Beauty Products & Breast Cancer: What's The Connection & What You Can Do About It
Today is November 1. The day AFTER Breast Cancer Awareness Month and the first annual Bonafide Beauty & The Breast Day.
Our Beauty & The Breast Day is about keeping the spirit of breast cancer awareness alive and understanding that there are proactive steps that we can take to help protect ourselves against breast cancer - every day, all year long.
How can you protect yourself against breast cancer?
According to the National Institute of Health, less than 20% of breast cancer is genetic. This means that environmental factors - like the products you put in, on, and around your body - play a big role in the development of breast cancer. Since environmental factors can be identified and changed, experts in the field believe that prevention strategies are the best way to stop breast cancer before it starts.
You can help protect yourself just by taking a look at your environment.
HOW ENVIRONMENTAL TOXINS PLAY A ROLE IN BREAST CANCER
There are many factors that play a role in whether or not a woman develops breast cancer – far too many to be covered here and many we don’t even know yet – but this is what we do know:
- Breast cancer is an estrogen-dependent disease
- The rate of breast cancer is increasing in most western societies and industrialized countries.
- The increase in the incidence of breast cancer in women has been associated with prolonged exposure to high levels of estrogens.
Where is all this estrogen coming from?
Our bodies naturally produce estrogen. This is a good thing. Natural estrogen from our bodies helps stimulate the growth of our egg follicles, it helps us grow breasts and hips and develop our sex organs. In short, estrogen helps things grow and it's what makes women, women. When our bodies are producing the right amount of estrogen, everyone is happy. However, there is a certain class of chemicals, known as xenoestrogens, which mimic the activity of natural estrogen in the body.
Think of these xenoestrogens as “estrogen imposters”
They might look (kind of) like the real thing, but they definitely are not.
And our bodies can’t tell the difference.
When xenoestrogens (or “chemical estrogens”) enter the body, they pile on top of our natural estrogen and create a state of “estrogen dominance.” This is too much estrogen for the body to handle and, as we said, estrogen causes things to grow.
When we have an overload of estrogen in the body – whether that’s from natural estrogen, xenoestrogens, or, a combination of both, things grow, things including cancer cells.
Where do xenoestrogens come from?
We don’t want to scare you, but xenoestrogens are kind of…everywhere. They’re common ingredients in many “staples,” of modern life – everything from hand soap to shampoo, conditioner, face cream, deodorants, even garbage bags!
More than one-third of all personal-care products contain at least one ingredient linked to cancer.
How is this legal?!?
It is actually perfectly legal to use ingredients linked to cancer, hormone disruption, and reproductive harm in personal care products, cosmetics, cleaning products and food packaging. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) doesn’t regulate or limit the use of chemicals in personal-care products or require that all of the ingredients be listed on the label.
Less than 20 percent of the chemicals in personal-care products have been tested for safety.
The common chemicals used in personal care products are considered safe because they’re used in small amounts, after all, what’s a dime-sized amount of night cream REALLY going to do? But think about how many dime-sized drops you're exposed to throughout the day… Add those together and multiply over the course of your life. This can add up to one crapload of crap.
IF YOU WOULDN'T EAT IT, DO YOU REALLY WANT IT ON YOUR SKIN?
Many of us put a huge amount of thought, time, effort, and money into ensuring that we “eat clean,” and don’t ingest toxins or chemicals in our food. But our skin is our body’s largest organ and it absorbs everything we slather on it.
HOW TO AVOID XENOESTROGENS
Unfortunately, unless you fashion yourself some kind of BPA-fee plastic bubble you can’t protect yourself from all exposure to all environmental toxins. That’s just not reality.
But you can greatly reduce your exposure to toxins just by being mindful about the ingredients in the products that you use most.
Below are 10 of the most common chemicals and xenoestrogens and the easiest way to avoid them.
10 ENVIRONMENTAL TOXINS TO AVOID
What to look for: BPA or Bisphenol A
Why: You’ve probably heard of this one, as it’s the most widely studied endocrine disruptor on the market. BPA actually started out in the 1930s as a synthetic estrogen given to women, so, it's no surprise that this chemical has been found to act like estrogen, causing all kinds of problems including (but not limited to) decreased sperm production, early puberty, and fertility problems in both genders. On top of that, BPA has also been shown to play a role in heart disease, obesity, and diabetes.
Easiest way to avoid it: BPA is found in plastic and the lining of tin cans, so avoid eating out of or storing food in these kinds of containers unless specifically labeled BPA-free.
What: the term “fragrance”
Why: Federal law considers “fragrance” a trade secret, so, companies don’t have to disclose the chemicals that they use in their fragrance mixture. This means that just about any kind of chemical can hide under this label.
Easiest way to avoid it: Read ingredient labels on EVERYTHING – even so-called “natural” products – and avoid anything that includes the dubious “fragrance”.
What: Dibutyl phthalate, toluene, formaldehyde
Why: Known as the “toxic trio,” these chemicals have been linked to birth defects, endocrine disruption, headaches, and respiratory problems – super important for anyone who works in a nail salon. Pregnant women are advised to avoid nail products altogether.
Easiest way to avoid them: Keep your mani/pedis to a minimum and bring your own nail polish.
What: The most common parabens have “paraben” in their name – butylparaben, methylparaben, and propylparaben – but they can also be listed as Alkyl parahydroxy benzoates. Ingredients that include “ethyl,” “butyl,” “methyl,” and “propyl” are also from the paraben family (Ugh. *Forehead slap*).
Why: Like many of the other chemicals on this list, parabens have been shown to mimic the activity of estrogen in the body. In 2004, a British study found traces of five parabens in the breast tissue of 19 out of 20 women. The study didn't prove that parabens can cause cancer but identified that the parabens were able to penetrate the skin and remain within tissue.
Easiest way to avoid them: Research shows that anywhere from 75 to 90 percent of cosmetics may contain parabens under many different names. Look for "paraben-free," products and prioritize the ones that you use on the largest amount of skin or that you leave on the skin, such as body lotion and face makeup.
PERFLUORINATED CHEMICALS, OR PFCS
What: Most commonly known as Teflon and Stainmaster
Why: PFCs have been studied most for their impact on thyroid function and their links to hypothyroidism. The chemicals are also thought to cause infertility in both men and women.
Easiest way to avoid them: PFCs make your pots and pans nonstick and your clothes, upholstery fabric, carpets, backpacks, and coats water and stain-repellent. Cook in cast iron, glass, or ceramic. Keep an eye out for anything that utilizes "GoreTex," "Stainmaster," or "Teflon," – all trademarks for chemical mixtures that contain PFCs and beware of fabrics that advertise as water-repellent.
What: The term “Phthalate,” i.e. dibutyl phthalate, diethyl phthalate, dimethyl phthalate…
Why: They've been shown to damage the liver, kidneys, lungs, and reproductive system.
Easiest way to avoid them: Phthalates are used to keep plastic flexible (shower curtains), fragrance from fading, and paint from chipping. Avoid anything with a synthetic fragrance and vinyl products, and keep an eye on nail polishes and other kinds of paint you use in your home.
What: “Sodium lauryl sulfate” (SLS) / “Sodium laureth sulfate” (SLES).
Why: SLS and SLES can irritate eyes, skin, and lungs, especially with long-term use. Additionally, while they make shampoo more effective at cleaning, they can have too much of an effect, resulting in excess stripping of your hair and scalp's naturally occurring proteins and oils.
Easiest way to avoid them: Sulfates make things foamy and they’re found more than 90 percent of personal care and cleaning products – shampoo, body wash/cleanser, mascara, acne creams, etc. etc. Check the label on anything that foams or has suds.
What: Benzophenone, PABA, avobenzone, homosalate, and ethoxycinnmate.
Why: These chemicals are endocrine disruptors and are believed to be easily absorbed into the body. They may also cause cellular damage and cancer in the body.
Easiest way to avoid them: Opt for mineral sunscreens with minimal ingredients that you can read. We like Badger Balm, Babo, and Andalou Naturals.
What: Retinyl palmitate, retinyl acetate, retinoic acid and retinol
Why: Ironically, retinol products can have the opposite of their intended, anti-aging effect and become carcinogenic in sunlight. This is why it's super important to only use them at night and to avoid any sunscreens containing retinol-derived ingredients.
Easiest way to avoid it: Beware of anything labeled “anti-aging”. Check your moisturizer, lip products, sunscreen, night creams, and, especially, day creams.
Why: Triclosan is an antibacterial chemical that (much like oral antibiotics) has been found to make bacteria stronger and harder to kill. On top of that, studies show that there is no benefit to using antibacterial soaps containing triclosan over regular soap and water.
Easiest way to avoid it: Check your hand soap, body wash, deodorant, and toothpaste.
HOW TO CUT THE TOXINS WITHOUT GOING BROKE…
If you’ve just read our list and are currently totaling up the hundreds of dollars in home and personal care products that you’re going to have to throw away, don’t freak out. We’re not saying that you need to do a mass purge – unless you want to. The least painful and most wallet-friendly way to go about transitioning to cleaner, safer environment is to prioritize and go at your own pace.
Which products do you use most often, on the most amount of skin, or in a hot environment (i.e. the shower)?
Start by identifying the products that you use every day, like plastic food storage containers, or, on large areas of your skin, like body lotion. Replace those first. Then, move on to any products that you use in a hot environment – i.e. the shower. When your skin is exposed to heat, your pores open, giving any chemical in the area an EZ-pass into your bloodstream. So, next, clean out the products that you use in the shower, such as body washes, shampoos, conditioners, and shower curtains. Last, you can focus on the products that you use less frequently, on smaller areas, or that wash off, such as face creams and cleansers.
As you run out of one product, replace it with a cleaner one. Before you know it, you’ll have a whole makeup bag, bathroom, and kitchen that you can feel really good about!
So you don’t get overwhelmed, we’ve prioritized where to start by most to least amount of toxic load.
- Food storage containers / cookware – while these aren’t technically beauty products, they are, without a doubt, products that contribute to a large amount of toxic exposure.
- Body lotion
- Body wash / soap
- Shampoo / conditioner
- Face creams
- Face makeup
- Nail polish
BUT SERIOUSLY, I'M NEVER GOING TO REMEMBER ALL THIS...
Okay, so, just like living in that plastic bubble, remembering all those chemical names and aliases is probably not going to happen. The easiest way we’ve found to make sure our own personal care products are safe is to use the Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep app. It provides safety ratings for more than 78,000 cosmetics and other personal care products. So, when in doubt, check it out.
For more information about how environmental factors such as chemical exposures, dietary intake, alcohol consumption, and pharmaceuticals may contribute to breast cancer susceptibility, you can check out this special issue of the journal Reproductive Toxicology.
THE BONAFIDE PROMISE
Before starting Bonafide Provisions, our founder, Sharon, was a practicing Clinical Nutritionist who worked with many women who were either battling breast cancer or breast cancer survivors. This is why all Bonafide Provisions packaging is not only BPA-free but also EA-free, meaning free of any chemical that could cause "estrogenic activity" in the body. It is our mission to bring abundant wellness to the world. When you buy Bonafide Provisions, you can be sure that every element from our ingredients to our packaging has been chosen with the utmost care and commitment to quality and integrity.