Estrogen Everywhere: Hormones Linked to Breast Cancer in Your Skin-Care Products?
Science still isn’t sure what causes breast cancer. Most likely, it’s a myriad of things dependent on a person’s genetic makeup, diet, lifestyle, exposure to dangerous chemicals, and stress levels. However, researchers have long speculated that estrogen—a hormone necessary for normal development and growth of the breasts and organs important for childbearing—may have something to do with it. According to researchers from Breast Cancer and Environmental Risk Factors (BCERF) in New York, estrogen may be implicated in breast-cancer risk because of 1) its role in stimulating breast cell division; 2) its work during the critical periods of breast growth and development; 3) its effect on other hormones that stimulate breast-cell division; and 4) its support of the growth of estrogen-responsive tumors. Women with high lifetime exposures to estrogen may be at higher risk, BCERF concludes.
So, based on what we know so far, it makes sense for most women to try to reduce their exposure to estrogen. However, just how to do that seems to be getting more complicated. Most of us know that hormone-replacement therapy (HRT) after menopause has been discouraged by health organizations because of studies linking it with an increased risk of breast cancer. And the debate continues on birth control pills, as to whether or not today’s low-estrogen formulas do anything to raise risk. (Some studies have shown a slight increased risk, others have shown no change in risk, while multiple studies have shown birth control to decrease risk of ovarian and endometrial cancers.) However, we don’t expect to have to worry about estrogen exposure from food, plastic containers, or skin-care products. Unfortunately, that is the reality of today, and women wanting to reduce their risk will want to become more aware of what they’re putting in and around their bodies.
First, we have the estrogens found in food, or in plants used as foods. These are usually called “phytoestrogens,” and are found in soybeans and tofu (which is why these foods are often recommended for post-menopausal women who are low on natural estrogen), and in some whole grains, fruits, and vegetables. However, unlike synthetic forms of estrogen, these natural forms seem to help reduce the risk of breast cancer, mostly because they act like estrogen in the body, but are less potent, and so are thought to help women avoid estrogen-related disease.
Next, we have the environmental estrogens—synthetic chemicals that can act like human estrogen. Research has found that these estrogens can increase cell division and potentially contribute to breast cancer risk. These types of estrogens are found in pesticides, food preservatives like BHT and BHA, compounds used in plastics like bisphenol A and pthalates, food dye Red #3, and formaldehyde (used in making carpets, plywood, and some nail polishes). Science still isn’t sure of the impact of these estrogens, but theorizes that the more exposure one has, the bigger potential for increased risk of cancer.
Finally, we have estrogens showing up in our personal-care products. We’ve already posted about phthalates, parabens, and other hormone-like chemicals. Here’s something new: a recent report in the Journal of Clinical Oncology warns that rejuvenating skin creams often contain estrogen. In fact, 40 percent of those tested contained what researchers are calling significant amounts (up to 0.61%) of estriol or estrone, two potent forms of estrogen. According to skincarerx.org, estrogen is “used in some facial creams designed for dry and lined skin and permitted in creams by the FDA in low dosages.” Estrogen helps the skin retain water, and may improve skin tone on a limited basis—but at what risk? Dr. Lorne Brandes, writing for CTV MedNews Express, warns women who are undergoing treatment for breast cancer to be especially concerned about any product that could raise the level of blood estrogen through the skin. Healthy women, as well, need to be concerned about their overall exposure to estrogens.
How can you tell if your moisturizer contains estrogenic compounds? First, check out our list of ingredients to avoid, and stay away from products that contain parabens, pthalates, chemical sunscreens, and the like. Next—since estrogens aren’t always listed on the label (those in the previous study were not)—buy from reputable companies producing organic and natural products, like jeune d’age, Burt’s Bees, and Pristine Planet, among others. Check your favorite products against the Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep Database for safety.
Have you found a favorite hormone-free skin-care product? Let us know.
Photo courtesy si-art via Flickr.com.