnace: change it when it’s visibly dirty. For most homes, that’s once every winter.
Take Inventory of Your Cleaning Supplies
One of the biggest culprits of EDCs? Cleaning supplies. It’s not surprising that many cleaning supplies can irritate the eyes or throat, or cause other health problems, including cancer. Some products release dangerous chemicals, including ammonia and bleach. No need for such harsh synthetic chemicals! When possible, opt for non-toxic cleaning products. A few of my favorite sustainable cleaning brands are Dr. Bronner’s, Method, and Puracy. You can check the toxicity level of your cleaning products here. Remember, knowledge is power.
Swap Artificial Fragrances for Plants and Candles
Let’s talk indoor plants. Beyond adding color and beauty to your space, most indoor plants absorb toxins from the air. They’ll all increase humidity and produce oxygen in your home, too. Here’s a fun, affordable way to shop for your plants! Plus, there are plenty of low-light plants that thrive in various rooms and living spaces.
Speaking of living spaces, do you enjoy burning candles? If so, say sayonara to artificial air fresheners and scented candles made of paraffin wax. Unfortunately, most candles are made of paraffin wax, a type that leaches toxic chemicals into the air. When in doubt, choose candles made of soy wax and beeswax. I love Otherland candles. Diffused essential oils are a great alternative, too.
Drink Filtered Water
Next, water. The best way to remove unnecessary contaminants and EDCs from your tap is with a water filter. While we have a Berkey—and it’s been a worthwhile investment—it’s much higher on the price scale. At the very least, removing lead with a cost-effective filter is ideal. There are a variety of options, from fridge filters to pitchers, and you can even add one to your shower head. This will remove chemicals, like chlorine, as you rinse off. Curious to know what’s in your water? Click here.
Consider Eco-Friendly Home Decor
If you’re in the market to upgrade your furniture, opt for synthetic chemical-free and sustainably-made products. Popular retailers—like Wayfair, Crate and Barrel, and Pottery Barn—indicate which items are sustainable and chemical-free. Of course, there are also plenty of boutique companies and antique shops offering beautiful, non-toxic furniture and room decor.
Last but not least, consider switching to organic bedding. Most of us don’t realize how many chemicals are in our bedding and mattress—where we spend 7-9 hours every night! Not only is organic bedding better for the environment (no synthetic chemicals or pesticides are used), but it’s safer on your skin. It also tends to be much softer than its conventional counterpart. And when you clean your sheets, use a non-toxic laundry detergent. Wool dryer balls can be used in lieu of dryer sheets, too!