Reduce your exposure to potentially harmful chemicals | Breast Cancer UK

Reduce your exposure to potentially harmful chemicals

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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