Personal care products and endocrine disruption: A critical review of the literature

Crit Rev Toxicol. 2010 Nov:40 Suppl 3:1-30. doi: 10.3109/10408444.2010.515563.


This article reviews laboratory and epidemiological research into the endocrine disruptive effects of components of personal care products, namely, phthalate esters, parabens, ultraviolet (UV) filters, polycyclic musks, and antimicrobials. High doses of phthalates in utero can produce “phthalate syndrome,” demasculinizing effects in male rat offspring due to impaired testosterone production by fetal testes. However, evidence linking phthalate exposure to similar effects in humans appears inconclusive. Furthermore, phthalate exposure derived from personal care products is within safe limits and its principal bioavailable phthalate, diethyl phthalate (DEP), does not produce “phthalate syndrome.” Parabens exhibit very weak estrogen activity in vitro and in vivo, but evidence of paraben-induced developmental and reproductive toxicity in vivo lacks consistency and physiological coherence. Evidence attempting to link paraben exposure with human breast cancer is nonexistent. Select UV filters at high doses produce estrogenic, antithyroid, and other effects in rats in vivo. Again, no evidence links UV filter exposure to endocrine disruptive effects in humans. Some polycyclic musks weakly bind to estrogen, androgen, or progestin receptors and exhibit primarily antagonistic activity in vitro, which for the most part, has yet to be confirmed in vivo in mammals. The antimicrobials triclocarban and triclosan evoke weak responses mediated by aryl hydrocarbon, estrogen, and androgen receptors in vitro, which require confirmation in vivo. Preliminary observations suggest a novel interaction between triclocarban and testosterone. In conclusion, although select constituents exhibit interactions with the endocrine system in the laboratory, the evidence linking personal care products to endocrine disruptive effects in humans is for the most part lacking.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Breast Neoplasms / physiopathology
  • Carbanilides / pharmacology
  • Carbanilides / toxicity
  • Carcinoma, Ductal, Breast / physiopathology
  • Cosmetics / pharmacology
  • Cosmetics / toxicity*
  • Endocrine Disruptors / toxicity*
  • Estrogens / metabolism
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Parabens / pharmacology
  • Parabens / toxicity*
  • Phthalic Acids / pharmacology
  • Phthalic Acids / toxicity*
  • Rats
  • Receptors, Androgen / metabolism
  • Receptors, Aryl Hydrocarbon / metabolism
  • Triclosan / pharmacology
  • Triclosan / toxicity
  • Ultraviolet Rays / adverse effects


  • Carbanilides
  • Cosmetics
  • Endocrine Disruptors
  • Estrogens
  • Parabens
  • Phthalic Acids
  • Receptors, Androgen
  • Receptors, Aryl Hydrocarbon
  • Triclosan
  • phthalic acid
  • triclocarban
  • diethyl phthalate