Quantcast

Breast Cancer, Parabens, Phthalates and How To Reduce Exposure

breast-cancer-parabens.jpg

October is Breast Cancer "Awareness" Month, but part of the mission behind my website is to bring education that hopefully amounts to prevention for health problems. Breast Cancer Prevention Awareness Month is more of a mouthful, but I like that much better ;-)

Breast cancer hits close to home to me since, when I was 9, one of my aunts died in her early 40s due to breast cancer. It absolutely devastated my my family and had a profound impact on my childhood because of how crushed my mom was to lose her sister, and it caused me to grow up fearful of this awful disease. 

I take my own breast health very seriously and do monthly self-exams (use this app for a monthly reminder) as well as lead a lifestyle doing everything I can, equipped with the best current science, to reduce my risk. There are So. Many. Factors. that can affect your risk, I'm splitting this up into a series and will focus on common ingredients found in conventional skincare in this post, and follow up with other topics in future posts this month (and maybe beyond this month, too).

To illustrate just how effing huge this topic is, in doing my literature review for this post I came across this massive current review paper titled: State of the evidence 2017: an update on the connection between breast cancer and the environment. The PDF is 61 pages and it has almost 900 references. I want to try to distill all of this information into bite size pieces for you, and provide actionable items you can take to reduce your risk. 

A few tidbits from the above study: 

...the breadth and strength of the evidence cited in this review, when taken as a whole, reinforce the conclusion that exposures to a wide variety of toxicants – many of which are found in common, everyday products and byproducts – can lead to increased risk for development of breast cancer.
[...]
Increasing evidence from epidemiological studies, as well as a better understanding of mechanisms linking toxicants with development of breast cancer, all reinforce the conclusion that exposures to these substances – many of which are found in common, everyday products and byproducts – may lead to increased risk of developing breast cancer.
— https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5581466/

Drop the mic, THOSE are some strong statements. 

They divide the environmental factors into 7 categories: (1) Hormones: Pharmaceutical agents & personal care products; (2) Endocrine disrupting compounds (EDCs); (3) Hormones in food: Natural and additives; (4) Non-EDC industrial chemicals; (5) Tobacco smoking: Active and passive; (6) Shift work, light-at-night and melatonin; and (7) Radiation.

Rather than gloss over all of them, I thought it more important to write focused articles like this one, which covers some of #1 and #2. I'm particularly interested in #6 and will probably write about that next! That's actually a factor with a huge impact on fertility as well, and I've done a lot of research on that thread for Liz Wolfe's Baby Making and Beyond course (I am the lead researcher, woot!)

If you want to go deeper in the discussion of safe skincare and makeup with me, join my Facebook group

Side note: a lot of what I am going to tell you about breast cancer risk may ALSO apply to prostate cancer risk. And of course, men can get breast cancer, too. So ladies, gets your husbands on board with you!

Remember, y'all, I am a scientist, not a doctor, so I am just sharing science-backed information either directly from the literature or from reputable organizations, not to be confused with medical advice. Talk to your {preferably holistic-minded} healthcare provider about you breast cancer or other health concerns. 

Breast Cancer Statistics

Here are some facts from to the National Cancer Institute:

  • 40 years ago, 1 in 20 women would receive a breast cancer diagnosis in her lifetime. Today, 1 in 8 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer at some point in their lives.
  • Only 50% of breast cancers can be attributed to traditional risk factors, such as genetics, age, diet, and reproductive history. That leaves 50% potentially due to other lifestyle factors, including carcinogen & hormone disruptor exposure from pollution, cosmetics, personal care products, household cleaning products, plastics, and more (see quotes above!) 
  •  85% of breast cancers occur in women with no family history of breast cancer.
  • There are 2 major classes of chemicals that have become pervasive in both conventional personal care/household products and in the environment with links to breast cancer: parabens and phthalates

Parabens and breast cancer

Parabens, a ubiquitous preservative in conventional cosmetics/personal care products, are xenoestrogens: xeno=foreign, so foreign/from outside the body + estrogen, meaning they act like estrogen in our bodies. They are considered "weak" estrogenic compounds, but do NOT let that trick you into thinking their effect is non-significant. 

Parabens have been shown to increase the rate of proliferation of breast cancer cells even at low concentrations - concentrations that many Westerners using dozens of conventional skincare, cosmetics, personal care products, and household cleaners would be exposed to under normal life circumstances.

Here's another quote for you: "long-term exposure (>20 weeks) to parabens leads to increased migratory and invasive activity in human breast cancer cells, properties that are linked to the metastatic process." (source)

Parabens are also found in 99% of breast cancer tumors. Previously, the significance of this was not known - are they there because they cause the cancer to develop in the first place? Parabens can be found in tissues throughout the body.....so is there a special reason they're in breast cancer tissue? Do they migrate to the malignant tissue for some reason? Well, in the last few years, I'll use a quote directly from the literature for effect, more "evidence that parabens can enable development in human breast epithelial cells" has been emerging. THAT IS SCARY STUFF, Y'ALL. Parabens may enable cancer to develop in the breast. 

FYI the study above is one that Breast Cancer UK uses in their argument to support phasing out parabens from products designed to be applied to the skin. 

In an animal model, puberty has been shown to be a critical time window for exposure to parabens to cause changes in breast tissue that increase the risk of developing breast cancer (source). And puberty is exactly when most young girls start applying multiple products daily that contain parabens. I know I sure did! 

Phthalates and breast cancer 

Phthalates are a class of chemical called a plasticizer - meaning they make plastics flexible (think about IV bags and tubing - they are full of phthalates) and also in the personal care product industry as a lubricant and to prevent brittleness. They are also used in the manufacture of artificial fragrances (including conventional perfumes and colognes - listed as "fragrance" or "parfum"). They are used in fragrance to make it unnaturally "sticky". You know how it never wants to come out of your hair, clothes, or wash off your skin, but essential oils will dissipate naturally after a few hours? That's the phthalates causing the fragrance to stick around.

Phthalates are known as "endocrine disrupting chemicals" (EDCs) or "hormone disruptors" and they actually can affect how both estrogen and androgens function in the body. They are linked to a lot of gnarly negative health consequences....in some ways the link to breast cancer is the least bad.....but they're all bad. 

Since this post is about breast cancer, I'll focus on that. Phthalates have been shown to induce proliferation, migration, invasion, and tumor formation of estrogen receptor negative breast cancers. What's interesting about that is that it shows that they have negative health consequences beyond their ability to disrupt hormones.

Phthalate metabolites (the compounds that our bodies turn them into before they are excreted) in the urine are linked to an increased risk of both breast cancer and uterine fibroids (d'oh! I wonder if they contributed to my case!)

Phthalates are linked (here too) to early breast development (thelarche) in girls, and early breast development increases the risk of breast cancer (and other diseases, too). 

Non-cancer phthalate health effects? I'll just drop a quote from that mammoth study I linked to at the beginning of this article:

The endocrine-disrupting properties of this class of chemicals have been well established in the offspring of mother rats who had been treated with phthalates while pregnant. Phthalates disrupt the development and functioning of male and female reproductive systems by interfering with the production of testosterone and estradiol, respectively. Abnormalities in male offspring exposed prenatally included nipple retention, shortened ano-genital distance and increased cryptorchidism . Exposure of human mothers to phthalates, as measured by analysis of their urine samples, has also been associated with shortened ano-genital distances in their newborn sons — a measure of feminization of external genitalia.
— https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5581466/

See, I told you it was bad.

Are parabens and phthalates absorbed through the skin? 

skin absorption of parabens phthalates

Interestingly, the CDC states that contact with the skin can be the most significant route of exposure to harmful chemicals, since what comes in contact with your skin gets absorbed into your bloodstream via a process called diffusion, in which the substance/chemical travels from an area of higher concentration to an area of lower concentration. As you can see in the diagrams on their site, the mechanism by which this happens is one of three ways: by seeping in between skin cells (intercellular lipid pathway), infusing directly into the skin cells (transcellular permeation), or by seeping in through the hair follicles. Rate of absorption depends on many factors, including (adapted from the CDC link above):

  • Skin integrity (damaged vs. intact)
  • Location (thickness and water content of the outer skin layer have an effect)
  • Skin temperature
  • Physical/chemical properties of the chemical
  • Concentration of the chemical
  • Duration of exposure (that's gonna be all day for cosmetics/skincare...)
  • Surface area of skin exposed (a body lotion that goes head to toe vs. under eye cream)

Think about it: transdermal (translation: through the skin) patches of drugs are extremely effective. Birth control patches, nicotine patches, fentanyl patches...these all work extremely well. Anyone who works in the medical field like I did will already know this. Same goes for cosmetics, personal care products, soaps, and anything else you put on your body - the ingredients absorb into your bloodstream. 

And on the CDC link above it lists professions with the highest hazard risk for exposure to harmful chemicals, and guess who is on that list??! COSMETOLOGISTS. People working with conventional cosmetics, hair care, and nail polish. 

Side note/rant: the "factoid" that gets passed around a lot is that "everything you put on your skin gets absorbed in 26 seconds". Totally not supported by science, y'all, as you can see above. But, to be clear, parabens and phthalates definitely get absorbed and can be measured in the urine (you already knew that, though, if you made it this far!) According to this study, parabens or their metabolites may be found in as many as 96% of adults' urine, and this study found 7 different phthalate metabolites in the urine of 100% of their study subjects. Yikes!

How to avoid parabens and phthalates to reduce breast cancer risk

Avoiding parabens is the most straightforward: Look for the following ingredients on the labels of ANY cosmetics, personal care products, soaps, deodorants, toothpaste, haircare, household cleaners, etc: 

  • methylparaben (ESPECIALLY avoid this one)
  • propylparaben
  • ethylparaben
  • butylparaben
  • and anything else ending in -paraben

Avoiding phthalates is tricky, because they do not have to be listed on the labels of these products. But, as I said above, they are included with artificial fragrances (in cosmetics, cleaning products, detergents, air fresheners....ANYTHING SCENTED) and in perfumes and colognes to make the scent "sticky". You know how it never wants to come out of your hair, clothes, or wash off your skin, but essential oils will dissipate naturally after a few hours? That's the phthalates causing the artificial fragrance to stick around for an excessively long time. Phalates are also present in plastics, as well as a number of other products. So avoid the following:

  • Perfumes and colognes (unless they specifically state "phthalate-free" and/or are made from essential oils)
  • Products with the word "FRAGRANCE" or "PARFUM" on the label
  • Hair spray (they are used to reduce brittleness)
  • Nail polish (they are used to reduce brittleness)
  • Vinyl shower curtains (PEVA/EVA is the next best plastic option, you can also opt for hemp or cotton)
  • Vinyl floors
  • Mini-blinds (ugh)
  • Air fresheners (including plug-ins, sprays, and reed diffusers)
  • Soft-sided lunch boxes
  • Plastic food wrap and bags
  • Plastic food containers

Use the Environmental Working Group's Skin Deep Database https://ewg.org/skindeepYou can learn a TON of information with this website (or the companion app called Healthy Living - you can use this app to scan products with your phone!). You can search for products by name and also learn about specific ingredients. Set a goal to overhaul your products to ALL be in the green: rated 1-3. Start by eliminating the WORST offenders first (in the red, 7-10).

I totally get it that it is a process to do this.....and it is expensive to replace products. But the sooner you can reduce your toxic load of exposure to these chemicals, the better. 

Sweating for Phthalate Detoxification

Even if you take steps to clean up your home environment, you are still going to be exposed to phthalates when you venture outside your home. Thankfully, one of the most effective ways to  help your body eliminate phthalates is easy: through sweating.

Sweat lodges and saunas have a long history of use for their incredible health benefits. We modern humans can add to the list their ability to help us excrete phthalates (and a number of other modern toxic chemicals). This study found that the concentration of phthalates was twice as high in sweat as compared to urine, and the authors conclude that inducing sweating is an excellent way to eliminate (their words) "toxic phthalate compounds" from the body. 

Now You Understand why I am so passionate about safe cosmetics and skincare.

makeup-breast-cancer.jpg

I knew about parabens and phthalates 7 years ago when I overhauled my diet and lifestyle. I did my darndest to ban parabens and phthalates from my home. I went the crunchy route and did no 'poo for my hair, washed with castille soap only, made my own deodorant and toothpaste, attempted to make my own makeup, used coconut oil for #AllTheThings, replaced household cleaners with distilled vinegar, vodka, and hydrogen peroxide (this still works great for me, btw), replaced laundry detergent with soap nuts, got rid of non-stick pans, replaced all plastic food storage containers with glass, etc.

Some of these things worked well for me, but most of them ended up being frustrating and made me look.....less than polished, let's just put it nicely. 

Back then, there were VERY few options for safe cosmetics and skincare. I felt that to truly protect myself and my husband I had to take this extreme approach and buy minimal products and/or make my own. I even took the first steps in launching my own natural skincare line......but that ended up falling through. (I still have killer deodorant & sun care lotion (can't call it sunscreen) recipes, though, maybe I'll blog them one day!)

Luckily, today, the industry is changing. Lots of brands are stepping up and making changes. We've even got mega retailers like CVS, Target, and Wal-Mart declaring a commitment to more transparency and safer products on their shelves. 

Please, Switch to Safer Skincare and Cosmetics

beautycounter cosmetics

Again, use the Skin Deep Database/Healthy Living app to find safer options. 

I personally don't care which brands you end up choosing. The EWG site/app above makes it really easy for you to make an educated decision about brand(s) you come across. But I know that this can be an overwhelming topic to tackle, so if there is ANYTHING to help you, please comment below or email me via the contact form in the home bar. I am passionate about bringing education to improve lives, and really truly happy to do anything I can to help you make better choices.

I get asked all the time, so I will tell you: Beautycounter is by far my favorite non-toxic and safe line for high performing cosmetics and skincare. Wait.....there actually aren't even any other that are both safe AND high performing. 

I was so done with the days of raccoon eyes by lunch with other natural brands of eye makeup. And I was not willing to put my health at risk to continue using conventional paraben- and phthalate-laden cosmetics.

I joined the Beautycounter mission to get safer products into the hands of EVERYONE as a consultant in 2016. Note that the mission isn't to get Beautycounter in everyone's hands, it's to radically shake up the entire industry so that ALL products must meet much higher safety standards. Beautycounter is incredibly politically active working hard to get our antiquated cosmetics laws updated for the modern era. 

I will advise you, though, that I am not aware of any other brands currently that take the extreme levels of caution that Beautycounter does with their safety testing. If you do know of any, please tell me! But here are the things you should inquire of any skincare brand.

Ask the tough questions: 

  • Do you 3rd party test every batch of all mineral ingredients for heavy metal contamination?
  • If so, what is your threshold for rejecting a batch?
  • Are there hormone disruptors present in your packaging?
  • Do you disclose all fragrance ingredients?
  • Are your products phthalate-free and paraben-free?
  • Are there other endocrine disrupting chemicals in your products?
  • Are you cruelty-free? 

Stay tuned for more posts in this series. Drop any questions or topic requests in the comments below!

 


FTC Disclosure: In order for me to support my blogging activities, I may receive monetary compensation or other types of remuneration for my endorsement, recommendation, testimonial and/or link to any products or services from this blog. I only recommend and endorse products I use myself and believe that you will benefit from using, too. All opinions are my own.
Disclaimer: The information on this blog is for educational purposes only and is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. The content on this blog is not to be considered an alternative for medical advice and the author strongly urges you to discuss any concerns with a qualified medical practitioner. Use of recommendations from this site is at the choice and risk of the reader. These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration.
I expect you, the reader, are making any recipe on this website or in my books at your own risk. I, Amanda Torres and/or The Curious Coconut, am not liable or responsible for adverse reactions to food consumed such as food poisoning and any kind of food-borne disease, misinterpreted recipes, domestic accidents, including but not limited to fires, cuts, bodily injuries, and messes in the kitchen. The recipes presented are intended for use by persons having appropriate technical skill, at their own discretion and risk.
Full disclosure and privacy policies HERE.