Estrogen in Cosmetics

There are several cosmetics that contain steroidal and non-steroidal estrogens. This includes products like shampoos, creams and placental extracts. Much of these are phytoestrogens. These may cause harm to users especially among children and those using these for long periods of time. These environmental estrogens may work together with the body’s own estrogen to increase the risk of breast cancer.

Local uses of estrogen as creams etc.

A German pharmaceutical drug company, formulated a similar product as Emmenin to treat symptoms of menopause like vaginal dryness etc. It was only until 1941 when estrogen therapy was finally approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for the treatment of menopausal symptoms.

In 1938, British scientists obtained a patent on a newly formulated nonsteroidal estrogen, diethylstilbestrol (DES) that was cheaper and more powerful than the previously manufactured estrogens. Soon it was found that DES could cause vaginal and vulvar cancer among unborn baby girls of the women who used this product.

FDA regulation

It was on 9th of September in 1993 that the Food and Drugs Administration decreed that not all locally or topically applied hormone-containing drug products that are available over –the-counter for human use are recognized as safe and effective. The FDA said that there is a lot of misbranding and mislabelling of these products.

The rule accompanying this finding stated that that any use of natural estrogens in a cosmetic product makes the product an unapproved new drug. It states that any cosmetic using the term "hormone" in the text of its labelling or in its ingredient statement automatically implies it is a drug and thus needs regulatory procedures for approval.

Misbranding is also possible if products claiming to contain placental extract claim to have been prepared from placentas from which the hormones and other biologically active substances have been removed and the extracted substance consists principally of protein. The FDA recommends that this substance be identified by a name other than "placental extract" and describing its composition more accurately because consumers associate the name "placental extract" with a therapeutic use of some biological activity.

What environmental estrogens are likely to be present in cosmetics?

These include names like:

  • Parabens – These are used extensively as a preservative in low amounts (0.1-0.3% by weight per ingredient). Types include butylparaben, ethylparaben, isobutylparaben, methylparaben, propylparaben.
  • Placental Extracts – these contain hormones estrogen, estrone, and progesterone as contaminants. They are found in shampoos, conditioners, moisturizers and astringents, body and skin creams.
  • UV Screens – these are UV protection creams and photo-stabilizers. They are used in high amounts of 2-15% by weight per ingredient. Many commonly used UV-screens are absorbed by the skin and get access to the blood stream. They are found in sunscreens, perfumes, hair sprays, shampoos, conditioners, styling gels, facial creams, foundations, moisturizers, lipsticks, liquid hand soaps, body wash, insect repellants, nail polish and polish remover, and aftershave and shaving creams. The harmful chemicals in UV screens are benzophenone-1, benzophenone-2, homosalate, octinoxate, oxybenzone, sulisobenzone, and 4-MBC (this is used in Europe but not in the United States).

What can be done?

All users are advised to read the labels carefully. The ingredients are listed in decreasing order by weight on all personal care products. This should guide choices. Users are advised to choose products that do not have environmental estrogens.

Further Reading

Last Updated: Jun 18, 2023

Dr. Ananya Mandal

Written by

Dr. Ananya Mandal

Dr. Ananya Mandal is a doctor by profession, lecturer by vocation and a medical writer by passion. She specialized in Clinical Pharmacology after her bachelor's (MBBS). For her, health communication is not just writing complicated reviews for professionals but making medical knowledge understandable and available to the general public as well.


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