Common ingredient in sunscreen the “asbestos of the future?”

I recently read about a new Swiss study claiming that the ingredient titanium dioxide (TiO2) nanoparticles — widely used as a white pigment in sunscreen, toothpaste and cosmetics — provokes similar inflammatory effects on the lungs as asbestos. Yes, that asbestos. The stuff that can cause serious illnesses, “including malignant lung cancer, mesothelioma (a formerly rare cancer strongly associated with exposure to amphibole asbestos), and asbestosis (a type of pneumoconiosis).”

According to Jürg Tschopp, the lead researcher and professor of biochemistry at Lausanne University, “With titanium dioxide you accumulate, like asbestos, particles in the lung. You get chronic inflammation and this can last ten or 15 years and the next step is cancer.” Tschopp is concerned that nanoparticles could be the “asbestos of the future.” However, he also admitted in his findings that he would not immediately stop using sunscreen and toothpaste, but believes more caution and regulation are needed.

This begs the question: do you take the risk of avoiding sunscreen and exposing your skin to cancer-causing ultraviolet rays or do you use the sunscreen and risk the exposure to chemicals that may give you cancer anyway?

Huma Khamis of the consumer association of western Switzerland calls the sunscreen dilemma “a big problem,” but states “the immediate risks of not using cream [sunscreen] and sunbathing are greater than those of exposure to products containing titanium dioxide nanoparticles.”

Yet this isn’t the first time an ingredient in sunscreen has been called into question. I wrote about the chemical oxybenzone nearly three years ago. Oxybenzone — one of the commonly used ingredients in most sunscreens — has been linked to allergies, hormone disruption, and cell damage. It is also a “penetration enhancer, a chemical that helps other chemicals penetrate the skin.”

The primary sunscreen I’ve been using on my kids for the past several years — California Baby — does not contain oxybenzone and even tested quite well on the Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep Cosmetics Safety Database. However when I rechecked the ingredients I noticed titanium dioxide was listed; although it did not specify whether the TiO2 was the suspect nanoparticles or not. At first I freaked out thinking I’ve been putting something potentially cancer-causing on my kids, but after asking a few Twitter friends (@YourOrganicLife and @ErinEly) their opinion, I decided to contact the company directly. I received an automated response indicating that “California Baby utilizes coated micronized titanium dioxide (TiO2 for short) as the active ingredient for our sunscreens.” I believe that means it is not nanoparticles, but I’ve asked for clarification from California Baby just to be sure (and will update here when I hear back from them).

I do my best to make informed choices regarding my kids’ health and safety. However, I’m not a chemist or a physicist and I can’t test every chemical out there. I have to rely upon others (the government?) to test for X, Y, and Z’s chemical safety, but it seems all too often that chemicals are assumed to be safe until proven otherwise. I don’t like to think of my kids (or anyone’s children for that matter) being used as guinea pigs and I don’t think it’s too much to ask that products and chemicals are tested before they are available for mass consumption. Do you?

Where does this leave me? I’ll stick to trying to limit our exposure to the sun during peak hours for starters. I already tend to do that, but this is a good reminder to continue. I may avoid sunscreen containing titanium dioxide all together and only purchase sunscreen in which zinc oxide is the active ingredient. (Badger makes a good one that I’ve used on my kids in the past.) Of course, we’ll continue to wear our hats and sunglasses — the kids’ eye doctor just reminded me about how important that is — as much as possible outdoors. Another thing I plan to do is buy some sun-protective swimwear for when summer rolls around again. The less exposed skin, the better.

Lastly, I will hope that testing will continue on the various chemicals in sunscreen, cosmetics and everything else we rely on both for ourselves and our children on a regular basis. I will sign petitions. I will blog. I will raise awareness.

Safe Sun Tips

  • Minimize sun exposure between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. when the greatest amount of ultraviolet light exists.
  • Wear Hats. Each inch of hat brim can lower your lifetime risk of skin cancer by 10%. A hat brim of four inches or greater is recommended.
  • Wear UV-blocking clothing.
  • Wear protective eyewear. Sunglasses with UV-blocking filters are very important.

Related links:

Photo credit: Flickr Noodle93

Cross-posted on BlogHer.

Don’t miss a single CDG post, subscribe to my blog.

BPA, its everywhere you don’t want it to be

This weekend as my friend Melissa was showing me her cool pressure canner and all of the foods she’s canned with it, we started talking about the presence of BPA in most store-bought canned goods. The presence of BPA (bisphenol-A) in canned goods is something I’ve known about for a while, but one of those things I try to ignore because I still buy a fair amount of our food in cans, including all of our beans (black, pinto, Great Northern, kidney, garbanzo, etc.), tomatoes, tuna, salmon and some soups.

After reading this NY Times op-ed piece, Chemicals in Our Food, and Bodies by Nicholas D. Kristof, I’m rethinking my canned good buying habits.

Consumer Reports magazine tested an array of brand-name canned foods for a report in its December issue and found BPA in almost all of them. The magazine says that relatively high levels turned up, for example, in Progresso vegetable soup, Campbell’s condensed chicken noodle soup, and Del Monte Blue Lake cut green beans.

The magazine also says it found BPA in the canned liquid version of Similac Advance infant formula (but not in the powdered version) and in canned Nestlé* Juicy Juice (but not in the juice boxes). The BPA in the food probably came from an interior coating used in many cans.

*Which you are already boycotting anyway, right? ;) No? Here’s the Nestle Boycott list.

What’s the problem with BPA?
It’s a synthetic estrogen (an endocrine disruptor) and has been linked to everything from childhood behavioral problems and breast cancer to obesity, infertility, and genital abnormalities, and possibly diabetes and heart disease as well. In other words, it’s a chemical you likely don’t want in your or your children’s bodies, yet “more than 92 percent of Americans have BPA in their urine.”

So sure, I’m buying mostly organic foods in those cans, but what good does it do us if the organic foods are chock full of BPA? Ugh.

Julie at Terminal Verbosity recently wrote about the new findings and has some suggestions on how you can reduce your BPA exposure.

  • Stop buying canned goods” – Use your crock pot to make beans or soups instead. Both generally freeze well.
  • Check your hard plastic food receptacles” – Or switch to glass food storage containers (I recently got a set at Costco for a under $40 I think.)
  • Beware plastic toys, especially teethers” – You’d think our children’s toys would be safe from this chemical, but nope, they’re not.

Julie has further information on these suggestions and links in her post.

The more I learn, the more I think I’m finally going to have to bite the bullet and start cooking my own beans and freezing them. I know it’s not hard (Tara @ Feels Like Home has tips in her post How To Prepare Dried Beans), it’s just one more thing that I don’t want to add to my list, however I think the health payoffs are definitely worth it. We’re exposed to enough harmful chemicals in our environment without having to eat them too.

Edited to add: If you’ve ever been concerned about possible lead leaching into your food from your crock pot, you’ll want to give this a read! Check out another post from Julie where she has several of the leading brands of crock pots tested for lead. (Spoiler alert: it’s good news!)

Don’t miss a single CDG post, subscribe to my blog.

Breastfeeding? Scheduled for a biopsy? Read this and pass it on.

Today I have a guest post from Tanya of Motherwear Breastfeeding Blog. She’s trying to spread the word about this valuable research and I’m happy to do my small part by passing it along to you. The original post is here and it is copied and pasted (with permission) below.

Picture this: You’re breastfeeding.  You notice a lump.  First maybe you think it’s a plugged duct.  But then it doesn’t go away, after many, many feedings.  You’re worried about it, so you make an appointment with your doctor, who doesn’t think it’s related to breastfeeding.  She sends you for a mammogram, but you’re told that you’ll have to have weaned for six months before the test can be done.  What do you do?*

I’ve mentioned before that I’m involved in a powerful research project based at the University of Massachusetts, and supported by the Love/Avon Army of Women breast cancer project.

I’d like to explain more about it now, and ask for your help in recruiting participants for it.

It’s probably news to most of us (it was to me) that when you make milk, cells from your milk ducts are exfoliated off in the process.  These are called epithelial cells, and they’re detectable in your milk.

Past research has demonstrated that long before we notice a lump, those epithelial cells start changing in ways that are precursors to the development of breast cancer.

Dr. Kathleen Arcaro, a UMass professor who studies breastfeeding and breast cancer risk wants to analyze those cells.  She’s been nice enough to visit a breastfeeding group I run, and answer questions about breastfeeding and breast cancer.

The primary goal of her research is to determine if it’s possible to create a non-invasive, early way of assessing our breast cancer risk through our breastmilk.  If it’s successful, it would also establish ‘molecular biomarkers’ for breast cancer risk.

An additional benefit to breastfeeding mothers is that we would not be told, as some are, to wean before a mammogram or biopsy can be done.  No more choosing between breastfeeding and a breast cancer test.  It could be as simple and sending in a milk sample to a lab!

In order to conduct this research, Dr. Kathleen Arcaro needs to find 250 women who are both lactating and scheduled for a biopsy.  To participate, you’d overnight milk samples to her lab, at no cost to you.

So if you, or someone you know, is both breastfeeding and scheduled for a biopsy, please ask them to email either me, Dr. Arcaro, or Dr. Sarah Lennington as soon as possible.  You can visit the project’s website to learn more.

If you write a blog or are in contact with lots of moms on a forum, please pass this link around!

And if you haven’t done it yet, register for the Love/Avon Army of Women.  You’ll join one million women volunteering to become part of a rich pool of women researchers can use to find the causes and prevention of breast cancer.  You can see other participating studies on the site.  Here’s a recent Today Show clip on the project.

* Mammograms can be done on lactating breasts, but they are viewed as less accurate than on non-lactating breasts.  Some doctors will do them, others require mothers to wean first.  Some send mothers for ultrasounds.