February is National Cancer Prevention month so I am highlighting ways to set yourself up to reduce your risk of getting cancer or if you are a survivor, not having it come back. Something we all want, right? I’ve written a lot about food and how what you eat really does make a difference for either promoting or mitigating your risk of cancer. Last week I wrote about how beneficial exercise is for reducing cancer risk (turns out it’s SUPER important). This week and next, I’m focusing on chemicals—specifically, known cancer causing chemicals that are commonly in use and easy to avoid.
Did you know that your skin absorbs 60% of what you put on it? If your products have harmful chemicals, they are going straight into your system. And did you know that in the U.S., there is no governing body regulating the lotions, deodorants, shampoos or cosmetics you put on your skin? It’s true– the U.S. government is not checking the safety of ingredients in your personal care products that are being absorbed into your system. The companies in this industry are supposed to be self-regulating. The problem is that many (most?) companies are more interested in making money than in your health.
As I wrote about in my blog post 5 Things You Need to Know About Cosmetics (a must read if you use makeup), I have learned a lot about the chemicals in various products since being diagnosed with Mantle Cell Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma 4-1/2 years ago and then triple negative breast cancer right afterwards. I didn’t pay that much attention to my skincare, shampoo or my mascara before cancer, mostly I wanted the products to work and I figured that if they were in my drugstore, they must be considered safe to use. Little did I know!
What I learned through research for my book, WTF?! I Have Cancer? is that some ingredients are outright toxic and are used in popular products because they are cheaper than an alternative ingredient. Some ingredients are even known to cause to cancer! The very cancers that I got!
In the UK and the EU, companies are held to a higher standard in terms of what ingredients they can use and if they can call a product organic. They also have a policy to remove ingredients if they are SUSPECTED to be harmful. By contrast, in the U.S., ingredients are only required to be removed if they are PROVEN to be harmful. This means lawsuits have to happen, people have to get sick, before companies are required to remove harmful ingredients.
Shouldn’t the products we buy have ingredients that are known to be safe and be free of ingredients that are even suspected to be harmful? Luckily there are a couple of independent organizations testing products for us.
One is a relatively new one that has very high standards called MadeSafe.org. They have a rigorous certification process and are considered the gold standard because they are independent and completely neutral.
Another that is more widely known but unfortunately is funded by certain companies so their neutrality is compromised, is Environmental Working Group. What I like about their site though is that you can put a product into their database and can see the ingredients that are considered unsafe. As far as products they recommend, read them with a skeptical eye because of their funding.
What can you do? Read your labels! Here’s a list of my top 5 Cancer Causing Chemicals to Ditch and a handy cheat sheet download to take to the store with you.
Parabens are used as preservatives and not always labeled. They are used in deodorants and other skincare products and have been found in breast cancer tumors. They may contribute to sterility in males, hormone imbalance in females and early puberty. Ditch: deodorants and shampoo with parabens and look at all skincare products!
- Sunscreen chemicals
Some of the chemicals commonly found in sunscreen are avobenzone, benzophenone, ethoxycinnamate, and PABA. These are known free radical generators and are believed to damage DNA and lead to cancer. Ditch: non-organic sunscreen and read labels!
Dioxin won’t appear in the ingredients. It is often in antibacterial ingredients like triclosan, emulsifiers, PEGs and ethoxylated cleaners like Sodium Laureate Sulfate. Dioxin causes cancer, reduced immunity, nervous system disorders, miscarriages and birth deformity. Ditch: antibacterial soap, most shampoos!
Talcum powder is made from talc, a mineral made up mainly of the elements magnesium, silicon, and oxygen. Widely used as a powder in cosmetics and baby powder, in its natural form, talc contains asbestos, a substance known to cause cancer. Ditch: baby powder with talc, many facial powders!
- Synthetic color in cosmetics & hair dye
There are multiple studies linking ingredients in hair dye to several cancers including breast, ovarian, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and leukemia. Avoid phenylenediamines (also called PPD) as well as FD&C synthetic colors from coal tar which contain heavy metal salts that deposit toxins in skin and are a suspected human carcinogen. Ditch: hair dye and lotions with PPD or cosmetics with synthetic colors!
One last word, please do not wait to use up these products before throwing them out. Why expose yourself to these chemicals and risk getting cancer just to save a few dollars? Throw them out today and replace them with non-toxic brands. If you are a cancer survivor, all the more reason to make sure you are reducing carcinogens for potential recurrence. If you haven’t had cancer, count your blessings and don’t tempt fate by putting these chemicals on your body.
And as you may know, I am partial to the amazing U.K. based company Neal’s Yard Remedies for my non-toxic shampoo, skin care and deodorant. Feel free to ask me about this brand!