It is a common nature of women to apply cosmetics especially to improve physical appearance. Although it rarely occurs in men, breast cancer is one of the leading cause of death in women. In America, it is second to skin cancer. Over the years, studies have analysed the chemicals present in cosmetics and how they can affect our body.
Many of the chemicals used to make cosmetic products are hormone disruptors, that is they can affect how estrogen and other hormones affect the body. Estrogen is the female sex hormone which causes development of the female reproductive system. Thus, it can be seen that having a direct effect on this hormone can cause severe side effects.
Many studies have been conducted to identify the chemicals that disrupt the normal functioning of estrogen. The most common family of chemical is parabens which are used as preservatives such as in makeup, moisturizers and hair care products. These can be used up to 1% concentrations. They are known to be quickly absorbed into the skin. From numerous studies, parabens have been found to disrupt cellular function and cause mitochondrial dysfunction. It can also promote breast cancer because it has estrogenic properties. Although parabens can also be found in other parts of the body, it is most effective in breast tissue. Due to its estrogen-like property, it can increase the growth of cells in the female breast.
Another chemical is phthalates which is found in hair coloring products, nail polish and hair spray. It is known as a hormone disrupter. That is it can imbalance the functions of hormones such as estrogen and testosterone.
Retinol, a derivative of vitamin A kills old cells, replacing them with new ones. They also cause the formation of wrinkles by producing collagen and thicken the skin. Because they are mainly used for reducing skin roughness and hyperpigmentation, they can cause growth of both healthy and cancerous cells. Benzophenone-3 (BP-3) is used in sunscreen. This has been found to activate genes the accelerate cell growth.
However a recent study by D. Joseph Jerry, professor of veterinary and animal sciences at the University of Massachusetts Amherst tested the necessary concentrations of BP-3 and parabens needed to initiate the cancer.
“Those effects required concentrations that exceed the levels that most women are normally exposed to,” says Jerry. “There may be a risk at lower levels than we have previously understood,” he added.
These chemicals have been found to only act on cells with estrogen receptors.
“It’s not toxic unless the cells have estrogen receptors,” he says. “So it’s acting through the estrogen receptor to create this damage. There is no consequence if you test it in other cells.”
Some women may also have genetic risk which increases the rate of breast cancer. But there are many methods by which the risk can be reduced such as by exercise, maintaining a healthy lifestyle and diet, reduced intake of alcohol and therapy.