Skin deep: Chemicals in cosmetics alter women’s hormone levels

September 17, 2018

It’s time to face up to the facts: The cosmetics and creams women use every day may cover their flaws and accentuate their best features, but they also can pose a critical risk. New research has established that chemicals found in many beauty products are linked to changes in hormones.

Indeed, the new research results—published in Environment International by Assistant Professor of Global and Community Health Anna Pollack, Ph.D., and colleagues at Fairfax, Virginia-based George Mason University—discovered links between chemicals that are widely used in cosmetic and personal care products and changes in reproductive hormones that can lead to serious conditions, including breast cancer and cardiovascular disease. .

For their study, the authors collected 509 urine samples from 143 healthy women between ages of 18 and 44. Participants did use birth control and had no prior history of any chronic ailments. Urine was analyzed for environmental chemicals commonly found in cosmetic and personal care products.

The authors found numerous adverse effects on reproductive hormones when these chemicals were present—especially parabens (antimicrobial preservatives) and benzophenones (ultraviolet filters). They say that even low levels of exposure to mixtures of chemicals can alter levels of hormones.

“We have early indicators that chemicals such as parabens may increase estrogen levels,” says Pollack, in a university press release. “If this finding is confirmed by additional research, it could have implications for estrogen dependent diseases such as breast cancer.”

This study is the first to examine mixtures of chemicals that are widely used in personal care products in relation to hormones in healthy, reproductive-age women, using multiple measures of exposure across the menstrual cycle, which improved upon research that relied on one or two measures of chemicals,” Pollack noted.

This multi-chemical approach more closely reflects real-world environmental exposures and shows that even low-level exposure to mixtures of chemicals may affect reproductive hormone levels. Another noteworthy finding of the study is that certain chemical and UV filters were associated with decreased reproductive hormones in multi-chemical exposures while others were associated with increases in other reproductive hormones, underscoring the complexities of these chemicals.

“What we should take away from this study is that we may need to be careful about the chemicals in the beauty and personal care products we use,” explains Pollack. “We have early indicators that chemicals such as parabens may increase estrogen levels. If this finding is confirmed by additional research, it could have implications for estrogen dependent diseases such as breast cancer.”

Research contact: apollac2@gmu.edu

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