Killer Cosmetics – Are Women Dying to be Beautiful?
Women today are wondering how they can prevent breast cancer. Unfortunately, many of the personal care products that are used on a daily basis are now known to contain chemicals that increase the risk of developing the disease. Chemicals such as parabens and phthalates are not only unpronounceable, they are also virtually unregulated by the FDA. Safer substitutes exist for many of the dangerous chemicals that abound in cosmetic products, and its time that cosmetic companies stop poisoning women.
Mainstream media focuses on “lifestyle causes” of breast cancer. For example, women who do not have children, or who wait until their 30’s are at higher risk because of prolonged exposure to their own estrogen hormone. High exposure to radiation, especially excessive x-rays before the age of 12, can increase the risk of breast cancer. Mammograms performed in the 70’s emitted 10 times the amount of radiation compared to current levels.
The approximately 10% of breast cancer incidences attributable to heredity is also being better understood. Women who have a family history of breast cancer should be particularly vigilant because they are already at higher risk.
What remains the least understood is how toxins in our air, food, water and workplace contribute to the disease. The chemicals found in cosmetics are of great concern because of their direct application to the body and use primarily by women. According to the National Toxicology Program at the US Department of Health and Human Services, 52 chemicals are known to cause cancer and 176 chemicals are probably human carcinogens. Certain industrial chemicals, many of which contain chlorine, promote tumors in test animals only in the presence of estrogen, i.e. in female animals.
A recent study found the chemical paraben in human breast cancer tissue (Darbre et al 2004). Parabens are used as preservatives to increase the shelf life of many cosmetics and some foods. Parabens have been shown to mimic the action of the female hormone estrogen, which can drive the growth of breast tumors. Scientists believe that preservative chemicals found in samples of breast tumors probably came from underarm deodorant. Their analysis of 20 breast tumors found high concentrations of parabens in 18 samples.
Previously published studies have shown that parabens are able to be absorbed through the skin and bind to the body’s estrogen receptors where they can encourage breast cancer growth. The researchers concluded that the safety of products containing parabens need to be established before the public continues to be exposed to this chemical.
Phthalates are another chemical component of many perfumes, hairsprays and other personal care products. Phthalates are also known to be hormone-mimicking chemicals that could increase the risk for breast cancer due to the way they disrupt the hormone process. In Sept. of 2000 the Center for Disease Control found high levels of phthatates in every one of 289 people tested especially in women of reproductive age. This led them to comment that exposure to this toxin is more prevalent than previously suspected.
It is criminal that many of these carcinogenic cosmetic products are being marketed specifically to adolescent women who are particularly vulnerable due to already fluctuating hormone levels. The Environmental Working Group released a report entitled “Skin Deep” which revealed that 1/3 of the products tested contained one or more ingredients that are known or suspected to cause breast cancer, Cosmetics companies such as Avon and Revlon who claim to want to fund breast cancer research in hopes of finding a cure, continue to use ingredients believed to cause cancer in their products.
What makes more sense than funding research to “cure” breast cancer is to take action to prevent exposure to chemicals that are known or suspected to be harmful to our health in the first place. Safer substitutes already exist and companies need to know that people’s health is more important than profit, and its time to make the switch. More information about this is available online at www.safecosmetics.org.
Research about the environmental causes of breast cancer, including the toxic components of many cosmetics, is not generally available to the public. Instead, mainstream media focuses on the lifestyle and hereditary causes of the disease. Limiting alcohol intake, eating a low fat diet high in fruits and vegetables and exercising regularly are all understandably encouraged. Environmental factors continue to be ignored and chemical manufacturers continue to profit. How many more woman will have to die before the public starts demanding safer products be made available?