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Endocrine disruptors in cosmetics and personal care- what you should know

Endocrine disruptors in cosmetics and personal care- what you should know

Endocrine disruptors are gaining wider attention and understanding amongst citizens. In particular, the presence of these chemicals in many cosmetic and personal care products has caused concern, spurring on action by governmental bodies to review or ban their use.

However, what does it actually mean for something to be an “endocrine disruptor”, and why are people increasingly trying to avoid them? Here we break down what the term means, what ingredients you should avoid, and how opting for certified organic beauty and wellbeing can help reduce your exposure to endocrine disruptors.

What is an endocrine disruptor?

An endocrine disruptor is anything that can interfere with the endocrine - or hormonal - systems in the human body. Any system in the human body that is controlled by hormones can be adversely affected by an endocrine disruptor. We depend on hormones for normal cell function, growth, fertility, and reproduction. Therefore, anything that interferes with the normal function of these processes can cause various adverse health effects.

What do endocrine disruptors do to the body?

Due to their interference with hormones, some of the adverse health effects exposure to endocrine disruptors have been linked to include:

• Fertility issues
• Metabolic disorders, including diabetes and obesity
• Cognitive disorders
• Immunity issues

What are the most common endocrine disruptors?

Chemicals that are endocrine disrupting are found all throughout society. Some of the most common ones include Polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDE) which are used to make flame retardants in furniture foam and carpet and per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) which can be found in everything from firefighting foam to non-stick pans to paper.

Many pesticides and herbicides used in non-organic farming are also endocrine disruptors. This includes Atrazine, one of the world’s most common synthetic herbicides used to control weeds.

Scarily, there are many ingredients commonly added to cosmetic, personal care and household cleaning products that are endocrine disrupting. There are plenty of organic and natural alternatives to these ingredients, but companies are continuing to use them, putting consumer health at risk. In 2023, UK regulators requested more scientific data on several of these ingredients, which they are currently reviewing to determine if they need to be banned from products.

As we will show later however, other governments, including the EU have already banned some of these ingredients from use in cosmetics due to the overwhelming evidence of their negative effect on human health. France has also issued a decree on endocrine disruptors to increase public awareness of these chemicals and force companies to disclose when they are using them.

How do I avoid endocrine disruptors?

 Unfortunately, due to their prevalence in society it is difficult to completely avoid endocrine disruptors. However, we can reduce our exposure to them. Opting for organic food, where possible, is one way. Swapping to cosmetics, personal care and cleaning items that are certified by Soil Association Certification to the COSMOS Organic or Natural standards will avoid many of the most common ones.

Knowing which cosmetic ingredients are endocrine disrupting, and which you should therefore avoid, is also important. However, sometimes these will not be listed on product ingredient lists, as they will be used as part of things companies can keep secret such as artificial fragrances - meaning “Fragrance” on an ingredient list could be disguising their presence. This is why looking for logos like Soil Association COSMOS Organic and Natural does the hard work for you and provides a guarantee many endocrine disruptors will not be present.

Soil Association Certification are currently running a campaign on “Five Cosmetic Ingredients to Leave Behind in 2024”. These are endocrine disrupting chemicals commonly found in products that won’t be found in those carrying our logo. The five chemicals are:


• On ingredient lists they are listed as Methylparaben, Ethylparaben, Polyparaben and Butylparaben.
• They are used as a preservative in cosmetic and personal care products including make-up, moisturisers, shaving foam and hair care.

4- Methylbenzylidene camphor (may also be called Enzacamene)
• Used as a UV Filter in sunscreens.
• In 2024 the EU announced it was banning the chemical due to evidence of endocrine disruption. All products containing the ingredient have to be reformulated, or removed from the market by 2025.
• It is also banned in the USA and Japan- but is currently still allowed to be used in the UK.

• Used to dissolve and bind different ingredients together in cosmetics.
• Used as a stabiliser, solvent, or fixative for artificial fragrances, meaning they often won’t be in the ingredient list (it will just say “Fragrance)
• Most found in nail varnishes, hairsprays, perfumes, shampoos, conditioners, deodorants and even period care products.

Oxybenzone (may also be called Benzophenone-3)
• Used as a UV filter in sunscreens.
• Sunscreens containing the ingredient have been banned from sale in Thailand, Hawaii and Palau due to its negative effect on coral reefs.

• A preservative used to prevent the growth of bacteria in cosmetics and personal care.

Make a Pledge for Our Planet to buy certified organic beauty and wellbeing products next time your shop and avoid endocrine disruptors in your products

Find a full list of the cosmetic, personal care and household items we certify as organic and natural here

Follow @SoilAssociationBeauty to find out more about which five cosmetic ingredients we want people to leave behind in 2024