If you’ve been following us for a while, you know that we’ve been staunch advocates of clean beauty since day one. Whether it’s guiding readers on ingredients to avoid or the clean brands effective enough to spend your money on, we’ve been covering the space for years and have watched the industry surge in popularity as more of us are in the know.
One thing we hadn’t seen, until this year, was a clean beauty line that branded itself as “hormone safe skincare”. Hormone-disrupting ingredients make up a huge percentage of the beauty ingredients we know to be dangerous — and yet are still legal in many personal care products (read more here).
We talked to obstetrician and gynecologist, Dr. Kathleen Valenton who is a Medical Advisory Board Member to the new brand named Hugh & Grace. In her Beverly Hills practice, Dr. Valenton helps couples who are wrestling with infertility and knows that balanced hormones are a key factor in that equation.
The brand’s co-founders, Sara and Ben Jensen have struggled and overcome major infertility issues themselves and are on a mission to help others reduce the use of endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs) overall.
The Chalkboard: Our readers are all about clean beauty, but what is hormone-safe skincare specifically?
Dr. Kathleen Valenton: Hormone safe skincare is skincare free of chemicals that can disrupt normal hormonal functioning — either blocking the hormone receptor or competing with natural hormones. The most common examples of these are phytoestrogens, bisphosphenol A (BPA) and phthalates (read more).
TCM: Let’s talk about hormone disruptors. What are the worst offenders to avoid?
KV: Historically, the worst hormone disruptors can cause birth defects. An extreme example is Diethylstilbestrol or DES, medication that was used to prevent miscarriages in women and is a potent estrogen. Daughters born to women who took DES suffered from uterine malformation that put them at risk for infertility, second trimester loss, stillbirth and cancer of reproductive tissues.
Currently, BPA (bisphosphenol A), found in plastics, is a big chemical to note. BPA has been linked to breast cancer, fertility issues and heart disease. Another hormone disruptor, phthalates are found in many cosmetics as ‘added fragrance’ (learn more). These hormone disruptors can affect fertility by lowering sperm count, sperm motility and are tied to obesity.
TCM: There are natural ingredients that are also disruptors — like lavender. How can that be? Can you explain the concern?
KV: In the case of lavender, there have only been case reports of 3 girls and one boy reported by the NIH with early breast growth or with the initiation of breast growth in the case of the boy. The report was published in 2019. We need a larger sample size to draw conclusions. The effects subsided after the cessation of lavender exposure. This does highlight the possibility that even natural products can propagate or disrupt the effect of our normal hormonal function.
TCM In your practice you see a lot of women who struggle with infertility. What do you advise them on this topic?
KV: Infertility is tricky. I always remind my patients that decreasing cortisol production is the best way to get pregnant.
In most areas of our lives, we can simply ‘work hard enough’ to achieve success. The path to having a child is not as linear. To be in the best possible condition to have a baby a woman must actually feel ‘safe’ like an animal does when they go to their mating grounds. In our society currently, “problem-focused” coping skill can help many of us decrease anxiety. On other words, having a few things we can control is important.
I think eliminating environmental toxins in our self care routines is helpful. It’s one of the small changes that are “achievable”. Decreasing our chemical load can bring us one step further to our goal.
TCM: Are there other issues beyond fertility at stake here?
KV: Yes there are. Our environment is constantly undergoing assault from hormone disrupting chemicals. An extreme case is with aztrazine — an herbicide used on many crops. This is a chemical that has caused the “feminization” of male frogs or male frogs who develop ovaries that produce viable eggs. This is quite disturbing. We are creating new mutations in the environment through the use of these chemicals.
TCM: What about detoxification? What are the most important habits or protocols for cleansing the system of long term use of these ingredients?
KV: It is important to decrease our overall chemical load of these toxic chemicals. An easy first step is to look at our beauty products and cosmetics and swap out products with potentially harmful ingredients for their non-toxic alternatives.
Reevaluating what we ingest is also key, but takes a bit of forethought and vigilance to start. Eating foods that are free of pesticides, eating organic fruits and vegetables, using a vegetable wash and upgrading our water filtration system can all play a part in reducing our chemical load.
TCM: Did we miss anything crucial you want to include?
KV: I would note that it is important to be practical, not paranoid on this topic. Most of us are not able to change our habits overnight. Just being aware and making changes when we can will point us in the right direction.
Exciting new changes in policy in our state of California, like the passing of the Toxic-Free Cosmetic Act will make it easier for us to make healthy choices. Incorporating clean, non-toxic products into your regimen is a great way to help your health. Hugh & Grace, a clean brand whose medical advisory board I’ve joined, makes products that help reduce chemical exposure by supporting skin when it’s most susceptible.