SCIENCE: Reducing body burden of EDCs | Breast Cancer UK

SCIENCE: Reducing body burden of EDCs

Published 29 Mar 2016

A new study has confirmed the benefits of staying away from personal care products and cosmetics which contain known hormone (endocrine) disrupting chemicals (EDCs). 

Avoiding products which contain EDCs for just three days can help to reduce levels of these harmful chemicals in the body, a new study led by researchers from the University of California, Berkeley has shown.

The research, reported recently in Environmental Health Perspectives (1), enlisted 100 teenage girls in a community-based research project, known as the Health and Environmental Research on Makeup of Salinas Adolescents (HERMOSA) study. The aim was to determine whether restricting the use of personal care products containing known EDCs for 3 days could lower levels found in urine.

The girls were given products which - according to their labels - did not contain parabens, phthalates, triclosan or the UV filter benzophenone-3 – all known EDCs – and were asked to use these products exclusively for 3 days, rather than their usual products. Urine samples were analysed before and after the 3 day intervention.

The researchers found urinary concentrations of nearly all EDCs from personal care products were reduced significantly. Metabolites of diethyl phthalate (used in fragrances) decreased by 27%, triclosan (used in antibacterial soaps and toothpaste) and benzophenone-3 (used in UV sunscreens and face creams) fell by 36% and methyl and propyl paraben (found in cosmetics) decreased by around 44%. Unexpectedly, ethyl and butyl paraben concentrations increased, although these were low overall and not identified in nearly half the samples. The researchers speculate this may be due to accidental contamination of the supplied products or a substitution not listed on the labels. Although urinary concentrations of most EDCs were lower after 3 days, the majority of girls still had detectable concentrations in their urine, probably derived from other sources. It is possible also that replacement products were not completely free of the EDCs that were tested.

This is the first study to show that selecting personal care products that are labelled free of phthalates, triclosan, parabens and benzophenone-3 can reduce personal exposure to these compounds. Parabens (2), phthalates (3), triclosan (4) and benzophenones (5) are all known to be oestrogenic, with potential links to breast cancer. Although the study outcome is positive news, the work also highlights the difficulty of eliminating our exposure to EDCs, even if we choose products labeled EDC-free. This is because EDCs are found in a wide variety of products including plastics, cleaners, paints, and clothing as well as in water, soil and polluted air. Many are bioaccumulative and persistent in the environment. However, a combination of better regulation and, where possible, avoiding products containing EDCs, will help reduce our exposure and so may reduce the risk of detrimental health effects, such as breast cancer .

For more information on how to reduce exposures to EDCs please see our website section on how to Reduce your risk.

Read more about the potential links between personal care products and breast cancer.


1. Harley, K. G. et al. (2016). Reducing Phthalate, Paraben, and Phenol Exposure from Personal Care Products in Adolescent Girls: Findings from the HERMOSA Intervention Study. Environmental Health Perspectives. DOI: 10.1289/ehp.1510514. Advance Publication 7 March 2016.

2. Darbre, P. D. and Harvey, P. W. (2014). Parabens can enable hallmarks and characteristics of cancer in human breast epithelial cells: a review of the literature with reference to new exposure data and regulatory status. Journal of Applied Toxicology 34(9): 925-938.

3. Hsieh, T.-H. et al., (2012). Phthalates induce proliferation and invasiveness of estrogen receptor-negative breast cancer through the AhR/HDAC6/c-Myc signaling pathway. FASEB Journal 26(2): 778 –787.

4. Lee, H.-R. et al. (2014). Progression of Breast Cancer Cells Was Enhanced by Endocrine-Disrupting Chemicals, Triclosan and Octylphenol, via an Estrogen Receptor-Dependent Signaling Pathway in Cellular and Mouse Xenograft Models.

5. Chemical Research in Toxicology 27(5) 834-842.  Schlumpf, M. et al. (2001). In vitro and in vivo estrogenicity of UV screens. Environmental Health Perspectives 109(3): 239-244.

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