When it's time to shop for items I keep in my home, whether they're cosmetics or kitchen supplies, I generally trust that an item approved to be on the market is safe for me to use. But it turns out the issue is a little more complicated than my shopping cart and I had hoped.
Dr. Marcela Magda Popa, a board-certified internal medicine physician and author of the book Keep Away From GRAS: Generally Recognized as Safe, tells SheKnows that certain household chemicals mimic estrogen and pose health risks because of this.
"In cosmetics, there are phthalates (under "fragrance") and parabens," Popa says, noting that these chemicals can also be found in some medications. Aluminum is found in many deodorants, and triclosan is present in soaps, toothpastes and some cosmetics. Popa also points to the presence of oxybenzone, homosalate and octinoxate in UV filters like sunscreen.
"Besides aluminum, others lurk in numerous household items," Popa says. "Phthalates are incorporated in food wrap [and] vinyl products [like] tablecloths, shower curtains and furniture upholstery."
Dr. Nilem Patel, an endocrinologist at Adventist Health in California, tells SheKnows that BPA (bisphenol A) is an endocrine-disrupting chemical that's frequently found in food containers, polycarbonate eyeglasses, water supply lines and thermal paper receipts.
"Exposing such items to sunlight or heat can cause BPA to transfer to the food," Patel says in reference to food containers that have BPA.
Popa tells SheKnows that perfluorinated chemicals (PTFE and PFOA) are found in nonstick cookware (Teflon brand), fast-food wrappers, paper plates and cups and stain-resistant carpets and furniture. "PTFE is also used in mascara, foundation, pressed or loose powder, eye shadow and certain antiaging creams," she adds.
But how exactly do these chemicals impact our bodies? Patel explains that estrogen-mimicking chemicals bind to the body's estrogen receptors, thereby interfering in natural estrogen's ability to bind. She explains that these chemicals are associated with cancers, uterine fibroids, fertility issues, ovarian dysfunction, increased androgen production, polycystic ovary syndrome, hypertension and cardiovascular disease.
"As each of us reacts differently when exposed to the same substances, the additional doses of foreign estrogens may turn out to have something to do with uterine or ovarian problems, like fibromas or cysts," Popa says. Even in cases that aren't serious, she notes that each diagnosis comes with its own set of symptoms and causes for concern.
Additionally, Popa tells SheKnows that interference with the sexual hormones (estrogen, progesterone and testosterone) can result in reproductive and developmental toxicity, infertility, early puberty and sexual dysfunction.
Luckily, there are household products on the market that don't contain these chemicals. Popa recommends switching to aluminum-free deodorants and cosmetics without parabens and phthalates. She also suggests avoiding plastic containers altogether in favor of glass, ceramic, porcelain or stainless steel. To limit exposure to perfluorinated chemicals, Popa says enameled cast-iron, stainless steel or ceramic cookware should be used rather than Teflon.
"Many people presume that everything that's available to buy is safe. They are not aware that estrogen-mimicking chemicals or other endocrine disruptors can be detrimental to humans' health," Popa explains. "Understanding all these details takes quite a bit of time and solid chemistry knowledge, and I don't think people should have to go through some research every time they need to purchase a product."
And because there are healthier replacements available in every category, she recommends making the switch now.