Men may not realize how much their commercial products may be harming their health, chipping away at their immune system and all the aspects of their endocrine (hormonal) system. For this reason, we can't and won't give up on getting men on board with healthy alternatives.
What is the Endocrine System?
Maybe you've heard this before, or maybe you haven't, that many of the chemical ingredients found in commercial skincare are potential endocrine disruptors. The endocrine system is also referred to as our "hormone system". All mammals have one, and they are made up of glands located throughout the body. These glands make hormones that are released into the bloodstream and receptors in various organs and tissues recognize and respond to these hormones. Some people think of hormones as only being important to the reproductive system and, when we are past our reproductive age or desire, it doesn't really matter anymore. This is simply not true, as hormones are responsible for many of our healthy body functions like growth (including the development of the brain and nervous system), energy (including metabolism and blood sugar control), and the reproductive system that regulates testosterone and estrogen in men and women. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has identified through scientific research on human epidemiology, lab animals, and wildlife studies that chemical contaminants (some that are commonly found in commercial personal care) can disrupt endocrine function that lead to adverse health consequences. These consequences include developmental malformations, reproductive interference, increased cancer risk, and issues with immune system and nervous system function.
What to Avoid, and What to Use Instead
Creating healthy products people can safely use every day takes a lot of research on which toxins to avoid, and which alternatives will perform the best. We've identified 3 ingredients over the years that are known to be both harmful and very common in commercial products. These include sulfates, phthalates, and parabens.
Sulfates can be identified on an ingredient label as having the word "sulfate" in the ingredients name. The most common (and most disruptive) is sodium lauryl sulfate or SLS. Sulfates are made when sulfuric acid interacts with another chemical and forms a salt. They almost always found in products that lather (shampoo, body wash, dish and hand soap, etc.). Sulfates are widely used because of their amazing lathering capabilities, as well as being cheap to produce. While lather generally does mean cleansing, lack of lather doesn't mean something is not cleansing. Sulfates have been shown to be contaminated with a chemical called 1,4 dioxane, one of the chemicals the EPA has detected as being an endocrine disruptor. In addition, these lathering agents have the propensity to be highly skin irritating. In my own experience, I find that individuals with skin issues find relief almost immediately once they remove sulfates from their daily routine. Luckily, there are many plant-based lathering agents available as alternatives. One of my favorites is "glucosides". These are often derived from sugar and much more gentle to the skin than sulfates, but still produce great lather.
Another common ingredient that is well worth avoiding is parabens. There is a laundry list of surnames for parabens that can be identified by the word "paraben" in the last part of the word (methylparaben is a common example). Parabens are strong chemical preservatives that extend the shelf life of water-based products like lotion and shampoo. A good preservative that can ward off bacteria and mold is absolutely necessary for any water-based product being sold to the public. Unless you are making your own product, using it within 2 weeks, and keeping it refrigerated, it needs to be properly preserved. Because parabens are chemicals, they are identified by the body as toxins and often difficult to eliminate, taking a toll on the kidneys and liver. Overtime, with enough use, they can build up in our body and tax the immune system. Specifically dangerous to men, they are also found to produce estrogen and disrupt endocrine function. Although there are many effective naturally-derived alternatives (GSB, Linatural, and Leucidal Complete are examples), they may not be strong enough to allow for the extensive manufacture lead, storage, travel, and shelf times of mass-produced products. This is why purchasing from local manufacturers who value small batch freshness is a safer, healthier option for daily use products.
The third ingredients to avoid unfortunately hides well within an ingredients list, and unless you are aware of a specific brand's practice when it comes to fragrance, you may not even know that phthalates are present. By law, companies do not have to disclose their fragrances, even essential oils because they are propriatary. On an ingredient label, all that is necessary is the word "fragrance", which could mean anything to a consumer. Phthalates are a family of industrial chemicals used to soften polyvinyl chloride (PVC) plastic and as solvents in cosmetics and other consumer products, specifically in artificially produced fragrances. Asthma, diabetes, breast cancer, and male infertility are just a few of the issues that have been linked to phthalates. While using essential oils rather than fragrance oils is a sure way to avoid them, not all desired fragrances can be created with plant-based oils. For those that are synthetic, suppliers will disclose those fragrances that are "phthalate free". For our company, we purchase only limited synthetic fragrance oils and always choose those that are documented as phthalate-free. In addition, all essential oils are listed on our ingredient labels to ensure customers with allergies and sensitivities know what they're putting on their skin.
Our skin is our biggest organ, absorbing approximately 60% of what we put on it. America is one of the few westernized countries that still allows domestic manufacturers to use known harmful chemicals in our personal care products. While it takes some effort and education to avoid these harmful substances, there are companies that take great time and care to avoid them and find effective alternatives. If you're lucky enough to have one in your own community, make a point to seek them out and support their efforts. Your body will thank you.
To read the EPA's documentation on Endocrine Disruption, follow this link to their website: www.epa.gov/endocrine-disruption/what-endocrine-disruption.