One day while sitting in my barber’s chair, I happened to read the ingredients of an anti-inflammatory cream that he would apply to my face after shaving my beard. Needless to say, I was shocked at what I read especially since it’s a product that I had been using for years. This product, albeit very effective at controlling razor bumps and the formation of ingrown hairs contained many different forms of parabens, a class of chemicals that I will discuss later.

While many of us avoid pesticides in our produce, scrutinize food labels and drink out of glass and steel containers, how would you rate what sits on the shelves in your bathroom and your shower?  Personal care products can contain many chemical ingredients some of which may be toxic! The government does not require health studies, pre-market safety testing or FDA approval before these products end up in our shopping carts. We don’t usually think of personal care products as a potential source of toxic exposure but do we know that the skin readily absorbs whatever we rub, rinse, lather, or spritz onto it in our daily routines.
For this reason, I have few highlighted a few class of chemicals to keep an eye out for, when shopping for personal care products. They all belong to a group of chemicals called endocrine disruptors (EDs), which at certain levels can “disrupt” the normal functioning of the endocrine system in mammals. Studies in cells and laboratory animals have shown that EDs can cause adverse biological effects in animals, and low-level exposures may also cause similar effects in human beings.

Parabens: endocrine disruptors with estrogenic activity, intact parabens can accumulate in human breast tissue at levels sufficient to increase the growth of breast cancer cells.

Forms: ethyl, methyl, butyl, or propyl parabens

Frequently found in cosmetics, moisturizers, hair care products, shaving products
Phthalates: endocrine disruptors with estrogenic activity, decreased male fertility, elevated levels found in persons diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders, endometriosis, proatherogenic (contribute to formation of plaque in the arteries)

Forms: diethyl (DEP), di-isobutyl, bis, MEHP, DEHP. Note that “fragrance” on an ingredient label likely contains phthalates.

Frequently found in personal care products as softeners and flexible plastics ( phthalates can bind to milk proteins), perfume, nail polish, adhesives, caulk, paint pigments, and flooring.
Bisphenol-A: an endocrine disruptor with estrogenic activity also linked to higher risk of developing diabetes, infertility, cardiovascular disease and certain cancers (breast, prostate, and testicular), found to neutralize the effects of tamoxifen and stimulate prostate cancer cell migration

Forms: BPA

Frequently found in: nearly all beverage and food cans as epoxy lining, plastics with #7 recycling code, water bottles, composite fillings, various medical and dental devices, water supply pipes.

The take-home message is that while parabens, phthalates, and BPAs are ubiquitous in our environment and pose significant health hazards, it is possible to reduce your exposure by reading labels, minimizing plastics and staying informed.


Great resources are Dr. Walter Crinnion’s book “Clean, Lean, and Green” and the Environmental Working Group’s online database


In health and service,

Dr. Boyce