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Personal Care Products: Overview

Personal Care Products Many of the products we put on our bodies including some shampoos, lotions, and cosmetics, contain chemicals that have been shown to interfere with normal estrogen-related processes. These substances are added to personal care products to enhance their features and to make them last longer. In addition, and most worrisome, some hair products aimed especially at women and girls in the African-American community contain estrogens and placental hormones, substances that are directly linked to changes in breast development. Reading labels and choosing less contaminated substances, or just using less of them, may make sense.

What are the chemicals that are causing concern and where are they found?

Phthalates are used as plastic softeners and solvents in products. They are found in hairspray, hair gel, hair mousse, fragrances, deodorants, and nail polish. Phthalates are also found in most plastic products including plastic bottles, PVC plastics, and plastic toys.

Parabens are used as anti-microbial preservatives in products such as shampoos, cosmetics, lotions, and sunscreen lotions.

Parabens and phthalates are both found in food packaging such as styrene and plastic wraps. Parabens can also be added as a food preservative.

Some shampoos and other hair treatment products, especially those created for women and girls in the African-American community, have estrogens, placental hormones, and other hormonal additives.

How do these chemicals enter the body?

Phthalates are not bound within the plastic matrix, allowing the chemicals to leach into the surrounding fluids and surfaces, including skin and body fluids. Phthalates can then be absorbed directly through the skin, although these large chemicals may penetrate fairly slowly. Some phthalates are actually added to cosmetics and lotions to increase the rate of penetrance by other chemicals found in the products. Phthalates are also released directly into the environment during production, use, and disposal of PVC and other plastics. Traces of phthalates can be found in food, indoor air, soils, and sediments [Staples et al., 1997]. Hormones found in shampoos and other hair products can be absorbed directly across the skin.

Parabens are simply mixed into the recipe for lotions, perfumes and cosmetics, and after topical application can easily penetrate the skin and accumulate in local tissues.

What are the mechanisms by which these substances might increase the risk for breast cancer?

Phthalates and parabens are estrogen-mimicking chemicals and can influence cellular processes. These impacts include promoting or inhibiting cell proliferation and growth, altering cell metabolism and enzyme activity, and stimulating or hindering the replication of DNA during the formation of new cells. Furthermore, these chemicals can initiate the synthesis of specific proteins. These changes ultimately affect estrogenic stimulation and can increase the likelihood of cancer.

Parabens have been shown to directly effect cellular processes by interacting with an important protein called the estrogen receptor [Darbre et al., 2003] .

Phthalates do not appear to interact directly with the estrogen receptor, although they still may interfere with cellular processes that are usually regulated by estrogens [Picard et al., 2001]. Estrogens, placental hormones and other hormones found in hair treatment products enter the bloodstream and act additively with the body’s own estrogens.