Q. Is my husband at risk of absorbing estrogen during intercourse after I’ve used Estrace cream vaginally?
A. According to the North American Menopause Society, Estrace or other vaginal creams (Premarin) should not be used right before sex because the partner may absorb the estrogen hormone through his skin (Journal of Reproductive Medicine, Jan. 2008). Over time estrogen could have a feminizing effect on a man.
Most people do not realize that creams, lotions and other topical skin products can be absorbed through the skin and may produce unexpected complications. To give you an idea how this could happen we share “The Mortician’s Mystery.” This 50-year-old gentleman had developed some unusual symptoms gradually over several years: reduced libido, smaller testicles, breast growth. When tested, his testosterone levels were low. It turned out that the embalming fluid he was using (without gloves) contained estrogenic compounds that were being absorbed through his skin. They were disrupting his hormonal balance. This was published in The New England Journal of Medicine, April 14, 1988.
To read a bit more about this case you visit the Tulane University e.hormone website.
You might assume that this experience is rare, but there is a surprising number of health and beauty aids with fragrance that may have estrogenic activity not to mention the chemical carriers called phthalates. Here is an interesting question about a common ingredient in many cosmetics:
Q. Is it true that lavender oil can increase female hormones in men and boys? If so, shouldn’t there be a warning on soaps, shampoos and shower gels? A lot of personal care products have lavender fragrance whether you notice it or not.
A. Lavender does not increase female hormone levels in the body. Nevertheless, this herbal oil may act like estrogen on its own.
The lavender link was brought to public attention in the New England Journal of Medicine (Feb. 1, 2007). Researchers reported that three boys developed enlarged breasts (gynecomastia) after using styling gel, shampoo, lotion, soap or salve containing lavender oil.
The investigators detected lavender oil’s estrogenic action in test tube experiments and cautioned physicians that repeated use of such products might lead to hormonal disruption.
Other scientists questioned the conclusion that lavender oil poses a potential risk to children. But the original researchers pointed out that the breast enlargement disappeared when the products were discontinued.
Men aren’t the only ones concerned about estrogen exposure from creams and lotions:
Q. I have a lengthy history of urinary tract infections (UTIs) that occur approximately every five months. I have seen a few urologists and had multiple tests, which have all come out normal.
Both my current urologist and my gynecologist are pressuring me to use Premarin vaginal cream to reduce UTIs. Due to the fact that my mother, her sister and my sister have all had breast cancer, I have refused. Last month at my annual exam my gynecologist insisted that the vaginal cream is not absorbed into the blood and will not promote breast cancer. When I mentioned the warnings I’ve seen in pamphlets and on the Internet, my doctor got very angry and said the warnings are for the “old HRT” and do not pertain to the vaginal cream.
I filled the prescription for Premarin cream but found in the literature insert that the top side effect listed is breast cancer. I am terribly confused and do not know which path is the correct one.
I have always been told with my family history to avoid all estrogen, even soy products, but I don’t want to be foolish by damaging my health with continual UTIs.
A. Over three decades ago there was evidence that vaginal estrogen cream (Premarin) could be absorbed rapidly and efficiently into the bloodstream (JAMA, Dec. 14, 1979). Other studies have confirmed that estrogen in vaginal creams or tablets (Vagifem) is readily absorbed into the body (Annals of Oncology, April 2006; Menopause, Jan., 2009). There are concerns that vaginal exposure to estrogen might increase the risk of breast cancer in susceptible women.