The endocrine (or hormonal) system consists of different glands that produce hormones. They act as messengers and regulate many of the body’s essential functions. Endocrine disruptors are chemicals that prevent the hormone system from working properly. There are naturally occurring endocrine disruptors such as phytoestrogens, brominated flame-retardants or certain pesticides that have been banned (e.g. DDT).
Very few studies today make it possible to establish a clear link between the occurrence of disorders and diseases and exposure to endocrine disruptors. However, the harmful effects, observed mainly in animals, call for vigilance. The effects of endocrine disruptors depend on the age and state of health of the exposed individuals.
Endocrine disruptors are “scramblers” with harmful effects
Humans are constantly exposed to chemical substances of synthetic origin but also of natural origin (molecules from food or the air we breathe), and to physical agents (light) that interact with their endocrine system. In the vast majority of cases, these interactions lead to physiological adaptations that do not degrade health or the environment. In this case, we do not speak of an endocrine disruptor.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), endocrine disruptors are defined as follows:
“An endocrine disrupter is an exogenous substance or mixture (spread to the body) that alters the functions of the endocrine system and causes adverse health effects in an intact organism or its progeny or (sub)populations.
Simply put, endocrine disrupters are substances that interfere with the hormone system and cause adverse health effects.
Would some EU Member States find the Commission somewhat slow to regulate endocrine disrupters (EDs)? Five states have just launched a website to establish a list of substances that are known or suspected to fall into this category, the aim being “to speed up the identification and regulation of EDs in the EU”. This list is regularly updated.
38 of the listed substances may be used in cosmetic products, so it is up to the formulator to be vigilant on this point.