A program of Breast Cancer Prevention Partners

Health Effect: Cancer

About Cancer

Some chemicals used in personal care products have been designated carcinogens by state, national, and international scientific authoritative bodies. Carcinogens are substances or agents that have been found to cause cancer. Other substances can increase the risk of cancer including endocrine disrupting compounds which can affect the risk of cancers of the breast, ovaries, prostate and other cancers that are affected by our natural hormones.

What Chemicals in Personal Care Products are linked to this concern?

1,4 Dioxane

1,4-DIOXANE

Not listed on ingredient labels, 1,4-dioxane is a contaminant linked to cancer found in products that create suds, such as shampoo and liquid soap.

Acrylates

Acrylates

Acrylates (ethyl acrylate, ethyl methacrylate, and methyl methacrylate) are ingredients found in artificial nail products. We are mainly exposed to these chemicals through inhalation or skin contact. Despite evidence of adverse skin, eye, and throat reactions to these chemicals, they continue to be used in nail products.

Benzophenone

Benzophenone & Related Compounds

Benzophenone is used in personal care products such as lip balm and nail polish to protect the products from UV light. Derivatives of benzophenone, such as benzophenone-2 (BP2) and oxybenzone (benzophenone-3 or BP3) are common ingredients in sunscreen. Benzophenone is persistent, bioaccumulative and toxic (PBT).[1][2] These chemicals are linked to cancer, endocrine disruption, and organ system toxicity.

Butylated Compounds

Butylated Compounds

Butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA) and butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT) are used as preservatives in a variety of personal care products. Both of these chemicals are also used as preservatives in foods. These chemicals are linked to several health concerns including endocrine disruption and organ-system toxicity.

Carbon Black

Carbon Black

Carbon black is a dark black powder used as a pigment in cosmetics such as eyeliner, mascara and lipstick.[1] It is produced by incomplete combustion of carbon-based products such as coal tar,[2] and has been linked to increased incidence of cancer and negative effects on organs.[3]

Carcinogens in Cosmetics

Carcinogens in Cosmetics

The laws governing cosmetics and personal care products are so limited that known cancer-causing chemicals, or carcinogens, are legally allowed in personal care products. Some carcinogens, such as formaldehyde and formaldehyde-releasing preservatives, are common in personal care products, while others are less common, but still occasionally present.

Coal Tar

Coal Tar

Coal tar is a known carcinogen derived from burning coal. It is a complex mixture of hundreds of compounds, many of which are polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs).[1][2]

Ethanolamine Compounds

Ethanolamine Compounds (MEA, DEA, TEA And Others)

Ethanolamines are present in many consumer products ranging from cosmetics, personal care products and household cleaning products. Both have been linked to liver tumors. The European Commission prohibits diethanolamine (DEA) in cosmetics, to reduce contamination from carcinogenic nitrosamines. [1]

Ethoxylated Ingredients

Ethoxylated Ingredients

Ethoxylation is the process of reacting ethylene oxide with other chemicals to make them less harsh. Ethoxylation can create small amounts of 1,4-dioxane and leave residual ethylene oxide in the product.

Fragrance

Fragrance

Many products list “fragrance” on the label, but very few name the specific ingredients that make up a “fragrance.” This lack of disclosure prevents consumers from knowing the full list of ingredients in their products.

Hydroquinone

Hydroquinone

Hydroquinone is most commonly used in skin lighteners, products heavily marketed towards women of color. It is linked to cancer and organ-system toxicity.

Lead And Other Heavy Metals

Lead And Other Heavy Metals

Heavy metals like lead, arsenic, mercury, aluminum, zinc, chromium and iron are found in a wide variety of personal care products including lipstick, whitening toothpaste, eyeliner and nail color.

Nail polish removers

Nail Polish Removers

Isopropyl acetone, methyl ethyl ketone, and n-methyl-pyrrolidone, are commonly used as the solvent in nail polish removers. Evidence suggests that these chemicals may cause reproductive harm and organ toxicity. They are a serious concern for nail salon workers and pregnant women.

Nitrosamines

Nitrosamines

Nitrosamines are impurities that can show up in a wide array of cosmetics ingredients—including diethanolamine (DEA) and triethanolamine (TEA)—and products.

P-Phenylenediamine

P-Phenylenediamine

Consumers encounter p-phenylenediamine in many forms of permanent hair dyes called oxidative dyes. As a known skin sensitizer, it leads to allergic reactions. P-phenylenediamine, as well as the products of its reactions with hydrogen, can alter the genetic material of cells.

Parabens

Parabens

Parabens are preservatives used in a wide variety of personal care products and foods to prevent the growth of microbes. These endocrine-disrupting chemicals can be absorbed through skin, blood and the digestive system.[1]

Petrolatum

Petrolatum, Petroleum Jelly

Petrolatum, or petroleum jelly, derived from petroleum, is often used in personal care products as a moisturizing agent. When properly refined, petrolatum has no known health concerns.

Phthalates

Phthalates

Pronounced THAL-ates, these chemicals, which are linked to endocrine disruption, developmental and reproductive toxicity, and cancer, have been banned from cosmetics in the European Union, but still remain prevalent in U.S. products.

Polyacrylamide

Polyacrylamide

Polyacrylamide is used as a stabilizer and binder in lotions and other products. Though it is not a concern in itself, it is made up of repeating molecules of acrylamide, which is a strongly suspected carcinogen and has been linked to mammary tumors.

Preservatives

Preservatives

Preservatives may be used in cosmetics to prevent the growth of harmful bacteria and mold. Parabens and formaldehyde-releasing preservatives are commonly used preservatives in cosmetic and personal care products.

Retinol and Retinol Compounds

Retinol and Retinol Compounds

Retinol is the chemical name of the essential micronutrient vitamin A which can be harmful to your health when it’s added to cosmetic products in certain forms. Two derivatives – retinoic acid and retinyl palmitate – should be avoided in cosmetics and personal care products while retinol itself should not be used at high doses.

Styrene Acrylates Copolymer

Styrene Acrylates Copolymer

Styrene acrylates copolymer is a chain of polymers consisting of styrene and acrylate which is added to cosmetics for color. There is the potential for styrena acrylates copolymer to be contaminated with styrene, a possible carcinogen.

Talc

Talc

Some talc may contain the known carcinogen asbestos, therefore it should be avoided in powders and other personal care products, unless it is known to be asbestos-free. Even asbestos-free talc should be avoided in the pelvic areas.

Titanium dioxide

Titanium Dioxide

Titanium dioxide (TiO2) is used in a variety of personal care products, including sunscreens, pressed powders, and loose powders, as a UV filter or whitening agent.

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