Breast Cancer Awareness month is just about that: raising awareness about a widespread disease, with no definite cure, that affects about 1 in 8 women in the United States. There are so many dedicated and commendable organizations, researchers, and doctors working towards a cure that the survival rates are optimistically increasing. However, the number of women diagnosed with breast cancer still remains from year to year and that’s something we worry about.
There are so many different and great ways to support the fight against breast cancer, but one we feel most passionate about is raising awareness about harmful toxins in your daily life – mainly those found in personal care products - that can be potential causes of the disease. More and more research is showing alarming rates of personal care ingredients accumulating in breast tissue that we believe by avoiding toxic ingredients you can reduce your risk of being diagnosed with breast cancer.
Reducing your risk starts with your vigilance in reading the ingredient labels of the products you use. Though we’ve all been fooled in the past, never have we been able to trust product packaging to tell us if a product is safe or not. Take this brand of shampoo and conditioner for instance:
Thanks to the mainstream media, it’s becoming known sulfates (think: sodium laurel sulfate) have been linked to skin irritation, blindness, hair loss, and even cancers, so at first glance this product looks safe with its “0% Sulfate” claim. However, the truth of the matter is, the company is just trying to dupe us. Sulfates are the cleaning agents responsible for creating a bubbly lather in shampoo, something you would never find in a conditioner. And check out the shampoo, which contains "0% Silicone." Silicone is an ingredient found in conditioner to create the silky feel to keep hair tangle-free, so it would never be found in shampoo. Flip over both bottles and you'll see silicone listed in the conditioner and sulfates listed in the shampoo, which means if you're using both products like the company hopes you will, you're being exposed to both ingredients despite the 0% marketing trickery. You'll also find that both include other harmful ingredients like artificial fragrance, artificial color, and chemical preservatives. Not so healthy, once you take a closer look.
Once you’re looking at the ingredient list of a product, here are some common ingredients that have been linked to breast cancer to keep an eye out for:
- Petroleum Jelly. The European Union has banned this ingredient from use in skincare products and experts are concerned about its link to cancer. Studies have show that women with breast cancer have twice the levels of hydrocarbons (substances found in petroleum jelly in their breast tissue.
- Parabens. Parabens are the most commonly used skin care preservative (mainly because of its low cost), yet have been linked to breast cancer. In fact, one 2012 study published in The Journal of Applied Toxicology found parabens in nearly 100% of all cancerous breast tumors studied. Spot them on ingredient labels by looking for the word paraben. Often times it will start with ethyl-, methyl-, propyl-, butyl-.
- Artificial Fragrance. The term "fragrance" seen on a product label can indicate that any number of toxic ingredients have been used, including phthalates and synthetic musks. These "hidden" ingredients are known hormone disruptors and mimic estrogen, which can promote the growth of breast cancer cells. Spot them on ingredient labels by looking for "fragrance", ethylene oxide, or Dibutylphthlalate (DBP, DEP, butyl ester).
- Aluminum. Found in deodorants and antiperspirants, aluminum is a hormone disruptor that mimics estrogen and can acculumate in breast tissue to promote the growth of breast cancer cells. Spot it on an ingredient list by looking for Aluminum Chlorohydrate (ACH) or Aluminum Zirconium Tetrachlorohydrex GLY (AZAG).
- Tricolsan. Most commonly found in hand sanitizers, Tricolsan is a known hormone distruptor, mainly mimicking the thyroid hormone. While the studies continue on this ingredient, considerable research shows that it can it can produce estrogenic effects and can perturb normal breast development and health.
Until there is proper government regulation against harmful ingredients like these, we must self-police the personal care industry to safe guard our personal health. One organization taking action in this arena is the Breast Cancer Fund (www.breastcancerfund.org), which works to expose and eliminate environmental causes of breast cancer. We support their cause wholeheartedly and applaud their partnership with the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics to raise awareness about the potential dangers found in the personal care aisle.
Lastly, your actions, though they may seem small, do make a difference. Stop purchasing products that contain harmful, toxic ingredients in exchange for healthier products made with organic ingredients to influence a market shift. Also, you can write to your legislators and urge them to support healthy skin care initiatives, like this one here: https://org2.salsalabs.com/o/6098/p/dia/action3/common/public/?action_KEY=1546
Collectively our message will be heard and bring about change within the personal care industry.