Wednesday, March 27, 2013

NBC's Dateline on Hormone Disruptors, BPA, Triclosan, and Phthalates, and the Relationship to Beauty Products

I don't often watch Dateline. I'm not a serial show watcher, and after the news, I usually turn the television off. Sunday night, I was tired and wanted to do as little as possible, so when the NBC News rolled into Dateline, I watched. Did I get an education! Unfortunately, it relates to personal care and beauty products.

NBC Correspondent Andrea Canning embarked on a study of her everyday products to better understand her exposure to the chemicals BPA (Bisphenol A), triclosan, and phthalates – also considered hormone disruptors.

Hormone disruptors, chemicals found in the products we use every day, can cause depression, anxiety, and, honestly, who knows what else. The FDA has concluded that these chemicals are safe in the recommended amounts. The scientific community isn't as sure. Hormone disruptors interfere with the endocrine (or hormone system) in animals, including humans. These disruptions can cause cancerous tumors, birth defects, and other developmental disorders. Any system in the body controlled by hormones can be derailed by hormone disruptors. Specifically, they are known to cause learning disabilities; severe attention deficit disorder; cognitive and brain development problems; deformations of the body (including limbs); breast, prostate, thyroid, and other cancers; and sexual development problems, such as feminizing of males or masculine effects on females.

Andrea Canning decided to have herself and her children, one a six-month infant and one a toddler, tested for these chemicals. Urine tests show these chemicals as they are excreted from the body. The results were astounding - so astounding that I went out the next day and bought new toothpaste. More on that below.

Before I tell you about Andrea's tests, I'll give you a brief intro to these very different chemicals. Bear with me; this is going to be long. Much of my information came from quick Wikipedia searches. I have not had time since Sunday to start reading the journal articles.

BPA is is used to make certain plastics and epoxy resins. It has been in commercial use since 1957 and around eight billion pounds of BPA are used by manufacturers every year. BPA-based plastic is clear and tough and is used to make a variety of common consumer goods (such as baby and water bottles, sports equipment, and CDs and DVDs). It's used for industrial purposes, like lining water pipes. Epoxy resins containing BPA are used as coatings on the inside of many food and beverage cans (apparently like my V-8 cans). It is also used in making thermal paper such as that used in sales receipts. It's "everywhere."

BPA exhibits hormone-like properties that have raised concern about its suitability in consumer products and food containers. Since 2008, several governments have questioned its safety, which has prompted some retailers to withdraw polycarbonate products. A 2010 report from the FDA warned of possible hazards to fetuses, infants, and young children. In September 2010, Canada became the first country to declare BPA a toxic substance. The European Union, Canada, and recently the United States have banned BPA use in baby bottles. For the adults? They seem to have no concerns.

Triclosan is another story. It is an antibacterial and antifungal agent. Though many products contain triclosan, there is no evidence, according to the FDA, that triclosan provides an extra benefit to health beyond its anti-gingivitis effect in toothpaste. However, studies by the EPA found triclosan to be an effective antibacterial. Triclosan safety is currently under review by the FDA and Health Canada. I had heard a long time ago that the use of antibiotic ingredients in consumer products, like liquid hand soaps and sanitizers, were diminishing our natural resistance to bacteria. Some studies have shown Triclosan to be a hormone disruptor. I had never used these antibacterial products and started actively avoiding them when I learned of the questions about their use.

Phthalates are mainly used as plasticizers (substances added to plastics to increase their flexibility, transparency, durability, and longevity). They are used primarily to soften polyvinyl chloride (PVC). Phthalates are being phased out of many products in the United States, Canada, and the European Union over health concerns. Phthalates are used in a large variety of products, including fragrances, adhesives and glues, electronics, agricultural adjuvants, building materials, personal-care products, medical devices, detergents and surfactants, packaging, children's toys, modeling clay, waxes, paints, printing inks and coatings, pharmaceuticals, food products, and textiles. Start looking, and you will find them everywhere.

Women may be at higher risk for potential adverse health effects of phthalates due to increased cosmetic use and the fact that phthalates are ubiquitous in beauty products. There is some evidence that there is an association between phthalate exposure and endocrine disruption, leading to the development of breast cancer. Want that in your makeup?

Andrea had herself and her children baseline-tested, before she made any changes to the products she used. Their baseline numbers were around the national average (which is pretty high). Then she tried to eliminate these chemicals by changing her family's diet and the products they use. She looked for fresh fruits and veggies (not canned), used unscented cosmetics, avoided antibacterial soap, and avoided plastic with the #7 recycling symbol (here is a fact sheet on plastics). She found triclosan in her Colgate Total toothpaste (I gasped; that's what I used to use before Monday), and she switched toothpaste.

When she was tested again after eliminating potential sources of hormone disruptors, her levels fell to almost zero. A relatively easy success! To test the test, the day after getting the zero-level test results, she tried to boost her numbers again by doing the normal everyday things she would have done before. She microwaved her oatmeal in a plastic cup, had canned soup and vegetables for lunch and dinner, put on makeup with fragrance, drank a V-8 and a diet Coke that came in cans, washed her hands with Dial soap, and brushed her teeth with Colgate Total. The result? Her numbers spiked immediately. Clearly, she was ingesting the hormone disruptors in these products. The chemicals from containers were leaking into her food. She was ingesting her toothpaste and beauty products.

She also tested her children. Their levels were also high - even though the FDA considers them "normal."

I don't like the idea of ingesting chemicals that may have harmful effects on my body. While I cannot give up perfume, I can avoid products that contain synthetic fragrances. I will have to start buying my beloved V-8 in glass containers - if I can even find glass. I don't eat canned food, but my mother does. From now on, only frozen veggies for her. I've already thrown out my Colgate Total. I found it contained not only triclosan, but also propylene glycol. For now, I'm testing Crest 3D Optic White. It contains no triclosan. I have always been label-conscious, but now I'll be especially vigilant.

You can see the episode I saw at this NBC link. It's worth a watch.

Photo courtesy of


Anonymous said...

This is an excellent post and the industry's and government's non-chalance is astonishing. Tom's of Maine has an excellent whitening tooth paste (TraderJoe's carries it). I have long been conscious of these materials and have avoided them when possible. It can be tricky but is worth it for our health and the environment's sake. Household cleaning products are another chapter.

Charleston Girl said...

Hi Tanja,

I can't warm up to Tom's, but I know it's good for us. I will be avoiding triclosan. I don't need it to prevent gingivitis. Good hygiene does.

Good for you! Avoid all that nasty stuff if you can.

Kate MacDonald said...

Great article! Everyone should be concerned about the number of chemicals they are ingesting, particularly ones that are shown to have harmful long-term effects. I work in an industry where I end up reading/ absorbing a lot about biochemistry and it's quite shocking what we don't know about the goods that we use topically or that we consume.

One thing that I recommend to everyone I know is to take the time to do a proper internal cleanse a couple of times a year. Our bodies are exposed to about 70,000 more chemicals on a regular basis than even a couple of generations ago, all of which need to be processed through the liver and kidneys (which have not had time to adapt to this new reality). As a result, both tend to work less efficiently at clearing toxins, allowing them to be released back into the body and triggering a large number of health problems.

It's also worth noting that most regulatory authorities, like the FDA or Health Canada, consider safety levels based on the amount of a toxic substance within a single product. Consider if you put one grain of rice in every cup of water you drink and over the course of a day you drink 8 cups of water. You've ingested 8 grains of rice, even though each glass only had one. (It's not quite so simple as that, but this comment is already longer than you'd probably want!)

I think that we would all benefit from knowing more about ALL the products we use, from food to cosmetics to clothing to... Well, you get the idea.

Melanie said...

Thanks for posting this. This topic is of huge concern for me (one of the reasons why I always ask you if a products contains parabens). I scrutinize anything that enters our home. It is so important that people are aware of what they are buying. It's not safe to assume that, if it's on the store shelf, then it's safe to use. The companies that produce these things will be the last to tell on themselves!

BTW, Jason makes a great toothpaste as an alternative to Tom's.

Nemo said...

I shop at Whole Foods and Trader Joe's only for most stuff, and Target for some things, too. Target carries Tom's toothpaste, which is the only toothpaste we use. I buy French triple milled soap and I use Aveda hair products only. I use Almay eye makeup remover. I cannot wear most perfumes bc their scents make me sick. I use organic or bad stuff-free cleaning products and other household items, such as wax paper, from WF and TJs. The message in shows like Dateline is a simple one: You are your best advocate.

Annie P said...

Thank you for telling us about this. It is so scary. Everything has chemicals added, everything under the sun. We are killing ourselves with it all.

Charleston Girl said...

Hi Kate,

The medical community has rather negative views on cleanses. However, we do need to be way more careful about what we use and eat. I like the analogy you drew on the rice.

Charleston Girl said...

Hi Melanie,

So true.

Meredith said...

When I had bc, one of my dr.'s told me to only use Ivory Soap and Crystal deoderant or Tom's. I didn't ask and he didn't say, we just kind of stared at each other and I nodded my head, like "yeah, got the message."

Get rid of your plastic shower curtain. Get a cloth one at Target. Use "clean" dry cleaners for your clothes. If you can't, then when you bring them home, take off the plastic wrap in the garage and hang them there to air out at least 24 hours. No plastic wrap in kitchen, only safe plastic containers labelled without bad stuff. I learned a whole lot back then and I'm much more wary now. Less is more, although I too can't give up my makeup and perfume. Knowledge and choices are a good thing.

Charleston Girl said...

Hi Nemo,

I love perfume, but there's a difference between quality perfume and the chemical fragrances that are being put into nearly everything we use for beauty.

Charleston Girl said...

Hi Meredith,

I've heard that trick re: dry cleaning. I guess we get our clothing back after it's been cleaned with perchloroethylene, a known carcinogen.

Charleston Girl said...

Thanks, Annie - and our environment too.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for a great article. I work with a germaphobe. Constantly using hand sanitizer, antibacterial wipes, soap, Lysol. She usually gets very sick with the flu and colds.

Anonymous said...

I typically don't overreact to things, but I was nearly horrified when I saw the Dateline episode on Sunday. Makes me wonder how using common products is really affecting me.

Claire said...

Hi CG,
Thank you for posting this. It raises the awareness for all of us makeup fan and as we know, cosmetics are replete of fragrance/perfumes, something that we can't always avoid. This subject hits close to me as I have a young toddler and we have been trying to live a "clean" life, although there are times when I have to use sanitizing wipe (otherwise, he'll get sick during the flu season, etc.)


Charleston Girl said...

Hi Anonymous,

Maybe you can slip a copy of this feature on her desk. Anonymously, of course. :)

Charleston Girl said...

Thank you, Claire. When I wrote it, I wasn't sure whether anyone would be interested.

Charleston Girl said...

Hi Anonymous (9:50),

I was mesmerized - and horrified. Television has a way of sensationalizing things, but I knew just enough about the subject to know that they were not overreacting.

Nina said...

The facts in this story have been well known and well documented for years. Phthalates have been illegal in Europe for years. Everyone should know by now not to microwave anything in a plastic container - again, this has been known for years. As far as antiperspirants, the problem is parabens and aluminum salts - use deodorants that mask odor, not things that actually stop you from sweating. I agree that Dateline was sensationalizing, but it is good that this was, once again, brought to people's attention.

Charleston Girl said...

Agreed, Nina. There are two sides to every argument, but we tend to overlook everyday ways we can be healthier. I loved the example that Andrea was eating fresh fruits and veggies, not canned.

The "better living through chemicals" rings true when those chemicals are used appropriately. I know it's better to teach people proper oral hygiene than putting triclosan in everyone's toothpaste. :)

wwendalynne said...

Ugh.. as someone who for the past 5 years faces a daily battle with multiple autoimmune disorders (RA, Lupus, Fibro), it's paramount for me to live as clean a life as possible. Although I cannot blame my health issues on chemicals such as these--it's merely a case of bad genes--I still do my best to avoid where and when I can. Health Canada has been very proactive in cracking down on these culprits which frustrates some due to import restrictions, but I view it as a smart move and ultimately and obviously in our best interests. Cosmetics is an area where I frequently fall down and I am not always as stringent as I should be when checking ingredients.

Amy Bourcier said...

I know you are not supposed to "advertise" here, but many women do not know where to buy products that are clean. I'm an ERVP in Arbonne and we have all vegan certified products - cosmetics, skin care,baby care, protein shakes all free of harmful chemicals. You can email me at amybourcier@att to get more information.

Marianna Taylor said...

I'm glad people are finally learning this! All it takes is 26 seconds for the chemicals in our makeup to enter our blood stream! That is why I love Younique Cosmetics! They are all natural with no chemicals, fillers, oils, or parabens!