Reduce your risk

Chemicals and environment

Chemicals with links to breast cancer

There are many chemicals in your environment that can influence your risk of getting breast cancer. Some of these cause cancer by damaging your DNA – these are known as carcinogens. Others affect your hormone system and are known as Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals (EDCs). These can be found in everyday products such as cosmetics, cleaning sprays and even furniture. EDCs interfere with the normal functioning of your hormones. In particular, those that interfere with the natural hormone oestrogen may increase your breast cancer risk. For more details see our further reading on EDCs.

Try to be cautious when it comes to potentially harmful chemicals and cut down your exposure whenever you can, to reduce the overall chemical burden on your body.

Cosmetics and beauty products  What you can do

Cosmetics and beauty products 

In cosmetics, endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs) are often used to prolong shelf life. They’re also used as fragrances or solvents. Many don’t add to the effectiveness of the product. EDCs can be found in a wide range of cosmetics including:

    • Shampoos and hair care products
    • Face creams
    • Make up
    • Shower gels

Read our guide to EDCs and see our Ditch the Junk leaflet on chemicals in cosmetics. Worried about how these chemicals can end up in consumer products? Check out what we are doing to campaign against them.

What you can do

Be aware of what you’re buying.  Don’t presume labels such as ‘Natural’, ‘Chemical-free’ or ‘Green’ are free from endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs). Whenever possible try to:

  • Check ingredients lists on product labels against our A to Z Chemicals of Concern list.
  • Use fewer products, less often.
  • Use fragrance free products or those which don’t contain “Parfum” or “Perfume”. These very often contain EDCs.
  • Buy organic beauty products as these are less likely to include ingredients on our list.
  • Buy products free from parabens and phthalates or check they are absent from the ingredients list.  
  • Make your own  you can make your own cosmetics using readily available natural ingredients such as coconut oil, shea butter, lemon, olive oil and oats.  Check out some of our recipe videos on our youtube channel.
Cleaning products   What you can do

Cleaning products  

Some household cleaning products contain EDCs which may be linked to breast cancer. These can be anything from detergents to cleaning sprays. Using these products could increase your exposure to EDCs, either by inhaling them, or getting them on your skin.

Look to avoid products containing them and be aware of what ingredients normal household products contain.

What you can do

  • Use fewer cleaning products in smaller amounts and less often.  Regular cleaning with hot soap and water is normally enough for good household hygiene.
  • Avoid household products with antimicrobial compounds such as triclosan or triclocarban.
  • Clean your home frequently to reduce the build-up of dust, which may contain chemicals from other sources.
  • Vacuum and damp dust regularly and avoid using chemical sprays to remove household dust.
  • Check labels and choose products less likely to contain harmful chemicals on our A to Z Chemicals of Concern list.
  • Choose products with official organic accreditation from organisations such as the Soil Association, which are more likely to be EDC-free.
  • Choose fragrance-free or naturally fragranced products such as essential oils and products without synthetic fragrances containing for example phthalates or synthetic musks such as tonalide.
  • Make your own Many websites have suggestions on how to make your own cleaning products. Many common store-cupboard ingredients can be used alone, or in combination, for a range of household applications. Most cleaning projects can be tackled with nothing more than vinegar, baking soda, soap, and water.
Household items What you can do

Household items

Your home may be a source of many potentially harmful chemicals, from flame retardants in your furniture or carpets, to non-stick compounds and plasticisers in the plastic cookware you use in the kitchen.

Flame retardants

These are chemicals used in consumer and industrial products to help prevent fires starting or to delay their spread. Some flame retardants pose a risk to human health . They include brominated flame retardants (BFRs), chlorinated flame retardants, and organophosphorus flame retardants. Compared to the rest of the EU, the UK has the highest recorded levels of flame retardants in human body fluids and breast milk. Flame retardants can often be found in:

  • Electronics such as circuit boards, computers, and TVs.
  • Furniture and furnishings such as furniture foam, mattresses, wood, and carpets.
  • Clothing including children’s clothing, sportswear, and outdoor clothing.
  • Building materials including cable coatings, and insulation cladding.
  • Vehicles including car seats, interiors, and bumper bars.
  • Firefighting foam which often includes certain types of PFAS (poly- and perfluoro alkyl substances).

Further reading on flame retardants.

Non-stick, stain, and water-repellent products

PFAS are chemicals used in non-stick cookware (like Teflon), in food packaging, and as stain repellents in carpets and textiles. Certain PFAS are classified as “possibly carcinogenic” by the International Agency for Cancer Research and have been linked to many other health problems.

Plastics

Not all plastics contain potentially harmful chemicals, however some contain EDCs. They may be used in plastics production, or as plasticisers which are added later to make plastics soft. Examples include BPA and other bisphenols such as: BPS – used to make polycarbonate plastic, resins that line metal cans, CDs and thermal till receipts; and phthalates – used as plasticisers in PVC.

What you can do

Flame retardants and PFAS

  • Avoid products with brominated, organophosphorus or chlorinated flame retardants. These are commonly found in new furniture, carpets, and other soft furnishings.
  • Choose less flammable materials such as wool and cotton for home furnishings. These are less likely to contain harmful flame retardants.
  • Skip optional stain-repellent treatment on new carpets and furniture, which may includ PFAS. If possible, opt for natural floor coverings such as wood, cork or ceramic tiles that contain fewer harmful chemicals.
  • Avoid buying plywood furniture as it may contain formaldehyde, a carcinogen.
  • Air all newly-bought furniture.

Plastic containers and cookware

  • Choose plastics labelled recycling code 2, 4 or 5and avoid plastic containers labelled recycling code 7 or 3. These may contain BPA, or other bisphenols. They may release potentially harmful phthalates or vinyl chloride into food or drink. Better still, use stainless steel bottles.
  • Don’t allow PET bottles to get warm for long periods as they may release antimony (a metalloestrogen).  These can be identified as recycling code 1.
  • Avoid storing food in plastic containers, or using cling film. Use glass, ceramic, or stainless steel for food and drinks storage and microwaving.
  • Microwave food in ceramics or ovenproof glass dishes and use ceramic or glass lids to cover your food when you heat it, instead of cling film.
  • Opt for wooden or metal (not plastic) eating and cooking utensils.
  • Use food grade stainless steel boxes for packed lunches and bottles for drinking.
  • Avoid cookware which is coated in a non-stick coating, such as, Teflon (a type of PFAS which are EDCs). Use stainless steel and cast iron cookware instead.

Clothing

  • Avoid treated clothing if you can. Those treated with anti-bacterial compounds, non-stick coatings, or flame retardants could contain harmful chemicals. And children are especially vulnerable. 
  • Source organic cotton if possible. It’s likely to contain fewer harmful chemicals such as pesticide.
Air pollution What you can do

Air pollution

There is increasing evidence that exposure to high levels of polluted air may increase breast cancer risk.

Early exposures during pregnancy, infancy and teenage years may be especially harmful. Sources of outdoor air pollution include road traffic, industry and farming activities.

Small particles from building fibres, biological contaminants and chemical contaminants from tobacco smoke, household items and cleaning products may all contribute to polluted indoor air.

Further reading on air pollution.

What you can do

Reduce your exposure to air pollution by cutting down on your use of pesticides and cleaning products that contain harmful ingredients.

  • Avoid use of garden pesticides which often contain harmful ingredients that may be EDCs. Use organic solutions if possible. See here for some suggestions.
  • Limit outdoor physical exertion on high air pollution days or near sources of heavy air pollution.
  • Don’t smoke indoors – better still give up entirely.
  • Always work in a well vented environment.
  • Vacuum regularly and keep your home aired and dusted to help remove pollutants from inside your home.
  • Avoid synthetic fragrances, scented candles, air fresheners and perfumed cleaning products as some contain EDCs which can have an impact on your health. Use house plants as natural air detoxifiers, and fresh flowers or herbs for scent.
  • Avoid new carpets or furniture that contain harmful chemicals. These include biocides, waterproof sprays and organic flame retardants (see our Household Items tips above).
  • Properly maintain appliances such as boilers, stoves, and fires that burn fuel of any kind.
  • Choose less flammable materials. These include wool and cotton for home furnishings which are unlikely to contain and release flame retardants.
  • Avoid synthetic fragrances. These may be used in air fresheners and other sprays.

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