What are Endocrine Disruptors?


What are Endocrine Disruptors?

Endocrine disruptors are xenohormones—man-made chemicals that can mimic our natural hormones, block other hormone receptor sites, or change or alter normal hormone levels or their production. Since our hormones control pretty much every bodily function, exposure to these substances is not ideal. Exposure to endocrine disruptors during very early prenatal development appears to be the most opportune time for them to negatively affect the developing fetus - especially male babies - and can cause lasting health effects such as attention and mood disorders, emotion control issues, cognitive problems, lower testosterone, delayed sexual development, and infertility.


How Do I Come in Contact with Them?

The Environmental Working Group researched cord blood in infants and found that newborns were born with as many as 287 of the 413 toxins chemicals studied (180 of which have been shown to cause cancer); 101 toxins were found in all of the babies. We are exposed to endocrine disrupting chemicals on a daily basis from things like household cleaning chemicals, detergents, cosmetics and personal care products, plastics, cookware, tap water, low quality foods. Let’s look at phthalates, for example. Eighteen billion pounds of phthalates are used each year to provide flexibility and resiliency to plastics, as well as dissolve and coalesce ingredients in body care products and help synthetic fragrances stick to skin. Our skin is the largest organ of the body, and absorbs what we put on it.


Aren’t These Things Regulated??

Great, I’m glad you asked. You see, there are hundreds of endocrine disruptors in things we use every day, yet there’s often no laws regulating their use. Let’s take the personal care & cosmetics industry as an example. The United States has not passed a major federal law to regulate the safety of ingredients used in personal care products since 1938! “The FDA surely regulates this stuff…they wouldn’t let these toxic chemicals into our products,” you say? Nope. FDA has no authority to regulate products like cosmetics or cleaning products and their ingredients, nor do they have the legal authority to approve or regulate cosmetics, or to order recalls of cosmetics. There are no specific tests required to demonstrate the safety of cosmetics or their ingredients, nor are their laws requiring cosmetic companies to share their safety information or product formulations. And while US law requires that cosmetics list their ingredients, things that are considered “trade secrets” are exempt from labeling requirements. Synthetic fragrances in things like personal care products or household cleaners are often considered “trade secrets” yet almost always contain phthalates.  


The law has left responsibility for the safety and labeling completely up to the company manufacturing the products. Because of the lack of regulations, companies can market their products as “green,” “natural” or even “organic” without living up to these claims. So, hopefully you see that YOU are the only one that can look out for you and your family, and we all have a choice in the products we buy and use.


How Can We Avoid These?

In short, just try to reduce the amount of plastic you use, especially in the kitchen and around food, and try to clean up what goes on your skin and in your mouth.


Adapting your lifestyle to avoid endocrine disruptors can be challenging at first. It’s always a good idea to start with things that are doable, and work up to bigger undertakings. For example, the next time you go to buy makeup, lotion or deodorant, switch up the brand you are using to something that is known to be safe (A great way to see how your current cosmetics and personal care products stack up is to use EWG’s Skin Deep app, where you can scan in the bar code of the product and receive a rating on its overall safety). Next time you run out of a household cleaning chemical, re-use the bottle and make your own safe cleaning products (bonus: you can spray them while holding baby!). Next time you go to re-heat food in the microwave, make sure it’s not in plastic or, better yet, heat it up on the stove in a stainless steel, ceramic, or cast iron pan. Doing these smaller things over time will inspire you to take on bigger undertakings. And remember, always have your “why?” in mind, which will keep any inconvenience in perspective. The great thing is that most of these changes will not only benefit your and your family’s health…they’re also good for the health of the planet and will likely be cheaper since they are more reusable options.


To learn more, check out The Environmental Working Group’s ‘Dirty Dozen’ List of endocrine disruptors, visit TEDX’s “Endocrine Disruption Exchange,” which has a tool to search for all of the chemicals and investigate the evidence supporting the chemical designation as an endocrine disruptor, and check out my list of things to avoid and things to use instead on www.mollypowellwellness.com.



Molly Powell

BIRTHFIT Milwaukee Regional Director




Not Too Pretty, EWG et al. 2002 http://static.ewg.org/reports/2002/NotTooPretty.pdf?_ga=2.99842206.1879499801.1494965056-700776293.1494355674










Toxic Effects of the Easily Avoidable Phthalates and Parabens, Walter J. Crinnion, ND. http://www.altmedrev.com/publications/15/3/190.pdf