In a society where social media largely sets and propagates the standards of beauty, new products are introduced as fast as you can refresh your Instagram feed.
In today's rapid-fire world of instant gratification, people want the latest product for the latest trend - and they want it now. But with a never-ending slew of creams, serums, tans and lotions and potions, do we ever stop and ask: 'What am I actually putting on or in my body?'
It's a question New Zealander Tanné Snowden began to ask herself following a long and painful struggle with her reproductive health. While recovering from an invasive surgery, Snowden discovered that her daily skincare contained toxic ingredients that, according to research, can disrupt the body's hormones and endocrine system.
A complex network of glands and organs, the endocrine system utilises hormones to control and coordinate the body's metabolism, energy levels, reproduction, growth and development, as well as its response to injury, stress and mood.
According to the US National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, many chemicals - both natural and manufactured - may mimic or interfere with the body's endocrine system. The chemicals, known as endocrine disruptors, are found in many everyday products, including some plastic bottles and containers, liners of metal food cans, detergents, flame retardants, food, toys, cosmetics and pesticides.
"Endocrine-disrupting chemicals cause adverse effects in animals. But limited scientific information exists on potential health problems in humans," the institute said. "Because people are typically exposed to multiple endocrine disruptors at the same time, assessing public health effects is difficult.
"People may be exposed to endocrine disruptors through food and beverages consumed, pesticides applied, and cosmetics used. In essence, your contact with these chemicals may occur through diet, air, skin, and water."
One common endocrine disruptor is bisphenol A, or BPA - a chemical found in numerous product, including food storage containers, and is typically used to make certain plastics and epoxy resins. However, many BPA-free tupperware and water bottle options are now available on the market. Phthalates - which are found in some food packaging, cosmetics, children's toys, and medical devices - are another common disruptor.
According to an article published in the journal Endocrine Reviews in 2009, there is evidence that exposure to endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs) can impact male and female reproduction, breast development, the thyroid, obesity and metabolism, and have been linked to both breast and prostate cancer.
"Results from animal models, human clinical observations and epidemiological studies converge to implicate EDCs as a significant concern to public health," the researchers said.
"Furthermore, EDCs represent a broad class of molecules such as organochlorinated pesticides and industrial chemicals, plastics and plasticizers, fuels, and many other chemicals that are present in the environment or are in widespread use."
Defined by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as "an exogenous agent that interferes with synthesis, secretion, transport, metabolism, binding action, or elimination of natural blood-borne hormones that are present in the body and are responsible for homeostasis, reproduction, and developmental process", Snowden says endocrine disruptors can have a deeply negative impact on women's health and wellbeing.
"There's really no limit to what these compounds can do to our bodies," Snowden told Newshub. "These compounds can greatly affect women's health and reproduction.
"There have been many studies conducted on the effects of these endocrine-disrupting compounds, ranging from parabens - a synthetic preservative - being found in breast cancer tissue, to thyroid dysfunction, to reproductive issues. These compounds and their effects don't only affect women, all sexes can be affected."
She referred to an analogy by Dr Carrie Jones, an integrative functional medicine doctor specialising in hormones based in Portland, Oregon.
"'Our liver processes everything that goes into our body, much like a bathtub draining water from a never-ending tap. If this bathtub is already clogged with other incoming water, it's eventually going to overflow'," Snowden recited.
"Relatively speaking, we shouldn't be exposed to this many endocrine-disrupting compounds. However, if we are cooking with them, drinking them, wearing them, showering with them and rubbing them into our skin all day, every day, at some point the body will say 'enough is enough'."
After conducting her own research, Snowden began her quest to create a body-care brand formulated with non-toxic, minimally processed, organic and plant-based ingredients, guided by a philosophy of transparency and sustainability. Two years later, Tronque was born.
The range, which launched in New Zealand late last year, offers a concise edit of three products including a Firming Butter, Scar Concentrate and Exfoliating Serum. Each product is formulated with 'Bio-Cleanical' ingredients, a term Snowden created to describe the confluence of nature and technology - an amalgamation of bioactive plants and clean, clinical formulas.
From 2022, Tronque will also convert to 'forever packaging', a concept which allows customers to buy an original vessel once and then top-up using refills. The refill packaging creates a smaller footprint, and is either fully recyclable or compostable. The outer packaging is also fully compostable or recyclable and created with vegetable inks.
While there is a never-ending conveyor belt of new products designed for facial skin, Snowden believes the neck and below is often neglected. She hopes her range will encourage people to embrace the skin on their body and treat it with the same respect that is often designated for the face.
"It makes no sense that so many products designed for use on our skin, the body's largest organ, contain ingredients that can be harmful. We're on a mission for that to change."
Snowden recently spoke with Newshub about the journey behind Tronque, endocrine disruptors, and how she hopes to encourage people to take care of their skin - including the neck down.
What are some of the worst ingredients for women's reproductive health?
It's surprising how common questionable ingredients are found in our everyday cosmetics, skincare and personal care products. Synthetic fragrances, synthetic dyes, soy, parabens (synthetic preservative), silicones (what creates that soft, luxury feeling), formaldehyde (hardener), talc (shine-free), SLS (a cleansing, foaming agent) are typically known to be ingredients left out of 'clean' formulations - and the list goes on.
With cosmetics, synthetic fragrances are the most common ingredient in any formula and are only added to enhance the experience and to cover the original scent of the formula, which is usually off-putting. Anything that mentions fragrance is usually a red flag. Since fragrances are patented, brands don't have to disclose all the ingredients within the formula.
How common are these ingredients and what kind of products are they found in?
While recovering from my surgeries I learned so much about endocrine disruptors through hundreds of studies that have been undertaken to determine what exposure to these compounds can do to one's body. They are all around us and are extremely hard to avoid. They're found in everything - from what we eat, breathe in - and they're absorbed through our skin. They're in our perfume, cleaning products, water bottles, shampoo, conditioner, canned food, furniture, toys, makeup, and cookware.
In personal care and cosmetics, these ingredients are commonly used as stabilisers and fillers to prolong a product's shelf life and provide bulk alongside the active ingredients. Formulations without these ingredients are costly, which is why they are so common.
Can you please summarise your own struggle with reproductive health and how that inspired you to create your own range?
I have suffered with endometriosis and menorrhagia since I was very young, without being fully diagnosed until my first surgery in 2013, which was six hours long. Although you can tick every symptom box for endometriosis, surgery is often the only definitive diagnosis. After a long and painful life with endometriosis, and never having had a confirmed answer until I was in my 20s, I felt a form of closure to learn the correct diagnosis. However, the next steps to manage the symptoms are extremely difficult to do. Along with crippling pain during most weeks of the month, anaemia, migraines, back pain, leg pain, IBS, and brain fog conspire to take over the best of you.
In the year before my most recent surgery in 2019, I started to develop extreme pain and menorrhagia again. I went back to my gynaecologist, who suggested I should have an exploratory surgery. This wasn't exactly what I wanted to hear, so I sought further medical opinions. After an MRI scan, we discovered my left fallopian tube was wrapped around a 6cm cyst, attached, and pulled down to my colon. The common answer from my medical advisors was a surgical operation would be very difficult. I was further advised that it would be unlikely that I would be able to save my reproductive organs and a hysterectomy would be the most likely option. Fortunately, I found an incredible surgeon in Melbourne. After the 8.5-hour surgical procedure, he described my pelvis as 'spaghetti'. My recovery was very long and painful. Incredibly, almost everything was saved.
After surgery, I shifted my focus away from what was going into my body, to what was going onto my body. While recovering, I learned about endocrine disruptors with a sense of indignation. I developed a deep-seated determination to inform as many people as I could. Although endocrine disruptors did not directly cause my endometriosis, I have no doubt that it contributed to my symptoms. Tronque was created to help as many people as possible, with an ethos for consumers to enjoy a luxurious, beneficial experience, without ever having to ask themselves 'is this harming me?'.
Our product, The Scar Concentrate, was created after I was left with five large scars on my abdomen from my surgeries. After trying every product I could find on the market that targeted scars, nothing worked. After discovering that these products are also often full of endocrine disruptors or known carcinogens, I took matters into my own hands. I began to experiment and formulate different solutions in my kitchen, while recovering. I had five scars to experiment with, so it was very evident which ingredients were working together, and which were not.
How did you determine what ingredients weren't endocrine disruptors and how did you go about sourcing them?
Through in-depth research. While I was recovering from my second endometriosis surgery, I started to research what I could possibly do to ensure I would never be in this situation again. On the third page of a Google search in a scholarly article, 'endocrine disruptors' was mentioned. At this stage, I did not know what that term meant. However, I was compelled to find out more, so I began to read more widely. I discovered that endocrine disruptors are to be found everywhere, particularly in cosmetics, personal care, and skincare products. As an avid 'beauty junkie', this was extremely alarming.
The Environmental Working Group's Skin Deep website is instrumental in determining what ingredients are 'safe' and in what percentages. They dive deeply into most personal care and cosmetic ingredients on the market and report on research into the potential side effects from long term exposure to various ingredients found in those products. The site also rates the most common products in the market on a scale from 1 to 10, in terms of personal safety. After my surgery, I rated everything that I was using from top to toe. Surprisingly, I was left with just three products that were considered to be 'safe'. This was a pivotal moment for me. The products that I had been using are considered some of the best in the market. Alarmingly, they were also considered to be some of the most 'toxic' on the shelves of cosmetic retailers, department stores and pharmacies.
This revelation led me to conduct months of research into skincare and cosmetic ingredients. The products, which are intended for self-care, contain industrial chemicals, known carcinogens, nanoparticles, and other problematic ingredients, which can disrupt the body's endocrine system. There is almost no global or local regulation controlling what ingredients may be included in these personal products. Thankfully, the 'clean' beauty movement is increasing with pace and influence. The newly informed consumers are now taking action into their own hands.
What are some ingredients people should look out for when buying their next products?
Definitely look for 'clean' products. Unfortunately, there is no universal definition of what 'clean' or 'natural' means. It's up to each company's ethos to map out their philosophy on ingredients. 'Clean' products give you the notion of being relatively safe, while excluding the most common ingredients known to be questionable and problematic. If you're particularly interested in what brands and products are best for you, head to the brand's website where they usually dive deeper into the ingredients and processes used to create their products.
Changing your lifestyle habits all at once is usually quite daunting and will likely not last. However, changing one thing at a time and adapting to how you feel as a result of this, will have a lasting change.