We don’t often think of a connection between our period pain and what we’re lathering onto our scalp. However, our skin is a very absorbent organ, and what we massage into our scalp can be absorbed into our bloodstream. More than that, the fragrances and ingredients in our haircare routine that we inhale (like that giant gulp of hairspray you accidentally ate!) can enter our body and can have a negative impact on our hormone health. Considering that our hormones control our menstrual cycle, this can exaggerate period symptoms.
What Is a Hormone Disruptor?
The World Health Organization says that endocrine disruptors, or endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs), are substances that “have been suspected to be associated with altered reproductive function in males and females, increased incidence of breast cancer, abnormal growth patterns and neurodevelopmental delays in children, as well as changes in immune function.”
I don’t know about you, but a hormone-disrupting shampoo that smells as if a coconut gave birth to a cherry blossom is not worth the risk!
There are chemicals that disrupt hormones that are also called external estrogens, or “xeno-estrogens”. This is because they are similar to our body’s own estrogen, but not exactly the same. They can enter our body and bind to estrogen receptor sites, causing a negative effect.
It does not affect the body in a cyclical pattern of ups and downs, similar to our body’s own hormones. Instead, we are exposed to external estrogens consistently every day. Our estrogen levels naturally increase and decrease at different times during our menstrual cycle, so, consistent levels of estrogen exposure can really have an effect on the way we experience our period.
These external “fake” estrogen hormones also remain and accumulate in the body for decades.
How Does This Impact My Period, Period Pain and PMS?
Here are just a few common symptoms (among many) that can be exaggerated by hormone-disrupting chemicals (external estrogens).
It is estrogen’s job to thicken the endometrium (uterine lining) throughout the menstrual cycle. Increased levels of estrogen can cause this lining to become thicker, leading to a heavier period bleed.
Heavy periods usually come along with a lot of period pain. If you’re someone with extreme period pain, it is always important to investigate the root cause, as extreme pain that impacts your ability to live your every day life is NOT a normal part of having a period.
There are many estrogen receptors in the breast tissues. With elevated levels of estrogen, we can experience sore or tender breasts, specifically in the two weeks leading up to our next period.
One factor contributing to PMS (pre-menstrual syndrome) symptoms is the balance, or ratio, between estrogen and another hormone called progesterone. Progesterone has a balancing effect on estrogen. However, if we have too much estrogen in relation to progesterone, we experience exaggerated PMS symptoms: mood swings, crying, food cravings, leg pain, breast pain, back pain, migraines, anxiety, etc.
Hormone Disruptors in Hair Products
Many hair products (as well as other cosmetics, skin-care products and makeup) contain endocrine-disrupting chemicals, including xeno-estrogens. These are often intentionally added to the formulas. In small doses, most people may not feel any impact, whereas some people might have an immediate reaction.
It’s also important to keep in mind that we get EDC exposure from so many different sources (air, water, food, cleaning products, hygiene products, and even conventional non-organic pads and tampons), and the cumulative impact of these things combined can have an observable effect on our hormones.
Many women have seen a significant improvement in their period symptoms and more regular periods when they avoid EDCs where they have the awareness and control to do so.
Some endocrine-disrupting chemicals to avoid in skin-care products include:
The term ‘fragrance’ can include thousands of different combinations of chemicals, and you wouldn’t know what any of them are. They can also be very prominent allergens.
Cyclic methyl siloxanes (cyclomethicone)
Often included in shampoo formulas to decrease drying time. Some studies have shown an effect on estrogen levels.
Parabens are a common preservative used in many hair-care products. There have been links between parabens and breast cancer, and they are also suspected to have a negative effect on hormone balance, as well.
Triclosan is an antimicrobial agent found in many soaps and has a link to allergies, hay fever and hormone disruption.
Studies have shown a link between women with PCOS (polycycstic ovary syndrome) and serum BPA.
These are plasticizer and are often found in hair spray. Much evidence suggests endocrine disruption, with a particular impact on androgens. There is also a link between phthalates and fibroids and endometriosis.
These are common preservatives in hair products and suspected hormone disruptors.
This chemical has been shown to contribute to the risk of thyroid cancer. Our thyroid health is very closely linked to our reproductive hormones. Formaldehyde is often found in hair dyes.
These substances all need to be broken down and excreted by the body. If we decrease the load of toxins the body has to deal with (in particular, the liver), the body will be able to be more efficient at breaking down and secreting hormones to improve better hormone balance.
Be Informed and Empowered
This is about being informed, not about being freaked out. Don’t be scared of your bottle of hair spray or squeeze your shampoo down the toilet. Like I mentioned earlier, the amount of EDCs in these products is quite minimal, but the cumulative impact of all the EDCs in our life can be minimized by taking some control of what goes into our beauty routine. If you’re someone who is noticing persisting period problems and you feel like you’re doing everything else right, purging your hair-care routine of xeno-estrogens may be a great thing to do whilst also investigating the root cause of your symptoms with a women’s health professional.
I am always searching to find more hormone-friendly hair products in health food stores or on this website: noursihedlife.com.au.
If you’d like to learn more about the hormones that control our menstrual cycle and how your period can actually be your superpower rather than your enemy, you can have a look at my book ‘The Bright Girl Guide’. It is available internationally from my website, or from a large range of online retailers, including Amazon and the Book Depository. Visit my website to find the list of retailers and to read more info. For a very large amount of info about how you can have a better period, you can also follow me on social media!