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A Race for the Cure Or An Ounce of Prevention

“Once a disease almost exclusive to postmenopausal women: breast cancer now strikes women in their 20s and 30s…..What’s going on?....The increase in breast cancer parallels a proliferation of manmade chemicals since World War II” [1]


Among these petro chemicals and new age plastics, the specific concern as it relates to breast cancer, are substances that act like estrogen in the body. How many of these chemicals are applied to the human body everyday via a topical application in body care products that everyone thinks are safe?


Think about what you put on your body every day before you leave your home. Most of us use a variety of soaps, shampoos, conditioners, washes, crèmes and moisturizers.  If you are a man you may use shaving creams and even hair gels. If you are a woman you can be using a myriad of applied cosmetics including lipstick and makeup.


The Environmental Working Group ( has been researching the great undiscovered facts about chemicals in personal care products since 2004. Their research has been exhaustive. Here are a few introductory facts from the EWG:


  • Industrial chemicals are basic ingredients in personal care products. The 10,500 unique chemical ingredients in these products equate to about one of every eight of the 82,000 chemicals registered for use in the U.S. Personal care products contain carcinogens, pesticides, reproductive toxins, endocrine disruptors, plasticizers, degreasers, and surfactants. They are the chemical industry in a bottle.
  • No premarket safety testing required — this is a reality of both the personal care product industry and the broader chemical industry as a whole. For industrial chemicals, the government approves an average of seven new chemicals every day. Eighty percent are approved in three weeks or less, with or without safety tests. Advocating that industry have an understanding of product safety before selling to the public finds common messages, common methods, and common gains whether the focus is cosmetic ingredients or other industrial chemicals.
  • Everyone uses personal care products. Exposures are widespread, and for some people, extensive. Our 2004 product use survey shows that more than a quarter of all women and one of every 100 men use at least 15 products daily. These exposures add up, and raise questions about the potential health risks from the myriad of unassessed ingredients migrating into the bodies of nearly every American, day after day. (Group, 2009) [2]


Consumers believe, unwittingly, that some government regulatory agency such as the FDA is monitoring safety tests on every day personal care products. Disturbingly this is a false assumption.

The Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FD&C Act) does not authorize FDA to approve cosmetic ingredients, with the exception of color additives that are not coal-tar hair dyes. In general, cosmetic manufacturers may use any ingredient they choose, except for a few ingredients that are prohibited by regulation”. (Administration, 2007) [3]

What exists today in September 2009 is a Wild West of self regulation by personal care manufactures determined to squeeze every ounce of profit from each and every product. As you will see there are safe alternatives that cost just a little more. However the massive unit sales of large scale cosmetic and personal care product units dictate that every penny is precious. Compared this to the small “natural” and “organic” personal care manufactures who have a business model based on ethics and more importantly in today's world a commitment to environmental and biological safety.

This brings us back to the adage that “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”. What does this mean in the 21st century as it relates to cancer, especially breast cancer? Prevention today means early screening and early detection. We desire to catch malignancy in the early stages before it metastasizes (or spreads) to other parts of the body. Prevention should be eliminating the cause to begin with. Since we can never be 100% certain of the causes, we must look at the evidence and use common sense and wisdom in making daily choices. These choices may help us feel we are doing what we can do to face the ravages that affect the modern world.


So let us examine personal care products and the early evidence that suggests there may be a link between breast cancer and several chemicals that are we widely expose ourselves to every single day.


These 3 chemicals are:


1,4 Dioxane

Phthalates (pronounced Tha-lates)



These are just 3 of the 10,500 chemicals that may be found in personal care and cosmetic products. The obvious common sense choice already is to choose products as simple, basic and natural as possible.  However let us examine these 3 known chemicals or groups of chemicals in the same family. What these molecules have in common is that they are manmade and relatively new.  They have been proven carcinogenic and/or hormone disruptors (estrogen and testosterone). 


1,4 Dioxane

What is 1,4 Dioxane?


Ethoxylation, a cheap short-cut companies use to provide mildness to harsh ingredients, requires the use of the cancer-causing petrochemical Ethylene Oxide, which generates 1,4-Dioxane as a by-product. 1,4-Dioxane is considered a chemical "known to the State of California to cause cancer" under proposition 65, and has no place in "natural" or "organic" branded personal care products. 1,4-dioxane is also suspected as a kidney toxicant, neurotoxicant and respiratory toxicant, among others, according to the California EPA, and is a leading groundwater contaminant. Although previous studies have revealed 1,4-Dioxane is often present in conventional personal care products, this new study indicates the toxin is also present in leading "natural" and "organic" branded products, none of which are certified under the USDA National Organic Program.” (Steinman, 2008) [4]


According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), 1,4 dioxane is a probable carcinogen. (Network). [5] Research shows that 1,4-dioxane readily penetrates the skin. [6]


There are a couple of key points;


1.       This molecule is a byproduct created during the production of surfactants (suds making agents found in shampoos, soaps, detergents etc.)

2.       Because this is not an active ingredient, this probable carcinogen rarely is listed on a label. (The FDA does not require contaminants to be listed on product ingredient labels.)

3.       This molecule could readily be removed from a finished product yet profits and a conscious decision by manufactures to deem 1,4 Dioxane safe at low levels keep this molecule firmly vested in the American marketplace.   The European Union (EU) and Canada have banned this substance. The United States has much to learn from the EU example. The EU Cosmetics Directive (76/768/EEC) was revised in January 2003to ban 1,100 chemicals from cosmetics; the U.S. FDA has banned or restricted only 11. [7]




Beware of the Trojan horse!

This toxin, 1,4 dioxane, is present in synthetic ethoxylated ingredients such as these:

·         The “Eths” - myreth, oleth, laureth, ceteareth.

·         PEG

o   Polyethyline

o   Polyethyline glycol

o   Polyoxyehthyline

·         Oxynol


Manufactures of products that contain 1,4 dioxane, phthalates, and parabens all cite research that suggests these molecules are safe at low levels. They suggest a small amount of chemical carcinogen in a personal care product is not dangerous. Wisdom and common sense should dictate how you decide to use this knowledge.



This word is pronounced Tha-lates.

What are Phthalates?


Phthalates are a group of industrial chemicals used to make plastics (PVC3) more flexible or resilient.


“Phthalates have been found to disrupt the endocrine system. Several phthalate compounds have caused reduced sperm counts, testicular atrophy and structural abnormalities in the reproductive systems of male test animals, and some studies also link phthalates to liver cancer, according to the U.S. Center for Disease Control’s 2005 National Report on Human Exposure to Environmental Chemicals. Though the CDC contends the health hazards of phthalates to humans have not been definitively established, for some years, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has regulated phthalates as water and air pollutants.” [8]

Think of that rubber fishing worm. Think of a soft vinyl shower curtain.  Think of a synthetic softening agent. Now think of that perfume or cologne synthetic aroma that lingers.  These are phthalates in action. Other personal care products containing phthalates include eye shadow, moisturizers, nail polish, liquid soap and hair spray. 

Fragrance is of particular concern! A significant loophole in the law allows phthalates (and other chemicals) to be added to fragranceswithout disclosure to consumers. Because fragrance occurs in nearly every conceivable product, including lotions, soaps, cleansers and hair care products, phthalates are common. [9]   Think of the fragrance being soaked in microscopic plastic bundles which then allow the fragrance to linger longer. Beware of fragrances. 

“July 10, 2002 – New product tests find unlabeled toxin in many best selling cosmetics” announced the press release. The lab had found phthalates in nearly three quarters of the 72 products tested. [10]

Two decades of research suggest that phthalates disrupt hormonal systems, which can cause harm during critical periods of development. [11] Phthalates have also been shown to cause proliferation of breast tumor cells and renders anti-estrogen treatments, such as tamoxifen, less effective against tumors. [12]

Phthalates are not needed in our personal cosmetics and body care.  The common message of companies who continue their use is there is the levels are not high enough to cause harm. The evidence dictates that any synthetic compound that is estrogenic or disrupts natural hormonal sequences of estrogen or testosterone should be of concern. Again wisdom and common sense should prevail.

The Breast Cancer Fund was founded in 1992 in response to the public health crisis of breast cancer. 

The Breast Cancer Fund states the following on their website (

The facts:

Today in the United States, a woman's lifetime risk for breast cancer is more than one in eight. 

When all known risk factors and characteristics are added together, including family history, genetics, smoking and obesity, more than 50 percent of breast cancer cases remain unexplained.

At the same time that breast cancer rates have tripled, an estimated 100,000 synthetic chemicals have been registered for use in the United States.  Less than 10 percent of these chemicals have been fully tested for their effects on human health.  

Because many of these chemicals accumulate in body fat and remain in breast tissue for decades, every woman, man and child now carries synthetic chemicals—including some that have been found to induce mammary tumors in laboratory research—in their breasts and bodies.
The Breast Cancer Fund works to identify – and advocate for elimination of – the environmental and other preventable causes of the disease.

The concerned, ethical company of the 21st century should always use caution and wise crafting of products with safety as their prime motivation. Even though there are many toxic chemicals in the personal product marketplace we turn our attention to another controversial class of chemical toxins called parabens.

What are Parabens?

Parabens are used to prevent the growth of microbes in cosmetic products and can be absorbed through the skin, blood and digestive system. [13] They have been found in biopsies from breast tumors [14] at concentrations similar to those found in consumer products. [15] Parabens appear mostly in personal care products that contain significant amounts of water, such as shampoos, conditioners, lotions and facial and shower cleansers and scrubs. While concentration limits are recommended for each paraben, these recommendations do not account for the use of multiple parabens in a single product or for exposure to parabens from several products by a single individual. [16]

A 2004 UK study detected traces of five parabens in the breast cancer tumors of 19 out of 20 women studied (vii). This small study does not prove a causal relationship between parabens and breast cancer, but it is important because it detected the presence of intact parabens – unaltered by the body’s metabolism – which is an indication of the chemicals' ability to penetrate skin and remain in breast tissue. [17]

Of greatest concern is that parabens are known to disrupt hormone function, an effect that is linked to increased risk of breast cancer and reproductive toxicity. Parabens mimic estrogen by binding to estrogen receptors on cells. They also increase the expression of genes usually regulated by estradiol (a form of estrogen); these genes cause human breast tumor cells to grow and multiply in cellular studies. [18]

The fact is that other non toxic preservatives can be utilized in personal care products.  The mainstream cosmetic industry believes that parabens, like most cosmetic ingredients, are safe based on their long term use and safety record. Again use your wisdom and common sense to decide what is best for you.

“The blood was quietly collected by the American Red Cross workers and sent to two independent laboratories to be analyzed for chemicals. The results were similar to previous studies: each persons body was contaminated with hundreds of industrial compounds including pesticides, stain repellents, flame retardants, plasticizers, even PCB’s…But the subjects of this study were unlike any of the others.  They were newborn babies fresh from the womb.” [19]

In conclusion

The History of the PINK Ribbon

(All excerpts taken from “Not Just a Pretty Face – The Ugly Side of the Beauty Industry author, Stacy Malkan)

The pink ribbon was originally neither pink nor was it intended to be used as a marketing tool. It was a peach ribbon developed in the early 1990’s by Charlotte Haley, who watched her daughter; sister and grandmother suffer from breast cancer. Charlotte sat down at her dining room table and crafted thousands of peach ribbons by hand. She bundled them into sets of five, each with a card that read:”The National Cancer Institute annual budget is $1.8 billion: only 5% goes to cancer prevention. Help us wake up America by wearing this ribbon.” She distributed the bundles at her local supermarket…..

At that time breast cancer was just starting to come out of the closet and a couple of major corporations had big plans. Estee’ Lauder and Self Magazine teamed up to create the Second Annual Breast Cancer Awareness month issue, and they envisioned a breast cancer ribbon displayed on cosmetic counters coast to coast But somebody already had a breast cancer ribbon, they were told. So they called up Charlotte Haley offering to partner with her and take her peach ribbon national. “She wanted nothing to do with us. Said we were too commercial”. Their lawyers advised them to choose another color. Pink…..was chosen.

The irony of all this is what is referred to as “Pinkwashing” The very same companies that promote “A Cure” and use Breast Cancer awareness and pink ribbons to promote their products knowing they have the same ingredients in their products that may contribute to the rising rates of the disease.

Common Sense, Wisdom, Beauty, Health, Safety!


Admisnistration, U.S. Food and Drug. 2007. [Online] October 31, 2007. [Cited: September 16, 2009.]

Concentrations of parabens in human breast tumours. Daubre PD, Aljarrah A, Miller WR, Coldham NG, Sauer MJ, Pope GS. 2004. 2004, Journal of Applied Toxicology 24, pp. 5-13.

Contents of methylparaben, ethylparaben, propylparaben, butylparaben and benzylparaben in cosmetic products. . Rastogi SC, Schouten A, Dekruijf N, Weijland JW. 1995. 1995, Contact Dermatits 32, pp. 28-30.

Environmental Working Group. [Online]

Gray, J. 2008. State of the Evidence: The Connection between Breast Cancer and the Environment. San Francisco : The Breast Cancer Fund, 2008.

Group, Environmental Working. 2009. [Online] September 16, 2009. [Cited: September 16, 2009.]

Malkin, Stacey. 2007. Not Just A Pretty Face - The Ugly SIde of the Beauty Industry. Gabriola Island : New Society Publishers, 2007.

Network, U.S Environmental Protection Agency Technology Transfer. [Online] [Cited: 16 2009, September.]

Oestrogenic activity of parabens in MCF7 human breast cancer cells. Byford JR, Shaw LE, Drew MGB, Pope GS, Sauer MJ, Darbre PD. 2002. 2002, Journal of Steroid Biochemistry & Molecular Biology 80, pp. 49-60.

Phthalates inhibit tamoxifen-induced apoptosis in MCF-7 human breast cancer cells. . Kim IY, Han SY, Moon A. Kim IY, Han SY,

Moon A (2004).
Kim IY, Han SY, Moon A (2004), Journal of Toxicology and Environmental Health 67, pp. 2025-2035.

Safe Cosmetics Website. [Online] [Cited: September 16, 2009.]

Spath, D.P. 1998. “1,4-Dioxane Action Level.” . Sacramento : Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment. , 1998.

Steinman, David. 2008. [Online] March 14, 2008. [Cited: 16 2009, September.]


[1] (Malkin, 2007 p. 76)

[2] (Group, 2009)

[3] (Admisnistration, 2007)

[4] (Steinman, 2008)

[5] (Network)

[6] (Spath, 1998)

[7] (Safe Cosmetics Website)

[8] (Environmental Working Group)

[9] (Safe Cosmetics Website)

[10] (Malkin, 2007 p. 23)

[11] (Malkin, 2007 p. 17)

[12] (Phthalates inhibit tamoxifen-induced apoptosis in MCF-7 human breast cancer cells. , Kim IY, Han SY, Moon A (2004))

[13] (Gray, 2008)

[14] (Concentrations of parabens in human breast tumours., 2004)

[15] (Contents of methylparaben, ethylparaben, propylparaben, butylparaben and benzylparaben in cosmetic products. , 1995)

[16] (Safe Cosmetics Website)

[17] (Concentrations of parabens in human breast tumours., 2004)

[18] (Oestrogenic activity of parabens in MCF7 human breast cancer cells., 2002)

[19] (Malkin, 2007 p. 1)