Personal Care ProductsStatesman Journal Living Well - July 2015
There is an ongoing debate in social media about the safety of common personal care products like deodorants, antiperspirants, cosmetics, shampoos, lotions, and many more. In particular the question has been raised whether common ingredients such as aluminum, parabens, and phthalates, chemicals that most of us unknowingly put on or in our bodies daily, pose any significant health hazards. Websites draw parallels between their use and such diseases as breast cancer, Alzheimer's Disease, altered sexual development in children. One place the debate is not raging however, is in the research lab – because science has found the safety claims to be (mostly) inconclusive.
So, what exactly are these chemicals, other than long, strange sounding words?
Let's start with aluminum. Aluminum is used in antiperspirants to block sweat ducts that ultimately result in drier armpits. Because the armpits are located so close to breast tissue, there have been come concerns that the use of aluminum daily for several years increases the risk of breast cancer.
Let me be clear, there has been no evidence to prove a correlation or increased risk of breast cancer due to aluminum containing topical products like antiperspirants. In fact, the American Cancer Society states, "There is no evidence to suggest that the location of cancers within the breast is related to using antiperspirants…." The rumors about aluminum causing Alzheimer's disease are linked to a study from 1960 that found that there were high levels of aluminum in the brains of people with this disease. Since 1960., there have been numerous studies that have failed to find a link.
Now, let's tackle parabens and phthalates. Parabens are one of the most commonly used preservatives in cosmetics. Parabens have gained some attention from environmental advocacy groups after parabens were found in tissue samples from breast cancer tumors. However, there have been no conclusive studies that show a direct relationship between parabens and breast cancer.
Phthalates are used to soften products ranging from cosmetics to flexible plastics found in some children's toys. While aluminum and parabens have not been shown to cause serious adverse health effects, several studies have shown that phthalates may have an effect on hormones. Specifically, phthalate exposure to male fetuses during pregnancy may impair testosterone production and are less likely to engage in "typical" male play. There is no debate on whether phthalates get into our bloodstreams, but we do not yet know how risky they are. These chemical have gained enough attention that Congress actually banned certain phthalates in 2008.
If you are concerned about the effects of topical chemicals in your body and the bodies of your children, there are natural alternatives. Look at labels closely. A good rule of thumb is to purchase products that clearly state "paraben and phthalate free". A word of caution, these products are typically a little more pricey, but try purchasing online through a large retailer like Amazon or find locally in a discount store like Grocery Outlet. To be frank, even beyond buying safe products for you and your family the best prevention for diseases like Alzheimer's and many cancers is eating healthy, avoiding processed foods, getting regular exercise, limiting alcohol intake, and avoiding obesity.
Our bodies are inundated daily with chemicals that were not even a consideration two generations ago. From processed foods to cosmetics, modern science has improved our lifestyle but the tradeoff is that we are not often mindful of ingredients. Even when research shows that a product is safe, it's important to make informed choices.