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Do my cleaning products contain hormone disruptors?

Our homes are filled with various cleaning and personal care products. These all contain listed and unlisted chemical ingredients, which can pollute the air around us. Many of these chemicals can be detected in human urine samples, in both adults and children.

You may have heard horror stories of cleaning products contain ingredients that can alter your hormones.  And to all intents and purposes, there is some truth to these horror stories.

The aim of this article is to determine how true and how real these risks are.

In this article we’ll look at:

  • What are hormone disruptors
  • Before looking at what chemicals found in cleaning products are known endocrine disruptors
  • We’ll look at the scientific evidence to see how real the risks are
  • Before looking at alternatives should you wish to avoid these ingredients
  • And of course, we list all the scientific papers we’ve referenced to get to our conclusions

What are Endocrine Disruptors?

Endocrine disruptors, or ‘endocrine-disrupting compounds’ (EDCs), are chemicals that can alter hormone signaling. There is concern that the prevalence of these chemicals may have negative, and unpredictable effects on a range of body systems, including [1]:

  • Thyroid function
  • Nervous system
  • Reproduction
  • Digestion (affecting the absorption or utilization of vitamins and minerals)
  • Insulin function

[An example of a clinically beneficial endocrine disruptor is the oral contraceptive pill, which artificially regulates the menstrual cycle.]

Endocrine Disruptors in Cleaning Products

Endocrine disruptors aren’t strictly classified, and the name can be applied to many chemicals if ingested in sufficient concentrations. The chemicals below, found in cleaning products, are thought to possibly cause endocrine disruption at concentrations expected from occupational exposure (e.g. inhalation, ingestion, or skin absorption).

1. Cyclosiloxanes (e.g. hexamethylcyclotrisiloxane, dodecamethylcyclohexylsiloxane)

Used for: The cyclic volatile methylsiloxanes are added to products to improve their texture and ‘spreading’, or as a solvent to help dissolve other ingredients.
Ingredient Labels: Unlisted, ‘cyclomethicone’, ‘cyclopentasiloxane’ or ‘D5’
Endocrine Disruption: Weakly estrogenic
Evidence: The cyclosiloxanes have a long half-life, both in the air (10-16 days), and in human tissues (up to 160 hours, or almost seven days) [2]. In rat studies, octamethylcyclotetrasiloxane (D4), has been shown to interact weakly with estrogen receptors [3]. The implications of the finding are unclear, but combined with the long-half life, there is a concern the chemicals may increase the incidence of cancer.

2. Glycol Ethers (e.g. 2-butoxyethanol, 2,2-methoxyethoxyethanol)

Used for: Variety of roles in cleaning products, from acting as a solvent used to make other ingredients, to being added directly as a surfactant.
Ingredient Labels: ‘Nonionic surfactants’ or ‘glycols’
Endocrine Disruption: Reduced fertility, and may increase the effects of other chemicals
Evidence: There are over 50 commonly used glycol ethers, and their metabolites have been shown to activate nuclear receptors, possibly potentiating the effects of other endocrine disruptors [4]. Exposure to the glycol ethers has been associated with reduced sperm counts and spontaneous abortion, but the correlation is still lacking evidence [5].

3. Phthalates (e.g. DEHP, DEP, DBP)

Used for: Added to plastics and used as a solvent in cleaning products. Phthalates frequently leech from the plastics found in many consumer products.
Ingredient Labels: Normally listed under ‘fragrances’ or ‘perfumes’ as one of the solvents used to dissolve fragrances
Endocrine Disruption: Antiandrogen
Evidence: Human urine samples in Western countries universally show the presence of phthalates [6]. This is concerning, because the chemicals have the strongest evidence base for endocrine disruption. Phthalates are ‘antiandrogens’, and so oppose testosterone, possibly leading to reduced semen quality and abnormal male development [7].

4. Parabens (e.g. methyl paraben, propyl paraben)

Used for: Added to cleaning products as a preservative and antimicrobial, helping to prolong shelf-lives.
Ingredient Labels: ‘Preservatives’
Endocrine Disruption: Estrogenic
Evidence: Much like phthalates, the presence of parabens is ubiquitous in the home, and almost 100% of urine samples test positive for their presence. Parabens and their metabolites are estrogenic, and it has been suggested that in childhood the estrogenic-properties of parabens could exceed natural estrogen levels – affecting development [8].

5. Alkylphenols (e.g. nonylphenols, octylphenols)

Used for: Common nonionic surfactants used to help remove stains and dirt, can also be used a solvent to dissolve other ingredients.
Ingredient Labels: ‘Nonionic surfactants’ or ‘phenols’
Endocrine Disruption: Weakly estrogenic
Evidence: Alkylphenols have been shown to be weakly estrogenic in rat studies [9]. When exposed to high doses (much higher than exposure from cleaning products), the chemicals resulted in significantly reduced learning and memory function in rats, and in pregnancy resulted in a lower number of live offspring. The effects of low concentrations in humans are unclear.

6. Ethanolamides (e.g. monoethanolamine, diethanolamine)

Used for: An emulsifier to help mix water- and fat-soluble ingredients in laundry detergents, and other cleaning products.
Ingredient Labels: ‘Nonionic surfactants’, ‘monoethanolamine’ or ‘MEA’
Endocrine Disruption: Correlated with type 1 diabetes
Evidence: Ethanolamides are frequently grouped with other endocrine disruptors, but evidence for these effects is lacking. In contrast, the ethanolamides are known to increase the incidence of asthma, and in sufficient concentrations are carcinogenic [10]. A byproduct of ethanolamides, ‘nitrosamines’, have been associated with diabetes due to toxic effects on pancreatic β-cells [11].

7. Bisphenol A (BPA)

Used for: An ingredient in many different plastics, including epoxy resins and polycarbonate plastics. BPA is found ubiquitously throughout the home in most plastic-based items, from cleaning products to children’s toys.
Ingredient Labels: BPA
Endocrine Disruption: Thyroid function, estrogenic, and dopaminergic
Evidence: BPA is another ingredient widely found in human urine samples. The chemical binds thyroid receptors, reducing the effects of thyroid hormones [12]. BPA also mimics the action of estrogen and dopamine, correlated with reduced infant development [13]. In 2017 the European Chemicals Agency increased it’s rating of BPA to ‘very high concern’.

8. Triclosan (TCS)

Used for: Much like parabens, triclosan inhibits the growth of bacteria and fungus, helping to prolong shelf-lives.
Ingredient Labels: ‘Preservatives’
Endocrine Disruption: Thyroid function
Evidence: Short-term, low concentration triclosan exposure has been shown to cause hypothyroidism in rat studies [14]. Concern has been raised about the chemical because human exposure limits are very close to concentrations at which these harmful effects are observed – giving a very small safety margin.

How Real Are the Risks?

It is difficult to establish if chemicals in cleaning products cause endocrine disruption, and even more difficult to confirm if this disruption has health implications. Animal and cell studies have been looking into the effects of endocrine disruption for 30-40 years, resulting in regulatory agencies restricting the concentrations of the most harmful ingredients.

More research is definitely still required, particularly into the human implications of long-term exposure to theoretical endocrine disruptors.

So What Are The Alternatives?

It is almost impossible to totally eradicate cleaning products from your home, but steps can be taken to reduce your exposure to the most harmful chemicals. Now, given most cleaning product manufacturers won’t disclose the ingredients of their cleaning products, this is tough to do.  It’s a disgraceful situation, and the reason this site exists.

We will only review products where we have full ingredient disclosure.  And if we spot any chemicals that even has a theoretical risk of endocrine disruption, we will warn you.  Giving you the opportunity to research further, and if necessary use an alternative product.

References

[1] Dodson, R. E., Nishioka, M., Standley, L. J., Perovich, L. J., Brody, J. G., & Rudel, R. A. (2012). Endocrine disruptors and asthma-associated chemicals in consumer products. Environmental Health Perspectives, 120(7), 935.
[2] Danish Ministry of The Environment: Environmental Protection Agency. (2014). Siloxanes (D3, D4, D5, D6, HMDS). [Accessed: 10/4/18] www.mst.dk.
[3] Quinn, A. L., Regan, J. M., Tobin, J. M., Marinik, B. J., McMahon, J. M., McNett, D. A., & Plotzke, K. P. (2006). In vitro and in vivo evaluation of the estrogenic, androgenic, and progestagenic potential of two cyclic siloxanes. Toxicological Sciences, 96(1), 145-153.
[4] Kwon, K. D., Jo, W. K., Lim, H. J., & Jeong, W. S. (2008). Volatile pollutants emitted from selected liquid household products. Environmental Science and Pollution Research, 15(6), 521-526.
[5] Henley, D. V., & Korach, K. S. (2006). Endocrine-disrupting chemicals use distinct mechanisms of action to modulate endocrine system function. Endocrinology, 147(6), s25-s32.
[6] Heudorf, U., Mersch-Sundermann, V., & Angerer, J. (2007). Phthalates: toxicology and exposure. International Journal of Hygiene and Environmental Health, 210(5), 623-634.
[7] Mendiola, J., Meeker, J. D., Jørgensen, N., Andersson, A. M., Liu, F., Calafat, A. M., & Hauser, R. (2012). Urinary Concentrations of Di (2‐ethylhexyl) Phthalate Metabolites and Serum Reproductive Hormones: Pooled Analysis of Fertile and Infertile Men. Journal of Andrology, 33(3), 488-498.
[8] Boberg, J., Taxvig, C., Christiansen, S., & Hass, U. (2010). Possible endocrine disrupting effects of parabens and their metabolites. Reproductive Toxicology, 30(2), 301-312.
[9] Jie, X., Yang, W., Jie, Y., Hashim, J. H., Liu, X. Y., Fan, Q. Y., & Yan, L. (2010). Toxic effect of gestational exposure to nonylphenol on F1 male rats. Birth Defects Research Part B: Developmental and Reproductive Toxicology, 89(5), 418-428.
[10] Quirce, S., & Barranco, P. (2010). Cleaning agents and asthma. J Investig Allergol Clin Immunol, 20(7), 542.
[11] Bahadoran, Z., Ghasemi, A., Mirmiran, P., Azizi, F., & Hadaegh, F. (2016). Nitrate-nitrite-nitrosamines exposure and the risk of type 1 diabetes: A review of current data. World Journal of Diabetes, 7(18), 433.
[12] Zoeller, R. T., Bansal, R., & Parris, C. (2005). Bisphenol-A, an environmental contaminant that acts as a thyroid hormone receptor antagonist in vitro, increases serum thyroxine, and alters RC3/neurogranin expression in the developing rat brain. Endocrinology, 146(2), 607-612.
[13] Matsuda, S., Matsuzawa, D., Ishii, D., Tomizawa, H., Sutoh, C., Nakazawa, K., & Shimizu, E. (2012). Effects of perinatal exposure to low dose of bisphenol A on anxiety like behavior and dopamine metabolites in brain. Progress in Neuro-Psychopharmacology and Biological Psychiatry, 39(2), 273-279.
[14] Rodríguez, P. E., & Sanchez, M. S. (2010). Maternal exposure to triclosan impairs thyroid homeostasis and female pubertal development in Wistar rat offspring. Journal of Toxicology and Environmental Health, 73(24), 1678-1688.

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