While you can’t change your height, or how much hair you have (or don’t have) on your head, you can change where you store fat. And no, I don’t need ‘spot reduction’, which is a load of bull despite the claims of the late-night infomercial. However, WHERE you do store fat has a lot to do with not only what’s in your kitchen and of course, what’ s in your mouth, but what’s in your environment. That’s right. Toxins. You may have heard of it before and it’s not just a topic for tree-huggers.

Man boob offenders in your bathroom …

What’s lurking in your bathroom may just be contributing to where and how you store body fat, particularly in breast tissue for men and butt and thighs for women.  In fact, exposure to these items and you may just turn back into a gelding. Deep within the ingredient label of your shampoo bottle, among the words that are hard to pronounce are chemicals known as xenoestrogens. Unlike naturally produced estrogen, these synthetic estrogens can’t be readily broken down by the body. As a result, they are stored in fat cells (which are toxic waste dumps, to begin with), disrupting testosterone levels in the blood and literally transforming you from stud to dud. The result can be increased body fat in the chest region, reduced sex drive, loss of muscle tissue, and even lowered libido or sexual dysfunction (aka, a quick road to chemical castration).  And all this is lurking in your bathroom. Whether you consider yourself a metrosexual or not, getting pumped like Arnold will involve a complete overhaul of your male body care and beauty items. Products with unpronounceable ingredients and way too many vowels are always pretty suspicious. The worst offenders are parabens (hormone disruptor); sodium laureth sulfate (an irritant); triclosan (an irritant and hormone disruptor); phthalates (hormone disruptor); and diazolidinyl urea (releases formaldehyde, a known carcinogen) or formaldehyde itself. Yes, that’s right – the same formaldehyde from grade seven science class and it’s many of our products. While we aren’t turning this book into a book on how to look and smell prettier, it deserves its own chapter and here’s why.

Parabens: This goes for any derivative of the word from methylparaben to ethylparaben to propylparaben and beyond. If you swept through your bathroom right now you may just find it in 90% of the products as it’s used to prolong the shelf life, particularly of shampoos, shaving lotion, conditioners and even some medicines. Numerous studies have linked paraben exposure to reduced testosterone, sperm DNA damage and even breast cancer. A Japanese study found that butylparaben decreased testosterone concentration and can exert an adverse effect on the male reproductive system at doses well below those of the accepted daily intake. But it’s not just mice that need to worry. In a human study, researchers recruited a group of men attending an infertility clinic in Massachusetts. They measured the concentrations of three paraben metabolites in the men’s urine – methylparaben (MP), propylparaben (PP) and butylparaben (BP) – and BPA (which we will discuss later).  Parabens were detected in all the samples and was a significant positive association between urinary BP levels and DNA damage measured in sperm cells. This effect was also seen for BPA, as reported previously. When considering both compounds together in this study, the authors found a significant dose-dependent increase in DNA damage – more simply, as BP and BPA levels increased, so did the genetic damage. You can see how this can turn your physique into the Pillsbury doughboy – just by showering with the wrong products.

Phthalates. Much like parabens, phthalates can act as endocrine disrupting chemicals, mimicking or interfering with the actions of natural hormones like estrogen. Studies have linked phthalates to reduced sperm count, destructive changes in the testes and reduced male fertility. According to a study from Italy, infertile couples are exposed to three to five times higher levels of phthalates compared to fertile couples who have naturally conceived a child. The couples had higher levels of four different classes of phthalates in their urine, including the phthalate compound most commonly used in plastics (a good reason as any to swap your plastics for glass containers) and the compound most commonly used in cosmetics. Exposure was associated with lower sperm concentration and decreased sperm motility. So you know the drill – find it, toss it.

Sulfates: You’ll find that the vast majority of shampoos contain an ingredient such as “Sodium Lauryl Sulfate” and “Sodium Laureth Sulfate”.  These are chemicals behind the lathering effect of your favourite shampoo, but it’s also the same ingredient used in car engine degreasers and car-​​wash soap foams.  On your head, these sulphates quickly enter your bloodstream and have been linked to everything from excessive estrogen levels to eye problems in children. It’s often found in shampoos, toothpaste, lotions and creams so look closely when you are tearing apart your bathroom.

Formaldehyde: It’s listed by the US Environmental Protection Agency and the State of California as a known carcinogen risk. But it’s not just in your cosmetics – you may find it in everything from household cleansers to building supplies. Not surprisingly, according to a 2012 paper in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine it was linked to reduced fertility in men, miscarriages and birth defects. Let’s face it. Sperm is delicate, keep your boys safe and steer clear of the above ingredients. 

Whether you are a card-carrying metrosexual, or you literally just use whatever your wife puts within your reach when hitting the shower, it’s worth it to start becoming an ingredient detective when it comes to the products you put on your body. If you want to delve deeper, check out these websites:

  • The Skin Deep Web site of the Environmental Working Group (www.cosmeticsdatabase.org) provides safety ratings for more than 50,000 specific products.;
  • The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics Web site (www.safecosmetics.org) features links to dozens of informative articles on personal-care products.
  • The Good Guide (www.goodguide.com) offers carefully researched ratings based on health, environmental and social responsibility, and more for over 70,000 products, including body care and cosmetics.