In honor of Movember, I’m sharing a bit on how men’s health can be compromised by environmental toxins.
So much of the time when we talk about safer products, we focus on women and children. And for good reason. Women use more personal care products than men and are therefore more often exposed to the dangers of certain chemicals in products. Children, especially babies, have thin skin and developing organs, which makes them (sadly) even more vulnerable to these dangers.
But the unfortunate truth is that men can suffer from the toxins in many products just as much as women or children. We encourage men to exercise, eat healthy, sleep, and keep stress to a minimum, but we rarely suggest that their environment may be causing them harm.
Men’s Health and Environmental Toxins
Scientific studies continue to show that environmental toxins play a role in the many health issues we’re facing today. Even though we don’t talk about it much, men are immune to the effects as well. Here are just three ways that men’s health is impacted by toxins in common products.
For whatever reason (#patriarchy), we tend to see infertility as a women’s issue. Really though, in about 40% of couples who are facing fertility struggles, men are the sole or a contributing factor. [source]
So what’s causing issues with men’s fertility? We could write books about this, but I’ll focus here on one environmental toxin that plays a role: phthalates. Phthalates are a class of chemicals used to make plastics more flexible. You’ll find them in personal care products because they help fragrance stick to the skin and last longer and they help creams and lotions go on smoother. The frustrating thing is that they often aren’t disclosed in a list of ingredients because they are hidden in ‘fragrance’ (which in the US is proprietary and the actual ingredients to make a fragrance are not required to be disclosed).
I’ve previously written about phthalates and the dangers they present to developing girls. While researching for this post, I was surprised to find that they are potentially even more damaging for men. In one recent study, researchers found that while women had larger amounts of phthalates in their body, the connection to infertility was found with men. Certain phthalates showed a 20% reduction in reproductive rates for men. While very much still under investigation, the current thinking is that the phthalates can damage sperm DNA more so than cause issues with sperm movement.
I was quite surprised to learn that melanoma is the most common cancer in men. Per the American Cancer Society, men had a 42 percent higher diagnosis in 2013 than women. But what’s even worse for men is that they are much more likely to die from the disease than women are. This may be partly due to there being a real lack of education around skin cancer for men.
While melanoma causes are not entirely understood, a few of the risk factors can be controlled for, like avoiding indoor tanning and serious burns and using safe sunscreen products. There are some staggering statistics out there around indoor tanning and melanoma. In fact, I have a hard time reading them because I did do a bit of tanning one summer in college and the stats really freak me out. While tanning might not be an environmental toxin by definition, it’s definitely an action that we have control over and can reduce (stop!!) to help minimize health issues.
Prostate cancer is the second most common cancer in men, right behind skin cancer. One in seven men will be diagnosed in their lifetime and one American dies from prostate cancer every 19 minutes. [source]
Prostate cancer results when cells in the prostate reproduce more rapidly than they are supposed to and create tumors. While the causes of prostate cancer are not completely understood, it’s becoming more evident that environmental toxins can play a role in it’s development.
For example, BPA (a chemical used in the making of hard plastics) has been shown to contribute to the development of prostate cancer in animal studies, but a recent clinical study in humans has also found preliminary evidence of an association between the two. The study found that 1) levels of BPA in urine can be a diagnostic marker of prostate cancer and 2) low dose exposure to BPA resulted in DNA damage to cells lining the prostate.
Three Ways for Men to Reduce Toxin Exposure
We can’t change certain environmental toxins that we’re exposed to (like pollution), and we can’t change any genetic predispositions we might have to any certain diseases, but we all, men included, can protect ourselves from some environmental toxins. I’ve outlined three ways to do so that are practical and not overwhelming. Because no one can do it all at once, right? Start where you are and make what progress you can!
1. Change up personal care routines.
An EWG survey found that on average men use six personal care products per day. Many of these likely contain harmful ingredients like phthalates because the personal care industry is almost completely unregulated and there are very few ingredients that are restricted in the US, even among those that are known to cause harm.
My favorite way to change up product routines is to make it simple and stress-free. I wrote a five-step plan you can follow here. Or you can try some of the products we use in our home. These are all safe, high performing, and have minimal, if any scent.
- Shampoo and Conditioner: Beautycounter Daily Shampoo and Daily Conditioner // EO For Every Man 3 in 1
- Soap: Beautycounter Body Wash // Dr. Bronner’s Castille Bar Soap
- Face Wash: Beautycounter Charcoal Bar // Beautycounter Nourishing Face Wash
- Moisturizer: Beautycounter Nourishing Night Cream
- Spot Treatment: Beautycounter Charcoal Mask
Also consider switching shaving cream, deodorant, and hair care products. I’m working on finding great, safe products for men in these categories. This hasn’t been a focus of mine in the past, but I’m interested in learning more and will share as I find better options.
2. Practice Safe Sunning
Sun exposure is very important for Vitamin D. But there are ways to go about getting adequate Vitamin D while also protecting yourself from the damages that can come from extended sun exposure.
Stick to the shade when possible. It’s great to enjoy adventures in the sun (yay Vitamin D!), but when if you’re outside relaxing for an extended period of time, find shade.
Wear protective clothing. There are tons of options for lightweight clothing with UV protection. Look for rash guards and other clothing that won’t overheat but will provide all day long protection.
Switch to mineral based sunscreen. If you’re going to be in the sun, it’s impossible to cover up every square inch. Avoid sprays and traditional sunscreens (often made with oxybenzone – a hormone disruptor). Instead use sunscreens that use zinc oxide and titanium dioxide to block. Our favorite brands that both work and don’t leave us with a pasty white film are Beautycounter (lotion, body stick, face stick) and Babo Botanicals (lotion, sport stick). If you choose mineral lotion sunscreens, make sure to shake well before every application as ingredients can separate (one of the reasons I’m really loving stick sunscreens lately).
3. Ditch the Plastic
Switch from plastic to glass or metal food and water containers to avoid BPA. BPA is in many things, but switching up food containers is a great first step. Choose glass for storing food, especially when you’re going to reheat it in the microwave. And choose glass or stainless steal water bottles. The hydroflask is my current favorite – stainless steel with a BPA-free plastic top.
I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that the vast majority of my readers are women. I’d love it if you’d share this with the men in your life – we need to raise these issues and let them know their healthy matters too!