On the next few Fridays (and perhaps beyond), Breast Cancer Fund Science Advisor Janet Gray, Ph.D., of Vassar College, will lend her scientific expertise in environmental health to answering burning questions around the link between breast cancer and environmental exposures.
Question from Ariane, California:
I recently noticed that some of our office supplies promise antimicrobial protection. With H1N1 and the start of the flu season, it seems that everyone is crazy for antimicrobial products, but I have heard some concerns about what’s in these products. Do we have anything to be worried about?
Antimicrobials are currently present in a wide array of consumer products, from household cleaners to mouse pads, and scientists have expressed growing concern over the presence of the chemical triclosan, which is prevalent in many of these disinfectants—especially liquid soaps. Studies have linked the chemical to a range of health and environmental issues, including skin irritation and thyroid disorders (a risk factor for breast cancer). The Environmental Protection Agency recently reapproved triclosan, but only for another five years. The agency’s concerns about the chemical convinced them to move the next review date to 2013, 10 years ahead of schedule.
Another concern with popular hand sanitizers is synthetic fragrance, found in most personal care products. Fragrance is considered a trade secret, which allows companies to avoid disclosing what it contains, but it’s often made up of dozens or even hundreds of synthetic chemicals. Some of the hazards of synthetic fragrance include allergens, phthalates, sensitizers, neurotoxins and synthetic musks.
Don’t despair! Thanks in large part to the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics (the Breast Cancer Fund is a founding member and leading partner), an increasing number of responsible companies are signing the Compact for Safe Cosmetics and setting a high bar in the marketplace by agreeing not to use toxic chemicals in their products. Several companies are producing hand soaps and sanitizers free of fragrance and triclosan. Two of these with known efficacy are CleanWell, whose effective ingredient is based upon thyme oil, and EO Products, whose germ-killing ingredient is 62% alcohol.
But really, the best thing to do on a regular basis is to wash your hands thoroughly with warm water and mild, non-toxic soap. It’s the safest and most effective route for staying clean and healthy. But when you feel you need to use disinfectants to get you through the winter season, look for safer choices—ones without triclosan or synthetic fragrance.
Send your questions to Ask Janet! firstname.lastname@example.org