What’s it all about?
- Endocrine disruptors are natural or synthetically produced chemical compounds that interfere with the production of hormones in humans and other animals that may contribute to disease and other conditions
- Common sunscreen active ingredients including Homosalate and 4-Methylbenzylidene Camphor have been deemed as potentially endocrine disrupting by the Scientific Committee on Consumer Safety (SCCS) with others still under review.
- There are difficulties in reliably determining the endocrine disruption potential of chemicals due to bans on animal testing.
- If brands avoid ingredients associated with endocrine disruption, it will contribute to an increase in the price of their sunscreens.
A little information can be a dangerous thing
Rightfully so, for many of us health and wellbeing is a top priority. Since the 1920’s (which coincidentally is when sunscreen first came into existence) the average lifespan has increased by 23 years, or almost 40% to an age of 84 years.
So, overall we are living healthier and longer lives than ever before, despite the dizzying range of newly identified ‘hazards’ that seem to exist.
The issue is that terms like ‘endocrine disruptor’, much like the term ‘toxic’ fail to capture the true risk to human health. It tells us there is a hazard we should be conscious of, but not the advantages that often coexist.
Many chemicals are simultaneously toxic, and essential to human health. Selenium as an example (a toxin rated as a Class 6 dangerous good) is used topically as an anti-dandruff ingredient, in ingestible supplements and naturally occurs in food including seafood and some nuts. It has an immune boosting function, improves hair and nails and supports a healthy thyroid, yet could kill us if we were exposed to too much.
The endocrine system
The endocrine system is a network of glands that produce an array of complex chemicals called hormones. Examples of glands include pituitary, thyroid, thymus and adrenal glands, with each gland producing a different combination of hormones.
Hormones act as chemical messengers by triggering a target cell to react in a particular manner and serve a vast number of functions, including regulating our moods and metabolism in addition to facilitating reproductive processes. For example, the pituitary gland produces cortisol which is responsible for regulating a number of processes including metabolism and immune response.
Once hormones are produced by the gland, they are sent into the bloodstream to control the relevant functions and achieve hormonal balance.
If the endocrine system isn’t functioning correctly it may contribute to problems with an individual’s development or growth (particularly for young people), potential to get pregnant or ability to deal with stress and anxiety.
What is an endocrine disruptor?
Endocrine disruptors are chemicals (also referred to as Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals – EDC’s) which can be either naturally occurring or synthetic substances, that mimic or interfere with the body’s own hormones. The disruption can take a variety of forms and can include the interference of the synthesis, secretion, binding, action, transport, or elimination of a hormone.
Examples of well-known endocrine disruptors include phytoestrogens (found in plants, including soy, berries, flaxseed, broccoli, brussel sprouts etc), phthalates (found in plastics), lead (e.g. leaded petrol) and dioxins (formed during combustion).
Many plants and animals produce substances that can have endocrine effects. Some of the substances are toxic, but effects have proven beneficial in some circumstances.
Endocrine disrupters have been used to control fertility (birth control pills),treat cancer (corticosteroids), and treat psychiatric disorders and other medical conditions. – Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety
Endocrine disruptors in skincare
Fortunately, none of the well-known EDC’s (e.g. lead or phthalates) are permitted for use in skincare. However, with ever-increasing research into the field, improvement in technology and ingredients becoming available, there will always be new ingredients that may be of concern.
The Scientific Committee on Consumer Safety (SCCS) is a European committee who provide science-based opinions on the health and safety risks of cosmetics and other non-food consumer products. They are arguably the most effective scientific body currently looking at endocrine disruptors and their use in skincare and sunscreen.
They found that whilst there are indications from some in vivo studies that may suggest some cosmetic and sunscreen ingredients can have an endocrine effect.
It should be noted that the evidence is not conclusive (unlike the evidence that sunscreen ingredients prevent cancer) however the SCCS have been or are actively investigating the following ingredients:
- Benzophenone-3 (Oxybenzone)
- Octyl Methoxycinnamate (Octinoxate)
- 4-Methylbenzylidene Camphor (4-MBC)
Make sure you read part 2 which further investigates endocrine disruptors in skincare, what they do and if they can be replaced. To discuss the potential impact of endocrine disruptors in your product and the alternatives available contact us.