Ask Janet!

On the next few Fridays (and perhaps beyond), Breast Cancer FundJanet_Gray_120 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?

Dear Ariane,
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! askjanet@breastcancerfund.org

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One thought on “Ask Janet!

  1. Dear Janet,
    Thank you so muh for the work that you do. I have been a clinical skin care therapist for 10 years and I am very devoted to empowering my clients about good health and overall wellness. The issue of synthetic chemicals being linked to breast cancer and other hormonal issues is one that I do not take lightly. I have chosen to represent an amazing line of food-grade organic skin care,body, and personal care products that are completely safe and free of all synthetics.
    I am starting to lecture with various breast cancer organizations and wellness centers in order to spread the message of health and beauty through the use of only safe products and organic ingredients. My question to you is, what can I confidently tell people the reseatch is regarding breast cancer and these unregulated chemicals. It seems that there is always a new report, often with conflicting outomes. I want to be able to empower people with accurate information and give them alternative solutions to what they are using. Are there sites that you recommend or sources that I follow in order to keep myself well informed? Warmly, Allison Harris

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