An Overview of Endocrine-Disrupting Chemicals (EDCs)

Endocrine-Disrupting Chemicals (EDCs, also known as Endocrine Disruptors or Endocrine Disrupters) are substances found in a variety of consumer products like food packaging, cosmetics, and personal care products.  

EDCs can interfere with the body’s hormone (endocrine) system. The endocrine system coordinates many body functions like growth and development, reproduction, energy, and responding to stress. Children and babies are particularly sensitive to the effects of these compounds because of their bodies are still developing. Learn more about how EDCs can affect the hormone system. 

Simple steps can help reduce your family’s exposure to EDCs.

Ten Tips to Reduce Exposure to EDCs

  1. Use glass containers to store and heat food and beverages.
  2. Reduce household dust with a wet mop or wet dusting rag.
  3. Do not heat plastic food containers in the microwave or dishwasher.
  4. When possible, choose fresh foods over processed or canned foods.
  5. Opt for low-fat dairy products and low-fat or lean meat products such as fish, seafood, and poultry.
  6. Choose safer cleaning products: avoid products that contain antibacterial chemicals, scents or fragrances, or harsh chemicals. and look for those with a “Safer Choice” label.  Or, create your own out of common affordable ingredients: white vinegar, baking soda, water, and lemon or orange. Click here for more information.
  7. Shop smart! Check the labels of personal care products to ensure that they do not contain phthalates, parabens, triclosan, or fragrances. If they do not clearly display what they contain, try to avoid those with strong scents. Or, use the Environmental Working Group’s “Healthy Living” app.
  8. Repair, cover, or replace pieces of furniture that have torn or exposed foam.
  9. Choose electronic receipts (“e-receipts”) instead of paper ones.
  1. Choose safer plastics. Check the recycling label and follow these tips from the Children’s Environmental Health Center at Mount Sinai.  Here is their plastic guide:

Learn More about Five Common EDCs

Bisphenol A (BPA):

  • BPA is a stabilizer commonly found in rigid plastic containers, cash register receipts, dental sealants, and the lining of food cans.
  • Some studies have linked BPA exposure to an increased likelihood of obesity, diabetes, and abnormalities with development of the reproductive system.
  • How can I reduce my family’s exposure to BPA?
    • Avoid plastic food/beverage containers with a #7 recycling symbol or labeled “PC” (polycarbonate)
    • Use glass or stainless steel water bottles
    • Eat fewer canned goods and eat more fresh foods when possible
    • Choose e-receipts instead of paper

For more information, check out Mount Sinai’s BPA factsheet and BPA/phthalates infographic

Phthalates:

  • Phthalates are chemicals used to make plastics more flexible and to help dissolve ingredients in personal care products. They can be found in food, toys, medical tubing, vinyl shower curtains, vinyl flooring, nail polish, shampoo, hair spray, baby lotion, body wash, and baby oils.
  • Phthalates can potentially interfere with child development and hormone function, and may increase the risk of allergic diseases. 
  • How can I reduce my family’s exposure to phthalates? 
    • Avoid products made from polyvinyl chloride (PVC) vinyl or labeled with recycling symbol #3
    • Use glass, metal, or other non-plastic food containers
    • Avoid heating food in plastic containers (use glass instead)
    • Use glass or stainless steel water bottles
    • Choose “fragrance-free” personal care products
    • Reduce consumption of foods packaged in plastics

For more information, check out Mount Sinai’s phthalates factsheet and BPA/phthalates infographic

Polybrominated Diphenyl Ethers (PBDEs):

  • PBDEs are used as flame retardants (prevent products from catching fire). They are found in some upholstered products (like car seats, mattresses, carpet padding), and electronics. Despite their use as flame retardants, PBDEs do not significantly prevent the start or spread of fires, so reducing exposure to them is more beneficial than harmful. PBDEs can also be found in certain fatty fish or in contaminated soil, water, or air near factories.
  • PBDEs can interfere with thyroid hormones in the body. They also impact the developing brain of animals.  
  • How can I reduce my family’s exposure to PBDEs?
    • Repair/cover/replace furniture that has exposed foam and therefore may contain flame retardants
    • Choose products with naturally flame-resistant fibers such as wool; reduce household dust by wet mopping and wet dusting
    • Avoid polyurethane foam products, particularly those with the “TB117 label” (if made before 2015); and look for the TB117-2013 label for products made after January 2015 because they no longer require chemical flame retardants (but may still use them- so ask the manufacturer if label does not say “no added chemical flame retardants”). The NRDC has created a consumer guide to reading the TB117 labels.

For more information on flame retardants such as PBDEs, check out Mount Sinai’s factsheet and infographic

Triclosan:

  • Triclosan is an antibacterial agent that has been used in products such as antibacterial soaps, toothpastes, toothbrushes, body washes, laundry detergents, kitchen cutting boards, furniture, toys, and sporting equipment. The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) banned triclosan from consumer soap and washing products because triclosan is not better than regular soap at reducing the spread of disease.
  • Although the endocrine-disrupting effects of triclosan are not well understood, it has been shown to have hormonal effects in animals. Children exposed to triclosan may be more prone to developing hyper-responsiveness to allergens. 
  • How can I reduce my family’s exposure to triclosan?
    • Avoid products with “triclosan” listed on the label (also avoid “trilocarban”- a similar chemical).
    • Avoid everyday products labeled as “antibacterial” or “odor-fighting”. These products may not have ingredient labels and may contain triclosan. Some examples are kitchen cutting boards, sports mats and towels, and shower curtains. 

For more information on triclosan, check out the FDA’s fact sheet.

Parabens

  • Parabens are chemical preservatives in personal care products such as skin lotions, perfumes, and make-up. A product label may list methylparaben, ethylparaben, propylparaben, butylparaben and/or isobutylparaben.
  • Currently the effects of parabens in humans is unclear, but studies in animals show a potential for hormone-disrupting effects. Parabens are concerning because they are easily absorbed through human skin; and are found in many personal care products applied to skin.  While small amounts of parabens are not likely to be harmful, it is advisable to reduce exposure to parabens if possible.  
  • How can I reduce my family’s exposure to parabens?
    • Read product labels on personal care products and buy those that do not contain parabens.

For more information on parabens, check out the CDC’s information page.

Additional resources on EDCs

National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences 

Environmental Working Group “Dirty Dozen” of Endocrine Disruptors 

Mount Sinai Children’s Environmental Health Center: 10 Tips to Green Your Family Now

Are your cosmetics safe?

Sus productos cosméticos son seguros?

Do it Yourself Beauty Recipes 

Recetas de Belleza DIY

Last updated July 2019