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Dawning Realisation

by Natalie Elliott |

Before 2016, I hadn’t ever stopped to consider the ingredient contents of the self-care and cosmetic products that I was using on my body every day. I was sucked in by the marketing prowess of the big brands and believed that I needed these products to make me look and feel like the best version of myself.

However, in 2016, two weeks before Christmas, my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer and there followed a dawning realisation for me.

One morning, I sat chatting to my mum in her bathroom, whilst she was getting ready for the day. She was a few months into radiation therapy, following a successful lumpectomy op. She was tired but optimistic. Even though all the treatment appeared to be a success so far, I could feel her fear. She was now very aware of the mental, emotional and physical toll that the big ‘C’ has on the human spirit. Every one of us is born with a degree of susceptibility towards cancers. My mother’s cancer was a hormone receptor-positive cancer; the oestrogen in her body helped the cancer to grow. Therefore, regulating the endocrine system and the balance of hormones was essential for my mother and others like her.

As we talked, I absentmindedly picked up her bottle of shampoo and flipped to the ingredients. So many. And such confusing language. What was it – Latin? 69 of them. 69 ingredients in one single 250ml bottle of shampoo. Many of them sounded like chemicals. But I had no clue what they were or why they were present in my mum’s shampoo.

Many of you will know that when you have faced the very real prospect of death with a close relative, you feel a certain level of protectiveness and concern for their wellbeing as they recover.

I googled one of the ominous sounding chemicals, ‘Methyl Paraben’. It appeared to be a preservative and sounded important enough to be in there. But then I froze. Methyl Paraben is a known endocrine disrupting chemical (EDC) and can be linked to an increased risk of breast canceriii. There were 69 ingredients in my mum’s shampoo alone. How many more of those ingredients were harmful? What harm were we inadvertently exposing our bodies to?

Fast forward to today and the big question is if there could be any link between the chemicals in our products and the illnesses and allergic reactions many people are experiencing.

i Dabre P. D. et al. (2014). Parabens can enable hallmarks and characteristics of cancer in human breast epithelial cells: a review of the literature with reference to new exposure data and regulatory status. Journal of Applied Toxicology, 34: 925-938. ii Lillo M. A., et al. (2016). Methyparaben stimulates tumour initiating cells in ER+ breast cancer models. Journal of Applied Toxicology, 37: 417-425.