Could “Obesogens” in Cosmetics Sabotage Your Weight Loss?

Could Obesogens in Cosmetics Prevent You from Losing Weight?

Scientists report that endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs) in skin care and cosmetic products may hinder your efforts to lose weight. These EDCs act by changing the body’s hormone balance. 

When your hormone balance is shifted, it can be harder to shed pounds and maintain a healthy body composition. Your body composition, or body fat percentage, is primarily influenced by how much you eat and if you exercise regularly.

If you’re eating a healthy diet and working out but your weight loss is plateauing, you may want to consider other contributing factors in your environment. 

This article discusses how obesogens can affect your body. You’ll see how to become a more savvy shopper and which ingredients to check for in personal care, makeup, and skin care products. 

How Do Obesogens Affect the Body? 

When you use products on your skin, 64% of the ingredients are absorbed through your skin into your body. Endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs), termed “obesogens” can affect the body’s endocrine system, which controls your hormone balance. 

Obesogens don’t directly cause weight gain. However, obesogens may have the ability to disrupt healthy metabolic function and increase your susceptibility to weight gain. They do this by changing the storage capacity of fat cells, the number of fat cells, and the hormones that affect metabolism, appetite, and food choices.1

Scientists have shown that fat tissue can behave like an endocrine organ. Fat tissue has the ability to release hormones related to appetite and metabolism.2

Examples of Chemicals that May be Obesogens

Obesogens in personal care products

Endocrine-disrupting chemicals include:

  • Phthalates: commonly used to reduce brittleness in nail polish and hairspray. Used to hold color in cosmetics, used in personal care product fragrances, and used to make plastics soft and less brittle.
    • May disrupt hormones that interact with estrogen, including testosterone, may interact with hormone signaling, including thyroid function.
  • Bisphenol A (BPA): found in some plastics, including water bottles. Mimics estrogen, affects the body’s insulin regulation, and encourages weight gain.
  • Parabens: used as an antimicrobial ingredient to preserve cosmetics, such as skin care products, shampoo, and makeup. Mimics estrogen in the body.
  • Triclosan: an antibacterial/antifungal ingredient found in some antibacterial soaps, toothpaste, and cleansers. Research shows it affects hormone function in animals.

How to Avoid Obesogens

  1. Use organic, natural skin care, cosmetics, and personal care products.
  1. Eat organic foods when possible. If you can’t buy all organic produce, consider buying organic items on the “The Dirty Dozen” list. This list is published by the Environmental Working Group with the fruits and vegetables that contain the highest amount of pesticides on them. This list is updated yearly to help you reduce exposure to toxic pesticides.
  1. Use a stainless steel water bottle and filter your water. Look for “BPA free” on plastic water bottles and kid’s toys, check the bottom of plastic containers and avoid plastics with recycle codes 3 or 7 (commonly contain BPA).
  1. Minimize your use of plastics and don’t reheat foods in plastic. Don’t feed babies from plastic bottles, use glass bottles instead.
  1. Use cast iron or stainless steel cookware instead of non-stick Teflon cookware.
  1. Read ingredient labels and look for any ingredients that end in paraben.
  1. Look for ingredients that end in “phthalate” or abbreviations like DBP (dibutyl phthalate, found in some nail polishes) and DEP (diethyl phthalate, found in some cosmetics). Phthalates are also used as fragrance ingredients in cosmetics, but you won’t find these listed on the label.

Assessing the Risk of Using Obesogens

While eating healthy, managing stress levels, exercising, and getting quality sleep are the most important factors when it comes to your weight loss efforts, avoiding obesogens can make it so the cards aren’t stacked against you.

Keeping your hormones balanced makes it so your body can regulate your appetite, satiety, and food preferences naturally.

Only you can decide whether the extra work and cost to avoid endocrine-disrupting chemicals are worth it. Many of these chemicals were originally used for a range of beneficial purposes. With our growing understanding of their potential for contributing to obesity, we now need to consider safer alternatives.

Reducing exposure to obesogens during early life stages is especially important. If you are a pregnant woman or plan on becoming pregnant, reading labels and avoiding these chemicals can be one of your first steps to protecting the health of your baby.

Keeping yourself educated and reducing your exposure ahead of any regulatory actions on obesogens will empower you to make informed decisions. You can start familiarizing yourself today with the potential sources of endocrine-disrupting chemicals in you and your children’s environment. 

More awareness means better choices!


1. Endocrine Disruptors and Obesity. Philippa D. Darbre

2. Lustig RH, ed. New York, NY:Springer: 2010. Obesity before Birth: Maternal and Prenatal Influences on the Offspring.,+ed+Obesity+before+Birth:+Maternal+and+Prenatal+Influences+on+the+Offspring+New+York,+NY:Springer+2010+

3. Obesogens: An Environmental Link to Obesity

4. Endocrine disrupters as obesogens. Felix Grün1 and Bruce Blumberg.

5. Perturbed nuclear receptor signaling by environmental obesogens as emerging factors in the obesity crisis. Felix Grün 1, Bruce Blumberg.

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