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Cosmetics and Breast Cancer: Should Teens Ditch the Makeup?

By on Jan 28, 2018 in BREAST CANCER |

Could that strawberry-pink blush your teenage daughter rubs on her cheeks every morning be increasing her breast cancer risk? What about the sudsy lavender shower soap you both like?

A controversial new report highlights teen girls’ extra vulnerability to environmental contaminants during their crucial adolescent years, and revisits an unsettled debate over whether cosmetics are part of the problem.

So-called hormone disrupters are the toxic troublemakers at the center of this discussion.

These chemicals—found not just in cosmetics but also in pesticides, plastics, and drugs—are thought to mimic hormones such as estrogen when they’re absorbed by the human body. And high, sustained levels of estrogen are linked to the development of breast cancer.

The question is: How to navigate the largely self-regulated cosmetics industry as a conscientious shopper? Is there something you should be doing to help protect your daughters and granddaughters from the world around them?

Teenage bodies burdened with chemicals
The debate over the safety of cosmetic ingredients was reignited in September when the Environmental Working Group (EWG), a Washington, D.C.–based nonprofit, published a report on the subject.

EWG found that teenage girls’ bodies contained the same potentially hormone-altering chemicals found in many cosmetics and its report references earlier studies that link those chemicals to health risks, including cancer, in lab animals. Of particular concern is a chemical family known as phthalates, used in some nail polishes and fragrances.

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“We’re concerned that these hormone-disrupting chemicals could start to play a role in how growth and development plays out in the teen body and therefore how it might be linked to health effects later in life,” says Rebecca Sutton, PhD, author of the report and a senior scientist at EWG.

But don’t liquidate your cosmetics shelf just yet. The authors of the EWG report, which looked at 20 girls ages 14 to 19, did not show a direct link between the girls’ makeup habits and what was found in their bodies. The chemicals could have come from any number of other sources.

“The phthalates in the plastic water bottles these girls drink from, or the microwave containers they eat out of, may be far more likely to get into their system than cosmetic use, and as of now, no one has banned these things,” says M. William Audeh, MD, an oncologist who works in cancer risk assessment at the Samuel Oschin Comprehensive Cancer Institute at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles.

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