INTRO: Overuse of plastic is not just critical for environment, but also for our skin, hair and health, writes dermatologist Dr Kiran Lohia
When we think of overuse of plastic, most of us typically think of its detrimental effects on the environment. Day after day we read stories of cities banning plastic due to pollution, animals mistaking plastic for food in the masses, and the plastic that litters our city, and most other cities, around the world. These things are truly alarming and movements to halt overuse of plastic are critical not just for the environment, but also for our health. As a doctor and dermatologist, I am specifically concerned for the adverse health effects caused by overuse of plastic and how they damage our skin and hair.
Now, as I sit here and write this, I am completely surrounded by plastic. There are plastic cups in my kitchen, cosmetic and beauty products stored in plastic containers on my vanity, plastic container in my refrigerator, even plastic in the clothes I am wearing and glasses on my face. Avoiding all plastic is simply impossible for most of us. So let’s first examine how plastic harms us and then focus on the plastic products we can avoid that might be harming health, and our skin, every day.
As a dermatologist, most of my research has been on the specific components of plastic that harm the skin, most notably endocrine disruptors. Endocrine disruptors are chemicals found in plastic that interfere with our bodies hormone, or endocrine, system. BPA, or Bisphenol A, is a common endocrine disruptor you might have heard of. Despite many warnings by multiple organizations in numerous countries, BPA is still widely found in plastic products around the world from water bottles to many plastic food containers. BPA is specifically known to mimic the hormone estrogen, or the female sex hormone. You might have heard of the dangers of another common, estrogen-mimicking endocrine disruptor called DES. DES was widely prescribed to women in the 1940’s to 1970’s but was later found to cause a rare form of vaginal cancer and was therefore pulled from the market. Other endocrine disruptors found in plastic can interfere with hormones in our body such as androgen (the “male” sex hormone) and thyroid hormones.
So, what does this mean for your health and skin? Awry hormones cause all kinds of conditions seen in my clinic for both men and women. These conditions include, but are not exclusive to, hair loss, severe acne, a lackluster glow, pallor or paleness of the skin, and disruptions in metabolism and appetite leading to severe weight gain or weight loss. When women and men present to my clinic with any of these complaints, I commonly prescribe them blood tests. Depending on their specific concern, I test for a variety of things ranging from androgens to thyroid function… all things the endocrine disruptors found in plastic can affect. Often times, these blood test come back positive. Correcting hormones is not an easy process and typically requires oral medication which most of my patients are reluctant to.
Although cutting down on plastic is unlikely to fix all hormonal imbalances, it is at least a starting point on a track toward a healthier lifestyle that allows for better skin and hair. Not to mention it fosters better, more sustainable habits for the future. There are several key things you can do to reduce the use of plastic in your daily life. First step is to stop drinking from plastic water bottles. In my own home, I have switched to all glass water bottles and it has made a huge impact already. Scared they will break? You can find them coated in rubber for enhanced durability.
The second, easy change you can make is reducing the amount of plastic food and beverage storage you are using. Invest in glass containers that are not only safer but more sanitary, too. Also, cut down on use of pre-packaged foods and beverages that come in plastic containers such as that beloved soda you occasionally (or too often) indulge in. Lastly, never, ever, ever reheat food in plastic! This has been shown to hasten the leeching of harmful chemicals into our food thereby increasing our intake and exposure to things such as BPA. Cheers to a healthier, plastic-free lifestyle.