Have Human Hormones Been Eclipsed by Synthetic Ones?

Have Human Hormones Been Eclipsed by Synthetic Ones?

Story at-a-glance -

  • Hormone-mimicking chemicals called parabens have been detected in breast cancer tissues at concentrations up to 1 million times higher than the estrogen (estradiol) levels naturally found in human breast tissue
  • Researchers have expressed concern that children may be exposed to so many synthetic hormone-mimicking chemicals that they could potentially overtake the actions of his or her natural hormones
  • The toxicology of these chemicals has barely been investigated – and the more recent studies that have come out showing cause for alarm are being all but ignored by U.S. regulatory agencies
  • Parabens are widely used in personal care products like shampoo, lotion, deodorant, shaving gel and cosmetics; become an avid label reader to be sure any personal care product your purchase is free from these, and other, hormone-mimicking chemicals

By Dr. Mercola

When you wake up in the morning, there's a good chance you start your day by showering, shaving, washing your hair, and putting on deodorant and any number of other lotions, cosmetics and personal care products.

It's a mundane routine virtually everyone reading this is familiar with – but in so doing you're most likely exposing your body to more than a handful of hormone-mimicking chemicals – each and every day.

Anything you eat, inhale, or spread on your skin can be absorbed into your body and potentially cause damage over time, including each and every one of your personal care products if they contain parabens and other synthetic hormone-mimicking chemicals.

Now research is showing just how serious exposure to hormone-mimicking chemicals has become -- especially for children, whose natural hormones may be overshadowed by synthetic ones.

99 Percent of Breast Cancer Tissue Samples Contain Hormone-Mimicking Chemicals

Research published in March detected the presence of paraben esters in 99 percent of breast cancer tissues sampled.1 The study examined 40 women who were being treated for primary breast cancer. In 60 percent of cases, five of the different paraben esters were present.

Parabens are chemicals with estrogen-like properties, and estrogen is one of the hormones involved in the development of breast cancer. A new report discussing the findings, published in May,2 revealed several disturbing pieces of information:

  1. The ester form of parabens found within the breast tissue samples indicated a dermal route of exposure, as would occur through skin care products and underarm deodorants.
  2. The paraben residues were found at concentrations up to 1 million times higher than the estrogen (estradiol) levels naturally found in human breast tissue.  
  3. Propylparaben was found in the highest concentration in the underarm area (axilla), where underarm deodorants are most used and breast cancer prevalence is at its highest.

Hormone-Mimicking Chemicals May be "Eclipsing" Natural Hormones

Methylparaben has been detected in the urine of more than 99 percent of Americans, while propylparaben has been found in nearly 93 percent.4 Parabens inhibit the growth of bacteria, yeast, and molds, and are used as preservatives in countless consumer products, including:

Deodorants and antiperspirants Shampoos and conditioners Shaving gel Toothpaste
Lotions and sunscreens Make-up / cosmetics Pharmaceutical drugs Food additives


Cosmetic companies and even the World Health Organization often state that the estrogenic properties of parabens are a low health risk because they are much less potent than the natural hormone estradiol, but the paraben residues being found in human breast tissue tells a different story. Clearly these chemicals are accumulating at alarmingly high concentrations, likely because of their widespread and persistent daily use. But safety assessments do not account for these chronic, low-dose exposures, nor the health effects of synergistic exposures to other hormone-mimicking chemicals like bisphenol-A (BPA) and phthalates.

The Environmental Working Group reported:5

"Many cosmetic companies argue that the level of a harmful chemical in any one product is not enough to harm you, on the basis of studies of chemical exposure in adults. However, science is finding the timing of exposure is crucial, and that even a very small dose of some chemicals can have serious consequences in children and young women who are still developing.

Moreover, we are rarely exposed to a chemical just one time. We may use the same product every day, several days a week, for months or years. In addition, we use dozens of personal care products daily, not just one. So while exposure from one product on one day may be small, we in fact use numerous products a day for extended periods of time. As a result, scientists are finding accumulations of chemicals such as parabens and phthalates in our bodies."

Children are, indeed, those most at risk. The May study published in the Journal of Applied Toxicology noted:

"For exposures in children, concern has already been raised that 'the estrogenic burden of parabens and their metabolites in blood may exceed the action of endogenous estradiol in childhood and the safety margin for propylparaben is very low when comparing worst-case exposure."

What this means is that your child may be exposed to so many synthetic hormone-mimicking chemicals that they may begin to overtake the actions of his or her natural hormones! :

"In other words, synthetic hormones from chemicals like parabens may actually be eclipsing the activity of endogenously produced (natural) hormones in our children." 

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Why Isn't the FDA Regulating Parabens?

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not "approve" cosmetic ingredients the way they do drugs. Generally, cosmetic manufacturers can use any ingredient they choose, including parabens (which are, in fact, the most widely used preservatives in cosmetics). On their Web site, the FDA cites an outdated Cosmetic Ingredient Review (CIR) conducted in 1984, which claimed methylparaben, propylparaben, and butylparaben were safe for use in cosmetic products at levels up to 25 percent, although typically they are used at levels ranging from 0.01 to 0.3 percent.

Again in 2005, CIR "decided to re-open the safety assessment for parabens to request exposure estimates and a risk assessment for cosmetic uses," and again determined "after considering the margins of safety for exposure to women and infants, the Panel determined that there was no need to change its original conclusion that parabens are safe as used in cosmetics."6 But these findings should do little to quell your concerns, as CIR is an industry-run organization that reviews the safety of its own ingredients. Once again, the fox is guarding the hen house, and it is not at all surprising that they only re-affirmed the "safety" of one of their most widely used chemicals.

The FDA is only furthering this false sense of security by stating, "FDA believes that at the present time there is no reason for consumers to be concerned about the use of cosmetics containing parabens."

This statement is based on a study that is more than a decade old, which found synthetic parabens have lower estrogenic activity than naturally occurring estrogen … but that completely ignores the risks of chronic, low-dose exposures from multiple sources and the fact that in the aforementioned study parabens were found to accumulate in the human body at, again, 1 million times higher concentrations than natural estrogen. As incredible as it sounds, despite the fact that parabens are used in such a wide variety of products, the toxicology of these chemicals has barely been investigated – and the more recent studies that have come out showing cause for alarm are being all but ignored by U.S. regulatory agencies.

How to Avoid Hormone-Mimicking Chemicals

Avoiding parabens and other harmful chemicals requires becoming an avid label reader. Beware that products boasting "all-natural" labels can still contain harmful chemicals, including parabens, so make sure to check the list of ingredients. On the label they may be listed as:

Methyl paraben

Propyl paraben

Isobutyl paraben
Ethyl paraben Butyl paraben E216


Another alternative is to make your own personal care products. In many cases it's much easier than you might think. Michael DeJong, environmentalist and author of books on green living has a book called Clean Cures, which is chockfull of affordable, easy, natural remedies you can prepare at home to treat ordinary ailments with items you have in your own refrigerator and pantry. You can also find many natural recipes for free by searching online.

When it comes to deodorants, one option is to skip it altogether. Simple soap and water works quite well, and for some additional odor-protection, try a pinch of baking soda mixed with a small amount of water.

Parabens are only one of many hormone-mimicking chemicals to watch out for. The following 12 measures can be implemented right away to help protect yourself and your children from a variety of common hormone-disrupting substances:

  1. As much as possible, buy and eat organic produce and free-range, organic meats to reduce your exposure to added hormones, pesticides and fertilizers. Also avoid milk and other dairy products that contain the genetically engineered recombinant bovine growth hormone (rBGH or rBST)
  2. Eat mostly raw, fresh foods. Processed, prepackaged foods (of all kinds) are a major source of soy and chemicals such as BPA and phthalates.
  3. Store your food and beverages in glass rather than plastic, and avoid using plastic wrap and canned foods (which are often lined with BPA-containing liners).
  4. Use glass baby bottles and BPA-free sippy cups for your little ones.
  5. Make sure your baby's toys are BPA-free, such as pacifiers, teething rings and anything your child may be prone to suck on.
  6. Only use natural cleaning products in your home to avoid phthalates.
  7. Switch over to truly natural brands of toiletries such as shampoo, toothpaste, antiperspirants and cosmetics.
  8. Avoid using artificial air fresheners, dryer sheets, fabric softeners or other synthetic fragrances, many of which can also disrupt your hormone balance.
  9. Replace your non-stick pots and pans with ceramic or glass cookware.
  10. When redoing your home, look for "green," toxin-free alternatives in lieu of regular paint and vinyl floor coverings.
  11. Replace your vinyl shower curtain with one made of fabric.
  12. Avoid non-fermented soy, especially if you're pregnant and in infant formula.