Did you know, many of the personal products we use on a daily basis are full of chemical toxins that may have implications for our fertility?
When trying to conceive (TTC), some of the first steps you take are to adjust your diet, nutrition, exercise and relaxation routines in order to give yourself the best chance of a successful and healthy pregnancy. But what about when it comes to making changes to your perfumes, skincare, makeup and personal toiletries? Could shaking up your beauty regime improve your chances of getting pregnant?
Scientific studies are increasingly highlighting the association between the environmental chemicals we are exposed to on a daily basis and poor fertile health. Although the European Commission regulates the use of chemical ingredients in cosmetic products, the worry voiced by many health professionals is that cumulatively – with exposure from multiple personal care products – we are building up extensive levels of these damaging toxins in our bodies. Given that the average man uses 6, and the average woman uses 12 personal care products each day, the ingredients these contain should be an important consideration when looking at potential fertility-lifestyle changes.
Googling every ingredient in your bathroom cabinet does perhaps sounds a little mind-boggling, so to help you get started, here’s a handy checklist of seven of the key chemical nasties linked to poor fertility that you should try to avoid wherever possible:
Parabens: Parabens are synthetic compounds used in many health and beauty products as a preservative to prolong shelf-life. Known as endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs), they can mimic oestrogen, interfering with the body’s hormone function, and can also affect sperm, egg and embryo quality. Parabens can be absorbed through the skin so check the labels on those body creams, perfumes and shampoos! The simplest rule of thumb is to go for products specifically advertised as ‘paraben-free’.
Label lookouts: parabens, methylparaben, ethylparaben, propylparaben, butylparaben and isobutylparaben.
UV Filters: UV filters such as octinoxate and oxybenzone are often found in sun cream and other cosmetics offering an SPF (lipsticks, skin creams, hair products etc). Whilst they provide protection from UV light, they are also endocrine disruptors that mimic oestrogen. Octinoxate exposure has additionally been found to alter the reproductive systems of females, and in males it reduces sperm count.
Label lookouts: octinoxate, octyl methoxycinnamate (OMC), oxybenzone, homosalate, benzonephenone-3, homomenthyl salicylate, 3,3,5-trimethyl-cyclohexyl-salicylate.
Phthalates: Phthalates are a group of chemicals known as plasticizers as they are mainly used to soften plastics. Although most phthalates are now banned from use in cosmetics as they interfere with hormone function and reduced sperm count, diethyl phthalate (DEP) is still used in many beauty products to help fragrances last longer. Phthalates may not always appear in ingredient lists, however, if you find ‘fragrance’ or ‘parfum’ on a label without further explanation as to the source, there may well be phthalates lurking. As a general rule, avoiding heavily perfumed products whilst TTC is a good move.
Label lookouts: diethyl phthalate (DEP),‘fragrance/parfum’ where source has not been clarified, for example ‘natural essential oils’.
Butylphenyl Methylpropional: Often labelled as ‘lilial’, butylphenyl methylpropional synthetically replicates the aroma of the lily of the valley flower. It is found in everything from hair products and deodorants, to perfumes, hand soaps and even scented candles. Butylphenyl methylpropional can be damaging to male testes, impacting sperm quality, and can also be harmful to developing foetuses exposed through their mother’s use of products containing the chemical. Although use is regulated, a discussion from The Scientific Committee on Consumer Safety published in May 2019 indicated the aggregate exposure to this chemical arising from the use of multiple products meant at the current regulated concentrations butylphenyl methylpropional could not be considered as safe.
Label lookouts: butylphenyl methylpropional, lilial, lily aldehyde.
Ethanolamines: Ethanolamines such as diethanolamine (DEA), act as an emulsifier (allowing combined liquids to make a smooth mixture without separating) or a degreaser. Since they remove oil and dirt, they are often found in cleaning products such as hand soaps and shampoos, or in creamy products such as moisturisers. DEA can cause problems for male fertility as it can alter the sperm’s structure which impacts its ability to reach and fertilise an egg.
Label lookouts: diethanolamine (DEA), cocamide, ethanolamines, lauramide, triethanolamine (TEA).
Toluene: Found in nail varnishes and hair dyes, toluene is what gives your polish a smooth finish on your nail. Some studies have indicated toluene has been linked to reproductive damage in females, as well as pregnancy loss. Not overdoing the manicures and pedicures when TTC and during pregnancy is a good start, as well as switching to polishes that don’t contain toluene or any other fertility-damaging chemicals.
Label lookouts: toluene also listed as methylbenzene, phenylmethane or toluol; toluene-2,5-diamine, toluene-2,5-diamine sulfate, toluene-3,4-diamine (hair dyes).
Triphenyl Phosphate: triphenyl phosphate (TPHP) is another endocrine disruptor often found in nail polishes. It has links to reproductive toxicity, inducing oestrogenic activity in women and decreasing semen quality in men. Those who paint their nails regularly may find themselves chronically exposed, so it’s well-worth checking the labels on those lovely shades.
Label lookouts: triphenyl phosphate (TPHP).
The idea that your current beauty products might contain these toxins and in some way be affecting your fertility may sound scary, but try not to panic! Remember: it’s all about making changes where you can to reduce your risk. Arming yourself with the right information can help you to make more fertility-friendly choices when it comes to your health and beauty products. Checking your labels and switching to products that don’t contain the harmful ingredients listed above is a great first step.
FertiliBox is currently working hard to compile an easy-to-use database of all the ingredients found in cosmetics that could have adverse implications for fertility. In the meantime, head over to the FertiliBox shop where you’ll find a selection of toxin-free, fertility-friendly products. More products will be added each month.
#ChemicalCallout – Phthalates: https://www.madesafe.org/science/hazard-list/phthalates/
Chemicals of concern: http://www.safecosmetics.org/get-the-facts/chem-of-concern/
Commission decision of 9 February 2006 amending Decision 96/335/EC establishing an inventory and a common nomenclature of ingredients employed in cosmetic products:
Environmental Working Group EWG’s Skin Deep® Cosmetic Database: http://www.ewg.org/skindeep/
Environmental Working Group Report: The trouble with sunscreen chemicals: https://www.ewg.org/sunscreen/report/the-trouble-with-sunscreen-chemicals/
European Commission Cosmetics and Cosmetic Notifications Portal (CPNP): https://ec.europa.eu/growth/sectors/cosmetics/
European Commission list of substances which cosmetic products must not contain except subject to the restrictions laid down: https://ec.europa.eu/growth/tools-databases/cosing/index.cfm?fuseaction=ref_data.annexes_v2 CoSing EU commission database annexes
European Commission on Endocrine Disruptors: https://ec.europa.eu/environment/chemicals/endocrine/#page=1
Final Amended Report On the Safety Assessment of Ethanolamine and Ethanolamine Salts as Used in Cosmetics March 27, 2012: http://www.cir-safety.org/sites/default/files/MEA032012FAR.pdf
Liu X, Ji K, Jo A, Moon H-B, and Choi K, ‘Effects of TDCPP or TPP on gene transcriptions and hormones of HPG axis, and their consequences on reproduction in adult zebrafish (Danio rerio)’, AquaticToxicology, Volume134–135,(June 2013), pages 104–111.
Mendelsohn E, et al, ‘Nail Polish as a Source of Exposure to Triphenyl Phosphate’,
Environment International, Volume 86, (January 2016), Pages 45–51.
Oishi S, ‘Effects of butylparaben on the male reproductive system in rats’, Toxicology and Industrial Health, Volume 17(1), (Feb 2001), Pages 31-9.
Ono A, et al, ‘Reproductive and developmental toxicity studies of toluene. II. Effects of inhalation exposure on fertility in rats.’ Journal of Environmental Pathology Toxicology and Oncology, Volume 15(1), (1996), Pages 9-20.
Scientific Committee on Consumer Products SCCP opinion on phthalates
Scientific Committee on Consumer Safety SCCS opinion on the safety of Butylphenyl methylpropional (p-BMHCA) in cosmetic products – Submission II : https://ec.europa.eu/health/sites/health/files/scientific_committees/consumer_safety/docs/sccs_o_213.pdf
‘Should People Be Concerned about Parabens in Beauty Products’, October 6, 2014:
Skin deep exposures add up survey: http://www.ewg.org/skindeep/2004/06/15/exposures-add-up-survey-results/ Exposures add up – Survey results
Young A S, et al, ‘Phthalate and Organophosphate Plasticizers in Nail Polish: Evaluation of Labels and Ingredients’ Environmental Science and Technology, Volume 52(21), (October 2018), Pages 12841-12850.
About the author
Aimée has a background in Forensic Psychology, working as a family therapist before becoming an editor for Penguin Random House. Specialising in non-fiction, she has edited bestselling books from world-class experts in their field. Most recently she has commissioned self-help titles covering natural remedies, parenting, and mindfulness.