Are Everyday Products Affecting Your Fertility?

Before heading off to work each day many of us have exposed ourselves to an array of different lotions and potions containing a cocktail of synthetic chemicals. Yet how many of us are aware that these chemicals could be adversely affecting our fertility. The truth is that most of the toiletries we use on our body are made from the same harsh chemicals used in industry! and many of these are hormone disrupting, for both men and women For example, propylene glycol is a solvent used in hair care products, make up and deodorants. It is also the main ingredient in antifreeze and brake fluid (6).

At present, only new chemicals by law have to be assessed for their effect on our health, which amounts to no more than 3{7b225fbeff640dd30b4b8b66650188099c7e8b184e2fb5b5b9f806a74d59162d} of those in everyday use. Although there is pressure to change the law in both Europe and the US, it may take some time before all the chemicals in our bathroom are properly evaluated for safety. When this happens, several commonly used ingredients will be banned due to their toxicity.

Studies show that many of the chemicals found in everyday beauty products may be linked to a variety of health problems including, allergies, skin reactions, endocrine/hormone disruption, and possibly even birth defects.

Exposure to harmful chemicals can mount up unnoticed in terms of the quantity of different ingredients that we are using every day. And this is the important fact. It is what we expose ourselves to on a daily basis that if used only occasionally may not harm us, but when used frequently can accumulate in the body and ultimately cause health problems. For the first time in history we are exposed to potentially dangerous chemicals from the moment of conception.

For this reason alone, when preparing for pregnancy, it is worth seriously considering a well structured detox programme first, to give your whole system a chance to eliminate accumulated toxins. Detox not only helps the body to mobilize stored toxins, but revitalizes the whole body at cell level. Organs and systems are rejuvenated and become more efficient in their function. Hormone balance can be restored and sperm health is greatly enhanced. The value of this level of preparation cannot be underestimated in today’s toxic world.

Have a think about which products you normally use on any given day. Which brand of toothpaste do you use? Do you also use a mouth wash? Which shampoo or conditioner do you use, and how often? What about hair gel, hair spray, hair thickener! How about your underarm antiperspirant deodorant, have you any idea what it contains? Have you ever checked the ingredients of your body lotion, shaving foam, moisturiser, or make up?

As we know from the successful use of HRT and nicotine patches the skin is an efficient and absorbent medium for the transfer of chemicals into the blood stream. It’s the largest organ in the body and acts as a two way membrane, allowing toxins both out and in. The skin can absorb up to 60{7b225fbeff640dd30b4b8b66650188099c7e8b184e2fb5b5b9f806a74d59162d} of what we put on it, so we should never put anything on our skin that we wouldn’t put in our mouth!

So what kind of chemicals are we exposing ourselves to and what effects can they have, especially on fertility and reproduction?

In 1989 the Australian Occupational Safety and Health Administration analysed nearly 3,000 chemicals used in personal care products. 884 of the ingredients were found to be toxic, and of these:

218 can cause reproductive problems.

314 can cause biological mutation

778 can cause acute toxicity

146 can cause tumours

376 can cause skin and eye irritation

With 218 chemicals that can cause reproductive complications there are major concerns regarding fertility and pregnancy. Yet few people are aware of the facts.

Have a look right now at some of the products in your bathroom. You’ll find a long list of chemical ingredients in minute writing on the label. Even with perfect eyesight you may need a magnifying glass to read the small print. Have you ever considered exactly what these ingredients are for and what effect they may be having on your health and fertility?

Given that reproductive health in both men and woman can be so negatively affected by synthetic chemicals in everyday use it is vital to switch to using chemical free alternatives if you are planning to have a baby or currently have fertility problems. These are just a few of the most commonly found chemicals to look out for and avoid.

Parabens are used by the cosmetic industry as preservatives and are found in most body care products. They have been detected in human breast tissue and evidence suggests they can act as oestrogen making them a hormone disrupting chemical in both men and woman. Propyl paraben has been shown to adversely affect male reproductive functions. At the daily intake level currently acceptable by EC law, it was found to decrease sperm production (8).

Phthalates are insidious hormone disruptors and worse still they are exempt from any labelling requirements. They are often used as one of many ingredients in fragrance which makes them hard to spot since the complete list of ingredients which make the fragrance don’t have to be labelled individually. If your products contain ‘fragrance’ or ‘musk’ or ‘parfum’ then it will most likely contain phthalates. Phthalates are implicated with low sperm counts and also causing sexual abnormalities and deformities. A survey by the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention of 300 women found high levels of phthalates in them all, with the highest levels found in the women of reproductive age. Phthalates are common plasticizing ingredients found in products from hair spray, perfume, make up, nail polish, shampoos and soap. In tests they have been found to lower sperm motility in men (3) and are linked to reproductive and fertility problems in women at high levels of exposure (4). They have been linked to birth defects in the reproductive system of boys at exposure levels typical for about ¼ of woman using common body care products (2). Studies have also shown Phthalates to damage adult reproductive organs, and also the liver, adrenals, and kidneys (5).

Triclosan is another endocrine disruptor. It is found in toothpaste, soaps, body washes and antibacterial handwash.

Talc is found in baby powders, face powders and body powders as well as on some contraceptives such as condoms. It is a known carcinogen and a major cause of ovarian cancer when used in the genital area. It can also lodge in the lungs, causing respiratory disorders.

Anionic Surfactants. Anionic refers to the negative charge these surfactants have. They may be contaminated with nitrosamines, which are carcinogenic. Surfactants can pose serious health threats including adversely affecting reproductive hormone health. They are used in car washes as garage floor cleaners and engine degreasers – and in 90{7b225fbeff640dd30b4b8b66650188099c7e8b184e2fb5b5b9f806a74d59162d} of personal-care products that foam. They can be found under the following names. Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS), Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLES), Ammonium Lauryl Sulfate (ALS), Ammonium Laureth Sulfate (ALES), Sodium Methyl Cocoyl Taurate, Sodium Lauroyl Sarcosinate, Sodium Cocoyl Sarcosinate, TEA (Triethanolamine) Lauryl Sulfate, Lauryl or Cocoyl Sarcosine, Disodium Laureth Sulfosuccinate and Disodium Dioctyl Sulfosuccinate.

Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLES) is a known oestrogen mimic linked to breast and endometrial cancer and low sperm counts (7).

Over the past 20-30 years, in the developed world, infertility has been on the increase, bringing with it much sadness to those who deeply desire a child. Although infertility and miscarriage can be caused by many factors including a poor diet, environmental toxins, deficiency of specific vitamins and minerals, accumulation of toxic metals, emotional blocks, and general ill health, everyday body care products play a vital role in the overall toxicity picture. What you chose to put on your skin can also play an important role in decreasing your toxic load.

As important as eating an organic whole food diet when preparing for a pregnancy is reducing the amount of toxins that you’re exposed to. When it comes to body care products and make up this is something you can have control over and there are many chemical free alternatives on the market. The growth of natural body care products is testimony to the fact that people are looking for safer and healthier alternatives, making it easier to switch to health friendly products.

Apart from affecting fertility adversely, we know that chemical toxins are also passed from mother to baby during pregnancy. Babies are therefore directly affected by the toxins present in their mother’s choice of personal care products. The problem with chemical toxins is that they persist in the body and are difficulty to eliminate without extra help. To illustrate the point, studies have found more than 350 synthetic contaminants in human breast milk. Not all of these are from personal care products; however we take in toxins from a variety of sources, and body care products are a significant source. Under normal circumstances the body cannot eliminate all of the chemicals it takes it, which is why a committed detox programme is an important step towards achieving optimum health and fertility prior to conception.

The good news is that one thing all prospective parents can do right now is to replace the worst chemicals with safer alternatives. Just taking this one step towards a less toxic lifestyle will reduce the overall toxic overload on the body. The world health organization has warned of the dangers of exposure (particularly pre-natal exposure) to certain hormone disrupting chemicals (1) and reducing your overall body toxicity can make the difference for some people between fertility and infertility.

What can I do? – Quick guide

o Carry out an audit on you and your partner’s body care products. Look through all the products in your bathroom and check the labels. If it isn’t a genuinely natural product then it will definitely contain several synthetic chemical ingredients.

o Check the websites listed below for information on specific ingredients. Find out what the ingredients do and what their effects might be on your health.

o Examine your daily routine and make a list of all the products you use and when. See how much you can either reduce or eliminate the use of a product or change it to a healthy alternative.

o Have a look through your other household products, such as air fresheners, bathroom cleaners, bleach etc. Question how toxic they are. Look for natural alternatives which are sold in health food shops and supermarkets; for example, brands like Ecover and Green Care.

o Do some research into alternative natural based products. The internet is a good source of information. Investigate what’s on sale in health food shops and supermarkets.

o Consider a detox programme to rid yourself / partner of any accumulated toxic load. This is especially important when planning for pregnancy.

Midi Fairgrieve is a nutritionist, healer and counsellor and the founder of Detox International Ltd. which runs specialist fertility / pre-conception detox programmes suitable for anyone who is having problems conceiving as well as for individuals (or couples) wishing to prepare themselves pre-conceptually to be the healthiest they can be.

For further information see the web site: or email [email protected]

For more info about chemicals in beauty and body care products


(1) World health Organization IPCS Report (2002)

(2) Environ Health Perspect, 2006. 114(6): p.805-9

(3) Duty, S.M., et al., the Relationship between environment exposure to phthalates and computer-aided sperm analysis motion parameters. J Androl, 2004. 25(2): p 293-302.

(4) Eisenhardt, S., et al., Nitromusk compounds in women with gynaecological and endocrine dysfunction. Environ Res, 2001. 87(3): p. 123-30.

(5) CERHR, NTP-CERHR expert panal report on di (2-ethylhexyl) phthalate (DEHP). 2000, Centre for the Evaluation of Risks to Human Reproduction.

(6) What Doctors Don’t Tell You. Vol 10 no. 7. 10/99

(7) Day, P. The ABC’s of Disease, Credence Publications, 2003.

(8) Oishi, S., Effects of propyl paraben on the mal reproductive system; Food and Chemical Toxicology, 40:1807-1813 (2002).

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