Perhaps you're trying to conceive. Maybe you plan to in the future. Or, it may be that the title of this article piqued your interest because you never thought a beauty product could affect your fertility. Either way, with the emergence of consumer education and more clean beauty brands, there's been a shift in the industry. You want formulas that are healthier for your skin (and body). To help, we decided to dig a little bit deeper to find out what, specifically, may be affecting your fertility.
Below, Dr. Lucky Sekhon, a board-certified OB-GYN, reproductive endocrinologist, and infertility specialist provides insight in this area. Plus, Byrdie's VP and general manager, Leah Wyar, shares how her experience with minimizing her routine resulted in a successful pregnancy after a two-year-long struggle.
Meet the Expert
Dr. Lucky Sekhon is a reproductive endocrinologist and infertility specialist, board-certified obstetrician and gynecologist at Reproductive Medicine Associates of New York. She has particular expertise in fertility preservation (egg freezing), LGBTQ family building, and in vitro fertilization.
Can Your Products Affect Fertility?
The biggest factors in determining the odds of conceiving a healthy, successful pregnancy are age and genetics—so, exploring beauty products as they relate to fertility is a new development with a number of inconclusive studies. Still, Sekhon notes that "environmental issues can definitely exacerbate underlying fertility issues and could increase the odds of hormonal issues in future children who are exposed to these toxins, in utero." The main factor in being healthier with your product choices is to be an educated consumer—if you've read this far, you're already halfway there. Sekhon highlights four commonly used ingredients in cosmetics and skincare products that may not be fertility-friendly and could be endocrine disruptors.
Endocrine disruptors are chemicals that can impede on the body's endocrine system (the glands in your body that make hormones) and cause harmful effects on the developmental, reproductive, neurological, and immune systems.
The Ingredients to Avoid
Parabens are a group of chemicals typically used as artificial preservatives in moisturizers, cleansers, sunscreens, deodorants, shaving gels, toothpaste, makeup, shampoos, and conditioners. Since cosmetics contain ingredients that biodegrade, parabens are added to increase the shelf life of a product and prevent the growth of bacteria and mold. "The most common parabens are methyl paraben, propyl paraben, butyl paraben, and ethyl paraben," says Sekhon. "These are known to disrupt hormone function, with the ability to bind estrogen receptors in the body, an effect that is linked to an increased risk of breast cancer and reproductive toxicity." Sekhon recommends that until more is known regarding the potential effects long-chain parabens have on human fertility, we should all be cautious when purchasing personal care or cosmetic products.
Triclosan has been used as an ingredient in personal care products for decades (as it can reduce or prevent bacterial contamination). You can find it on the ingredient lists of antibacterial soaps and body washes, toothpaste, and some cosmetics. Sekhon notes triclosan "has a similar chemical structure to known endocrine-disrupting chemicals such as BPA." She adds, "while it is hard to draw any solid conclusion from the few human studies that currently exist, triclosan can act as an anti-estrogen with possible adverse effects on reproductive health."
Phthalates are used as solvents and are typically found in nail polish, hair sprays, aftershave lotions, soaps, shampoos, and perfumes. "Exposure to phthalates has been linked to sex hormone level deviations, as well as a lowered sperm count and quality," says Sekhon. "Higher urinary phthalate concentrations have also been associated with a reduced probability of success with IVF treatment (a lower number of eggs retrieved and low probability of fertilization)." Phthalates are rarely listed as an ingredient on product labels, but the words "fragrance" and "parfum" are indicators that phthalates have probably been used.
Lead and lead compounds are most commonly found in lipsticks. And because it goes around our mouths and is often ingested, eliminating exposure to lead-containing lipsticks is wise. "Lead poisoning is very dangerous to the female reproductive system," explains Sekhon. "It can make women less fertile, can cause abnormal menstrual cycles, and may affect menopause." And while the FDA determined the amount of lead in cosmetics (under 10 ppm) does not pose a health risk, this information is still important to consider.
What About Men?
Men need to think about fertility, too. Parabens and especially phthalates, may negatively affect sperm. Because men produce new sperm every three months, diet and environmental changes can reverse some of the risks and possible damage. Though, since women don't have the ability to regenerate or repair their eggs as they age, they're more affected by these factors.
The Changes You Can Make Right Now
For Wyar, a minimal beauty routine along with changes to her daily habits played a huge role in helping her conceive and maintain a healthy pregnancy. "For two years, I had a lot of trouble getting pregnant, even while seeing some of the best doctors in the world," she says. "I decided I needed to clean up my routine to make sure I was doing everything I could to optimize it." During the "trying to conceive" phase, she stopped getting Botox, lasers, peels, and any other aesthetic procedures. She also went from having a skincare routine of nearly ten products to just three. "I felt as though cutting back on products minimized chemicals that could be harmful to my body," she notes. "I made sure the three products I did keep in my routine were clean—specifically, a facial mist, a serum, and a face cream."
Both Wyar and Sekhon note how resourceful online retailers dedicated to clean, non-toxic beauty products can be. Naked Poppy, where Wyar discovered some of her favorite clean products, has users complete a customized quiz that generates a curated list of suitable skincare and makeup. Her top picks? Kosas' Hyaluronic Lip Balm, Kari Gran's Mini Kit, and RMS Beauty's Peach Luminizer. As for Sekhon, she recommends Credo Beauty to shop properly vetted clean beauty brands—her favorites include Ilia, Kosas, Meow Meow Tweet, and W3ll People.
All in all, because this is a largely unregulated and understudied field, both Wyar and Sekhon believe that it's important to be mindful of the inadvertent exposures in our daily routine.
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