5 common toxic ingredients in your beauty products

Is shampoo making you fat? Is soap causing cellulite? We look at the common household toxins known to disrupt hormone function.

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A woman washing her hair in the shower
See how your shampoo could be throwing off your hormonal balance (Photo, Masterfile.).

Believe it or not, your diet should start in your bathroom. Before you even get into the nitty gritty of protein, fats and carbs and start constructing a new workout, I strongly recommend you do a detox of your environment because many common chemicals (particularly the ones hidden in eye-catching shampoo bottles, fancy cleaners and cosmetics) can stop you from meeting your holistic goals. Read on for the most common offenders and how you can avoid them:

1. Lost your mojo? Be wary of BPAs
Research has shown that bisphenol, a chemical commonly found in most plastics (including water bottles) and even paper products, alters fat cells when it interacts with insulin. Bisphenol has been found to spark and accelerate two of the biological mechanisms underlying obesity: an increase in the number of fat cells in our body and the enhancement of their fat-storing capabilities. So the presence of this chemical can influence not only the production of more fat cells, but also increase their size.

Known as “xenoestrogens”, which essentially means they’re estrogen-mimicking, these chemicals have been shown to cause problems like decreased sperm viability, ovarian dysfunction, neurodevelopmental deficits, thyroid disorders and obesity. According to research, presented at the American Society for Reproductive Medicine’s (ASRM) annual conference in Boston, high levels of BPA in the blood were associated with an 80 percent increase in the risk of miscarriage for pregnant women.

2. Love handles? Look behind the shower curtain for PVC
Well, it’s not a scene from Psycho but it certainly is scary. Curtains made from PVC (polyvinyl chloride) release more than 100 chemicals into the air, including dozens of fat-boosting ‘obesogens’. Even worse, the heat from a hot shower can accelerate the rate of this release.

The very smell of a shower curtain can be bad for you as well, suggests a study by the Center for Health, Environment and Justice. This is as good a reason as any to redecorate (and detox) your bathroom this weekend — start by looking for a PVC-free shower curtain.

3. Fertility problems? Avoid formaldehyde
While it may have preserved your experiments in biology class, formaldehyde does the opposite to your endocrine system (which is in charge of secreting hormones in the body). A paper published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine found that occupational exposure to formaldehyde in 300 Chinese men, who worked at a wood-processing factory, was linked to reduced fertility.

Along with avoidance, indoor plants have been shown to reduce formaldehyde levels in building materials (particularly in new construction zones), from carpets to plywood. The David Suzuki foundation warns that formaldehyde can also be found in common products like nail polish, home cleaning products and many products that we put onto our skin (the body’s largest organ). For more information on how to avoid it, and also other terms manufacturers use to avoid labeling their products with ‘formaldehyde’ click here.

4. Cellulite? Blame the parabens
Not unlike label reading — an essential tool in any nutrition program — you should be just as picky about the products you put on your body. A quick walk through the shampoo, cosmetics and shaving cream aisle of your local drug store is a great place to start. Your goal? Steer clear of any product with a derivative of the word paraben, from methylparaben to ethylparaben to propylparaben (you’ll be shocked how difficult this can be).

Known as an estrogen-mimicker, parabens are man-made chemicals that act exactly like estrogen in the body. Estrogen is the hormone that — in excess — can increase lower-body fat, stubborn cellulite, PMS, endometriosis, ovarian cysts and more. It’s certainly not something you want too much of. If you’re not selective about the products you put on your body, you may be throwing off the delicate balance of hormones by adding more estrogen to the equation.

David Suzuki estimates that 75 to 90 percent of cosmetics contain parabens, so it’s about time you started reading labels.

Women aren’t the only ones that need to worry about the presence of parabens however. A European paper from 2009, comparing studies on the effects of parabens and the reproductive health of men concluded that while, “parabens seem to adversely affect male reproduction, further studies are required to better understand toxicity and also to establish reliable threshold values that may accurately indicate when reproduction may be seriously compromised.”

Similarly, if you’re a man suffering from “man boobs” you may just have too much estrogen. (Click here for ways to rid the body of excess estrogen.)

5. Stubborn belly fat? Steer clear of phthalates
Much like parabens, phthalates can act as endocrine-disrupting chemicals, mimicking or interfering with the actions of natural hormones like estrogen. These chemical compounds are used in many household items, including water bottles, soaps, shampoos and cosmetics, plastic containers, toys, pipes and even some medicines. Current estimates suggest that more than 75 percent of North Americans have significant levels of phthalates in their urine.

Researchers at the University of Rochester Medical Center have now linked this phthalate-induced reduction in testosterone to abdominal obesity, insulin resistance and the onset of type 2 diabetes in men. The study showed that the highest levels of phthalate metabolites appeared in the urine of men with abdominal obesity and insulin resistance.

Still not convinced? A 2012 study tested the urine output of 3,000 women and compared it with their diabetes status. Not surprisingly, the participants with the highest levels of phthalates in their blood had twice the risk of diabetes compared to their chemical-free opponents.

For more, download the Think Dirty app to help you navigate unwanted chemicals while shopping and read more from David Suzuki here.

Follow the jump for 10 beauty products that are natural enough to eat.

Natasha Turner, N.D. is a naturopathic doctor, Chatelaine magazine columnist, and author of the bestselling books The Hormone Diet and The Supercharged Hormone Diet. Her newest release, The Carb Sensitivity Program, is now available across Canada. She’s also the founder of the Toronto-based Clear Medicine Wellness Boutique and a regular guest on The Dr. Oz Show. For more wellness advice from Natasha Turner, click here.