A pilot study, commissioned by Breast Cancer UK, found that five out of five face creams contain endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs) which have oestrogenic activity, and so may be capable of mimicking natural oestrogen in our bodies
The research found that all five anti-ageing creams had oestrogenic activity when tested in an ‘E-SCREEN assay’, designed to test whether compounds show activity similar to that associated with natural oestrogen.In the assay, diluted extracts of the creams are added to breast cancer cells growing in cell culture, and their ability to proliferate is monitored. Extracts from each of the creams tested caused an increase in multiplication of breast cancer cells, so are described as having oestrogenic activity.
Oestrogen exposure throughout a woman’s life has been identified as a major risk factor for the development of breast cancer. Oestrogen is a main determinant of the development of the mammary gland from puberty and throughout adult life. The oestrogenic activity of these creams raises concerns about the cumulative effects arising from regular small exposures to our skin. Cosmetics and beauty products are something many of us continually apply to our bodies over a lifetime.
The research did not identify which of the chemicals were responsible for the oestrogenic activity, but it is likely to be a result of several. Chemical analysis of the extracts, using gas chromatography and mass spectrometry, revealed the presence of numerous EDCs, some of them not included on the ingredient list.
Professor Ana Soto of Tufts University School of Medicine who led the research project explains why the findings are concerning: "This finding is disturbing because all exposures matter. Each small exposure adds to the other exposures and to the oestrogens our bodies produce, the same way that pennies add up to pounds.
“This is significant because the lifetime risk of one woman to be diagnosed with breast cancer was 1:22 in our mothers’ generation, and it is now 1:8 or 1:7 in countries of the first world. This increase occurred too rapidly to be attributed to our genes. It must be due, instead, to changes in our environment. The introduction of chemicals endowed with hormonal activity is a new phenomenon that could explain the increase."
Commenting on the findings, Lynn Ladbrook, CEO at Breast Cancer UK, said: “This research raises important questions about the potential long-term health effects of using the many and varied cosmetics, creams and potions many of us use on a daily basis.
“More research is needed to help us understand the oestrogenic properties of ingredients used in cosmetics and beauty products. These findings add to the growing body of evidence on EDCs and support concerns that exposure to these types of chemicals may be increasing our risk of diseases such as asthma, obesity, infertility and cancers, including breast cancer.”
Breast Cancer UK is calling for:
● More research to be carried out into the safety of using EDCs in cosmetics and beauty products
● Stricter regulation of potentially hazardous chemicals including endocrine disrupting chemicals used in everyday products, from household cleaners to scented candles, which may be linked to health problems.