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OWSD Nigeria National Chapter Presents "Body Burdens: Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals in cosmetics "

February 05, 2021

OWSD Nigeria National Chapter University of Port Harcourt Branch series of scientific communications: Eka B. Essien on Body Burdens: Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals in cosmetics

Body Burdens: Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals in cosmetics


Eka B. Essien


The Body: Endocrine System

The endocrine system is the body’s chemical communication system, using the blood vessels to move chemicals throughout the body to communicate will different cells of the body.

The endocrine system regulates metabolism, growth, development and puberty, and organ function.

It comprises of

  •  the Glands - organs that secrete hormones
  • Hormones - chemical messengers released into the bloodstream
  • Receptors - cellular components that interact with hormones

Endocrine system roles

As a whole, the endocrine system is one of the body’s major interfaces with the environment, allowing for development, adaptation and maintenance of bodily processes and health - they play key roles in determining the quality of life.

Hormones regulate the body’s response to different nutritional demands (e.g. hunger, starvation, obesity, etc.); they are critical to reproductive function; and they are essential to normal development of the body and brain (see  Plate 1 and Table 1).


Because of the endocrine system’s critical role in so many important biological and physiological functions, impairments in any part of the endocrine system can lead to disease or even death.



Fig 1:The endocrine system


Table 1: Major Endocrine glands and functions


The Burden: Hormone -Altering or Endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDC)

Endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs) are chemicals that mimic, block, or interfere with hormones in the body's endocrine system.

EDCs are defined by the Endocrine Society as: “an exogenous [non-natural] chemical, or mixture of chemicals, that interferes with any aspect of hormone action.” Hormones are natural chemicals produced in cells within endocrine glands, which are located throughout the body.

Scientific knowledge about endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs) has been increasing rapidly in recent years

EDCs are a global and ubiquitous problem.

Exposure occurs at home, in the office, on the farm, in the air we breathe, the food we eat, and the water we drink.

Of the hundreds of thousands of manufactured chemicals, it is estimated that about 1,000 may have endocrine-acting properties.

Table 2 shows some known EDCs and their uses

Table 2 : Some Known EDCs and Their Uses

Abbreviations: BPA: bisphenol A; 2,4-D: 2,4-dichlorophenoxyacetic acid; DDT: dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane; PCBs: polychlorinated biphenyls

The Burden: Endocrine Disrupting chemicals in cosmetics

Since ancient times, humans have searched for materials and developed many products to mainly enhance female beauty.

Over the centuries, cosmetics have been developed and influenced by different ethnic traditions, from the times of the Pharaohs to the modern times.

Since then, physical appearance has been an inseparable part of daily human existence, improving their self-image and self-esteem.

In the last years, the variety of cosmetics and personal care products (PCPs) have greatly increased (Table 3), in parallel to their manufacturing and consumption volumes in developed and developing countries.

It is acknowledged that women have a greater use of cosmetics and personal care products (PCPs) when compared with men and therefore, potential adverse effect may affect predominantly this population.

Table 3: Most used cosmetics and personal care products.

The Burden: EDC’s exposure via Cosmetics

The main route of exposure is the skin, but the main endpoint of exposure is endocrine disruption. This is due to many substances in cosmetics and sunscreens that have endocrine active properties which affect reproductive health but which also have other endpoints, such as cancer (Nicolopoulou-Stamati et. Al 2015).

Generally, chronic high exposures pose the highest risk, however, a developing fetus or infant is more vulnerable to lower exposures.

Although evidence linking EDCs to adverse health outcomes continues to grow, the cause-and-effect relationship is not yet fully understood.

Mode of exposure

Where the EDC’s come from

EDC examples

Application to skin

Some cosmetics, personal care products, anti-bacterials, sunscreens, medications.

Phthalates, triclosan, Parabens, insect repellants.

Biological transfer from placenta.

Maternal body burden due to prior/current exposures.

Numerous EDCs can cross the placenta.


Mechanisms of action of EDCs

EDCs act at very different levels of complexity, interfering in  a variety of hormone-signaling pathways.

For instance, they can

  • modify the circulating levels of hormones by acting on their synthesis, metabolism, or degradation.
  • reduce, increase, or interfere with the specific receptors for hormonal action and therefore affect the ability to respond to natural hormones
  • exert estrogenic and antiandrogenic activities (see Table 2)
  • induce epigenetic changes in humans
  • Increase inflammation and enhance oxidative stress


The Burden: How Do EDC’s impact my body?


Over the years and in parallel with the change in people’s habits and lifestyle, numerous evidence has revealed that cosmetics could cause a variety of disease conditions in humans.

For instance, women are suspected to have a greater risk for some chronic conditions such as obesity and metabolic syndrome than men and in addition to physiological differences between genders, the greater female consumption of cosmetics and PCPs might also underlie this enhanced risk.

However, the variety of products and differences in dosage, patterns of use, and individual susceptibility to specific product formulations pose great difficulties to detect a potential effect of cosmetic and PCP habits on human adverse effects.

Thus, the use of internal burden of EDCs seems to better reflect the magnitude of cosmetic and PCP use, independently of the type of product used or the dose applied.


EDCs impact on the body



Response to Psychological stress

  • Neurological and behavioral changes.
  • Reduced ability to handle stress.


  • Some EDCs have been linked to obesity and type 2 diabetes.
  • Some industrial chemicals and flame retardants can interfere with thyroid function.


Some classes of EDCs (DDT, BPA, phthalates, PCBs, others) can affect reproductive health by mimicking or blocking the effects of male and female sex hormones.

Growth and development

  • High exposures to EDCs during gestation can lead to low-birth weight.
  • Altered development.
  • Disrupted sexual development.
  • Weakened immune system.


  • Exposure to estrogen or androgen mimicking EDCs can promote breast and prostate cancer growth and/or interfere with hormonal cancer therapy.
  • Prenatal exposure to some EDCs may after mammary gland development and increase breast cancer risk later-in-life.

Personal Care and EDC avoidance

  • Read labels and avoid products containing phthalates.
  • Choose products labeled “Phthalate-Free”, “BPA-Free”, and "Paraben-Free".
  • Avoid fragrances and opt for cosmetics labeled “no synthetic fragrance”, “scented only with essential oils”.



Endocrine Society Introduction to EDCs, A Guide for Public Interest Organizations and Policy Makers

  •  Asociación Nacional de Perfumería y Cosmética: Stanpa. Available from: cosmetica-union-europea/
  • Biesterbos JW, Dudzina T, Delmaar CJ, Bakker MI, Russel FG, von Goetz N, et al. Usage patterns of personal care products: Important factors for exposure assessment. Food and Chemical Toxicology: An International Journal Published for the British Industrial Biological Research Association. 2013;55:8-17
  •  Marieb E (2014). Anatomy & physiology. Glenview, IL: Pearson Education, Inc. ISBN 978-0-321-86158-0
  • Nicolopoulou-Stamati P, Hens L, Sasco AJ. Cosmetics as endocrine disruptors: are they a health risk? Rev Endocr Metab Disord. 2015 Dec;16(4):373-83. doi: 10.1007/s11154-016-9329-4. PMID: 26825071.
  • Smith VS. Clean: A History of Personal Hygiene and Purity. United States: Oxford University Press; 2007




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