Are you being exposed? | Breast Cancer UK

Are you being exposed?

Not all chemicals are harmful. However, some are capable of causing cancer (carcinogens) and others can interfere with normal hormone functions; these are known as endocrine disrupting chemicals or EDCs. Some EDCs mimic the female hormone, oestrogen; increased levels of this hormone is a known risk factor for breast cancer.

This mini guide will help you to identify what to look out for and what to avoid.

Cosmetics and personal care products:

Watch out for:

  • Parabens such as butyl/methyl/ethyl/propyl paraben: found in cosmetics, body creams, hair products and sunscreens
  • Alkyl parahydroxybenzoate: another name for parabens
  • Aluminium in deodorants/antiperspirants
  • Synthetic musks (or parfum): used as fragrance in many cosmetics and personal care products
  • Triclosan: used  in toothpastes and hand washes
  • Benzophenones in cosmetics: used to prolong shelf life

How to avoid:

  • Opt for paraben-free personal care products
  • Opt for aluminium-free anti-perspirants
  • Choose essential oil-based fragrances or un-fragranced products
  • Avoid using antibacterial soaps and hand washes which contain triclosan

Plastic containers, bottles and packaging 

Watch out for

  • Bisphenol  A (BPA) and other bisphenols: in hard plastic polycarbonates 
  • Polyvinyl chloride (PVC): in cling film and some children’s lunch boxes
  • Polyethylene terephthalate (PET): used in plastic bottles containing drink or food - do not re-use or heat

How to avoid:

  • Avoid plastic bottled drinks
  • Opt for tap water or use stainless steel bottles
  • Don’t allow drinks in PET containers to become warm for prolonged periods
  • Discard old plastic plates, beakers, cups and cutlery.
  • Do not reuse, refill or heat plastics (containing food or drink) labelled recycling code 7 (various plastics, which may contain BPA), code 3 (PVC, which may release potentially harmful plasticisers or vinyl chloride) or code 1 (PET, which may leach antimony)

Fresh food and confectionary

Watch out for:

  • Pesticides: on non-organic fruit and veg
  • Parabens: used in confectionery

How to avoid:

  • Choose organic and locally grown products
  • Avoid confectionery containing E214, E215, E218 and E219

Tinned Food

Watch out for:

  • Bisphenol A (BPA) or other bisphenols: used in resins to line tin cans

How to avoid:

  • Opt for fresh not tinned food
  • Source tins labelled BPA-free

Garden Sprays

Watch out for:

  • Insecticides, herbicides and fungicides: used to treat garden and household plants

How to avoid:

  • Go organic in the garden
  • Avoid using insecticides, fungicides and herbicides
  • Remove or deter garden and household pests by other methods, such as mesh netting and biological pest control for glasshouses and some outdoor plants 

Household cleaners

Watch out for:

  • Triclosan / Microban: used in chopping boards, jay cloths and washing up liquid
  • Phthalates (“fragrance” or “parfum”): used in cleaners and dishwashing liquids and air fresheners
  • Synthetic musks: used in washing powders, detergents, air fresheners

How to avoid:

  • Regular cleaning with hot soap and water is sufficient for good household hygiene
  • Avoid unnecessary use of antimicrobials - these can kill beneficial bacteria too
  • Use citric acid based cleaners and avoid scented washing agents

Soft furnishings and other household items

Watch out for:

  • "Organic" flame retardants (brominated, organophosphorus or chlorinated flame retardants) are used as flame retardants in furniture, carpets, and other soft furnishings

How to avoid:

  • Choose  less flammable materials such as leather, wool and cotton for home furnishings. If listed, avoid brominated, chlorinated or organophosphorus flame retardants (e.g. TBBPA: tetrabromobisphenol A, TDCPP: tris(1,3, dichloro-2-propyl) phosphate

A-Z of harmful chemicals >>

Page last updated November 1, 2017

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