Killer Chemicals in Beauty Care

January 21, 2022   ·   0 Comments

By Martina Rowley

During my lovely long work break over Christmas and New Year, I got into out-with-the-old mode and combined resting from my computer-based business with some light tidying. A good selection of audiobooks entertained me while going through small piles of papers that tend to accumulate in between purges. While clearing out a filing cabinet drawer, I came across an old newspaper article from the Toronto Star’s Life section. Dating back to January 2014, it was a piece about harmful chemicals in beauty care products, specifically, parabens and aluminium in antiperspirants and their link to causing breast cancer. I kept it as a reference and topic idea for a future article, so here it is now.

The article referenced a 2004 study by Dr. Philippa Darbre from the UK’s University of Reading, showing that in her research she had found parabens (a group of chemical preservatives) in human breast tissue and linked it to the use of antiperspirants. She concluded that the human liver does not break down parabens and they therefore remained in the body and could cause harm. Dr. Darbre examined sample breast tissue from radical mastectomies and found increased levels of parabens in the breast tissue near the armpit, where one would typically apply an antiperspirant. She also said that 50% to 60% of breast cancers start in that same upper-outer quadrant of the breast. Furthermore, Dr. Darbre found evidence that aluminium is also harmful and contributes to the cause of breast cysts, found mostly in that same area of breast tissue. Aluminium blocks the sweat ducts and thereby prevents them from draining properly, which she sees as the cause of cysts or even cancer. Other studies have also reported gender differences in the toxicity of metals, meaning women may be disproportionately at greater risk.

All this sounds to me in equal measure logical (the physiological process and the risk) and worrying, so when I learned about the increased breast cancer risk linked to antiperspirants with aluminium – over 23 years ago when I still lived in the UK! – I immediately stopped using them and instead started using deodorants without that ingredient. Strangely, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) states that, “FDA scientists continue to review published studies on the safety of parabens. At this time, we do not have information showing that parabens as they are used in cosmetics have an effect on human health,” I prefer to err on the side of caution when it comes to my health. That means, whenever I see evidence of chemicals in my beauty care products or food, and having great potential to cause me harm, I prefer avoiding such products for the time being, or altogether, with the motto of “guilty until proven innocent”. The bigger and initial question is of course, why are there so many chemicals and heavy metals in beauty care?

Parabens are commonly used as preservatives in cosmetic products to prevent the growth of harmful bacteria and mold in the products. Fair point, I suppose, in terms of consumer protection. Products containing it can include makeup, moisturizers, hair care products, shaving products and more. And as mentioned earlier, aluminium is useful for blocking sweat from escaping our bodies altogether. It bothers me that under the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act, “cosmetic products and ingredients, other than colour additives, do not need FDA approval before they go on the market.” Does that not sound foolish and risky to you? I understand that businesses need to satisfy their consumers with products that are efficient and do what they are supposed to but what price do we pay for the convenience of long-lasting dryness, baby-fresh scent 24/7, or other promises of beauty care products, compared to the potential risks of breast cancer or other harm?

Off my soap-box and back to the UK researcher, Dr. Darbre. Apparently, her 2004 study kicked off quite a debate about the safety versus risk of parabens in cosmetics. An article on Canada’s McGill University website, disputes the validity of her research, saying that regulatory agencies around the world have dismissed Darbre’s study and maintain that there is no evidence linking parabens to cancer. Then again, didn’t the cigarette industry deny for decades that smoking caused lung cancer? And even food and drug agencies, who are supposed to protect us, seem to err in favour of the producers too often, stating that oft-seen phrase “harmless in small quantities”. What is always ignored in such statements is the cumulative effect of small quantities of harmful ingredients. When you consider the multitude of products we eat or absorb through our skin, plus common air pollutants we cannot avoid inhaling on a daily or regular basis, then when you add all those up, it surely leads to an amount that is no longer a small quantity, nor harmless.

Some harmful ingredients leave our bodies as soon as we stop using an offending product, such as aluminium and which was demonstrated in Dr. Darbre’s studies, while others accumulate and can then start causing health issues. I am not a conspiracy theorist, though I believe that the multitude of cancers and high – and it seems ever increasing – number of cancer diagnoses and deaths around the world are not merely a sign of better and early detection, I do think it is because there are far too much harmful, manmade ingredients in our products and foods. And I don’t know about you, but I hate being anyone’s guineapig when it comes to my health.

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