Toxic Talk and Labels

Smoking vs. Personal-Care Products-Is History Repeating Itself?

+ CV Skinlabs Team

We all know how much smoking contributes to cancer. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), among male cigarette smokers, the risk of lung cancer is more than 2,000 percent higher than among male nonsmokers; among women, 1,200 percent higher. Of the 514,000 cancer deaths expected to occur this year, about one-third are directly linked to cigarette smoking.

Staggering. It’s no doubt that if we could get rid of tobacco smoke, we would see a huge decline in cancer rates.

But what about the other two-thirds of cancer deaths? What’s causing them? According to the Cancer Prevention Coalition’s (CPC) letter to the congress (June 2009), non-smoking cancers-due to chemical and physical carcinogens-have increased substantially since 1975. Some of those carcinogens? Ingredients in personal-care products. Check out these stats:

• Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma is increasing by 76% due mostly to phenoxy herbicides and phenylenediamine hair dyes.
• Testicular cancer is increasing by 49% due to pesticides, hormonal ingredients in cosmetics and personal-care products, and estrogen residues in meats.
• Ovary cancer (mortality) for women over the age of 65 has increased by 47% in African American women and 13% in Caucasian women due to genital use of talc powder.
• Breast cancer increasing 17% due to a variety of factors, including estrogen replacement therapy and toxic hormonal ingredients in cosmetics and personal-care products.

The CPC recommends that congress direct “…relevant regulatory agencies to identify opportunities to reduce exposures to carcinogens in the environment, the workplace, pharmaceuticals, and consumer products-food, household products, and cosmetics and personal care products.”

Shelley R. Kramer, Los Angeles Local Office director of the Cancer Prevention Coalition, writes, “…there are striking and revealing differences between risks of smoking and those of cosmetics and personal care products. Smoking in the U.S….is increasingly restricted to lower socioeconomic groups, while the use of cosmetics and personal care products is population-wide. Moreover, smoking is uncommon prior to adolescence, while direct exposure to personal-care products commences in infancy when sensitivity to carcinogens is maximal….That consumers are unknowingly exposed to carcinogenic ingredients and contaminants in mainstream industry cosmetics, personal care products, food and household products, is unarguable.”

We haven’t yet managed to obtain nationwide regulation on the dangerous chemicals in personal-care products. It’s interesting to remember that years ago, the tobacco industry marketed cigarettes to the public, convincing them that smoking wouldn’t hurt them. Because of improved education and media coverage, most of us now know better-but the product is still being sold. It seems where there’s profit to be made, the health of the public comes second. Are we repeating history, and if so, how long before things change?

What do you think about the lack of regulation on the ingredients in personal-care products? Please share your thoughts.

Photo courtesy Tonino Donato via

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