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Will cosmetic use ever make the top six ‘this’ll give you cancer’ list?

September 20, 2015

So the first ‘news’ story I read this morning was this: “Healthier lifestyles could cut cancer cases by a third“.

My immediate response was to say ‘well, duh, of course…..’ but then I scrolled down the page and found an earlier story on the same topic, a headline with a statistic.  I immediately became more interested (nerd).  The headline back in 2011 was “over 40% of cancers due to lifestyle“.  That got my attention and I clicked through.

I was immediately drawn to this image:

cancer causes top six men and women

And after taking it in for a moment and mentally trying to calculate my odds in the cancer lottery a thought came into my head:

Will ‘cosmetic use’ even make the top 6 of things that cause cancer?

After a couple of hours ‘googling’ things like ‘carcinogenic cosmetic ingredients’ and ‘safe cosmetics’ you would be forgiven for thinking that wearing cosmetics should be up there but they are not.

Those of you who read my blog regularly will appreciate that I’m not a shallow thinker and that I say these things while acknowledging the sometimes negative contribution cosmetic ingredient manufacture, distribution and use make to the health of the environment. I also acknowledge the variety of  potential risks presented by cosmetics (from allergens to trace impurities to poor performance and efficacy to excellent efficacy that leaves the skin more vulnerable to environmental impact). BUT even with all that taken into account we are still far from seeing cosmetic products making it into the top 6 or even top 10 or 20 or possibly 50 list of things that can trigger or give us cancer.

Which begs the question ‘why do people care about the ingredients that are in cosmetics so much?’

For me this is a no-brainer.  We all want to feel a connection with the products that we buy and use, especially those which we ‘become’ – cosmetics, food, drink.  We don’t ‘become’ cosmetics in the same way as we ‘become’ food or drink – it isn’t a ‘you are what you eat’ scenario but we do become enveloped or dressed in cosmetics products to a much greater extent that we do with say shoes, underwear, our cars or even our earrings.  No matter how many times I explain to people how the skin works and how hard it is (impossible really) to get a cosmetic to penetrate wholly into the skin people still wonder where their moisturiser has gone when after applying it with a bit of a gentle rub it ‘disappears’.  It is no wonder that people feel the skin needs ‘feeding’ or that the skin ‘drinks up’ their cosmetics even if it doesn’t.

But while many of us ‘feel’ that cosmetics nourish us from the outside in we would never be accused of thinking that our cosmetics could make us fat or drunk, spike our blood sugars or cholesterol, give us indigestion or a caffeine hang-over.  This is in stark contrast to many of our favourite foods THAT WE EAT – did you notice that ‘fruit and veggie consumption or lack of’ did make the top 6?

So I feel that one reason we have become obsessed with the carcinogenic potential of the ingredients that go into our cosmetics is because they allow us to indulge in some very tasty treats without any of the down sides – no extra Kg or CM’s.  Double Coffee Latte scrub anyone?  Oh and of course they will leave us looking fabulous….

But that’s probably not the only reason for our ingredient obsession.  There are many people who want to do all that they can to keep the planet clean and wish to support green chemistry and sustainability as part of that. The carcinogen issue then becomes more of an environmental risk reduction strategy ‘take the pollutants out of the cycle – the air and water’ rather than it purely being about a direct risk.  It is this sort of mindset that is changing the cosmetic chemical industry for the better and moving this non-essential industry in a healthier direction (carcinogen wise).

Cleaner manufacturing practices equals cleaner cosmetic ingredients equals lower environmental pollution equals lower cancer risk.  There are some parts of China where cancer rates have rocketed over the past few years due to the pollutants being pumped into the atmosphere by dirty manufacturing practices.  I am grateful that here in Australia (and wherever the above stats were taken) that isn’t featuring as one of the top 6 problems.

And are there any other reasons why people prioritise worrying over potential carcinogens in their cosmetics?

Well lastly I think that we all like to tackle the ‘low hanging fruit’ first.  You know, the easy issues that don’t require so much brain power, commitment and ‘change’.  Let’s face it, if you are a smoker it is going to be a heck of a lot easier popping to the shop and buying an organic anti-ageing cream than it will be to ditch the cigarets. Same goes for changing our diet or our job for those in high risk occupations.

For me the bottom line is that while cosmetics are unlikely to ever feature as a leading cause of cancer they will remain under the spotlight and will continue to be pushed to be greener and cleaner and to be honest, that isn’t such a bad thing and you never know, it might just be the small step that some people need to go on and over-haul their whole life for the better.

We, as industry professionals should salute that.

Amanda x

PS: Exposure to sun and sun beds did make the top 6 so I’d be prioritising wearing sunscreen.








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