Cosmetics Cause Breast Cancer?

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When it comes to beauty products, the effects of the ingredients they contain are more than just skin deep.In fact, shampoos, makeup, lotions, perfumes and other cosmetics for sale today can contain ingredients linked to breast cancer, infertility, birth defects and other serious health problems. That’s why the Breast Cancer Fund is a leader in advocacy efforts to get toxic chemicals out of cosmetics.

When it comes to beauty products, the effects of the ingredients they contain can be more than just skin deep. The cosmetics industry uses thousands of synthetic chemicals in its products, in everything from lipstick and lotion to shampoo and shaving cream.

Many of these substances are also used in industrial manufacturing processes to clean industrial equipment, stabilize pesticides and grease gears. And we can all agree that an ingredient that effectively scours a garage floor may not be the best choice for a facial cleanser.

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In the U.S., major loopholes in federal law allow the cosmetics industry to put thousands of synthetic chemicals into personal care products, even if those chemicals are linked to cancer, infertility or birth defects. At the same time as untested chemicals have been steadily introduced into our environment, breast cancer incidence has risen dramatically.

Maybe you remember the scary rumors that zipped around the Internet a few years ago claiming antiperspirants and deodorants could cause breast cancer. The claims had several things going for them — the fact that antiperspirants and deodorants are applied in the underarm area, close to the lymph nodes, where cancer cells like to congregate, and in the general vicinity of where most breast tumors develop. Then there were the concerns about parabens and aluminum, both ingredients in these products that are easily absorbed by the skin and which some studies had detected in breast tumors.

Doctors scrambled to help patients understand that the disparate facts did not necessarily coalesce into a coherent whole of cause and effect. Just because the parabens were found in breast tumors, for example, didn’t mean that they triggered the cancer.

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The latest research on the matter, published in the Journal of Applied Toxicology, may help to alleviate concerns about underarm products further — or rekindle the worry. U.K. researchers have found that paraben traces are present in the tissue of almost all breast cancer patients, whether or not they use antiperspirants.

One of the more persistent medical misconceptions still striking fear into the hearts of Internet gossipers is the claim that the use of underarm antiperspirants or deodorants is “the leading cause of breast cancer” (see full text of email rumor).

The scare story has been thoroughly trounced by reliable sources, including the American Cancer Society. According to researchers, antiperspirants have no known (or even suspected) connection with breast cancer. It goes without saying they are not its “leading cause.”

In an article by Dawn MacKeen on Salon.com, Dr. Mervyn Elgart of the department of dermatology at George Washington University eloquently dismissed the rumor as, and I quote, “a bunch of crap.” Other experts have expressed similar views, though not necessarily in those words.

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