There’s a lot of talk about hormones these days. We see it in the media. We hear chemicals like phthalates and oxybenzone have been linked to hormone disruption. Growth hormones are actually banned from use in chickens and pigs in the U.S., but the fact that they’re not used still makes its way onto packaging as a benefit. So, what’s all the hormone chatter about? What do hormones do and why is disrupting them such a problem?
What do hormones do?
We recently did a presentation and asked our audience that same question. We got silence, some glances at other audience members and finally, one brave person said hormones control puberty and menopause. A few then chimed in, joking about mood swings and how they definitely didn’t need any more hormones!
They’re right, of course, but mood isn’t even half the story. People have a vague idea that hormones control mood and reproduction, but hormones do a lot more than that. And the problems associated with hormone disruption are no joke!
Hormones—the control center for your entire body
Your body is constantly sending messages, coordinating all its systems and making sure everything works together. Hormones are produced by the endocrine system and serve as the messengers. They carry information from the brain to the cells and organs. Hormones certainly play a role in puberty, reproduction and menopause, but they also regulate our heart rate, thyroid, metabolism and even how well we sleep.[i] You can see why these messengers matter!
How does hormone disruption happen?
The signal the hormone represents can get altered in several ways. Certain chemicals can mimic hormones. When the chemical is absorbed into the skin, the body sees it as a message from the brain, even though the brain didn’t say anything. It’s like high school gossip—the messages are easily believed and cause a lot of damage! For example, oxybenzone “dresses up” like estrogen in the body. The body thinks the brain is saying, “We need a little more estrogen,” so the body makes more. Some chemicals block the action of the hormone so it has no effect, and some manipulate the hormone, changing everything about its normal function. [ii] Some chemicals even tell cells to die before their time.[iii]
Don’t shoot the messenger, but…
Hormone disruption is like shooting the messenger. The brain is trying to tell the body what to do, but real messages aren’t getting there safely—if at all—and fake messages are taking their place. This internal miscommunication has been tied to infertility in men and women, and early-onset puberty.[iv],[v] These are very real issues, but what if you’re safely past puberty? What if you aren’t looking to start a family or you don’t plan on having more children? Should you still be concerned about hormone disruption? If you enjoy the little things like sleeping normally; having strong, stable bones; and not gaining weight for no apparent reason, then yes, hormone disruption is still a big deal!
In the mood for safer products?
If all this hormone-disruptor talk is putting you in a bad mood, we have good news. It’s relatively easy to avoid hormone disruptors if you know what to look for. Chemical sunscreens like oxybenzone and octinoxate are common hormone disruptors, and one of the reasons we wake up and make safe mineral sunscreen products every day. A lesser-known, but more common source of hormone disruptors is fragrance. Thousands of chemicals, including phthalates, can hide under the term “fragrance.” Phthalates help the scent adhere to your skin, but they also signal cell death and are one of the top 12 endocrine (hormone) disruptors according to the Environmental Working Group (EWG).[vi] Fragrance can even contain sunscreen chemicals like oxybenzone and octinoxate, which are used to protect other chemicals from degrading in the sun.[vii]
Remember, these ingredients do not need to be listed separately! That’s why our products, including our perfumes, are scented with only pure essential oils. For a handy reference, check out the EWG’s Dirty Dozen Endocrine Disruptors so you can stay on the lookout for these troublemakers. If you avoid these disruptors, you’ll keep your body’s messengers happily chatting. And thanks for chatting with us about hormones!
- Give Chemicals the Bird—Fragrance
- Give Chemicals the Bird: Phthalates
- What Is Oxybenzone and Why Is it in Sunscreen?