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Unrecognized Cancer and Hormonal Risks of Avon Products

Chairman of the Cancer Prevention Coalition, Dr. Samuel Epstein, is warning women that toxic ingredients in Avon Products put users at risk of cancer and hormonal changes. For this reason, Dr. Epstein is urging the National Cancer Institute to terminate plans for a joint project with Avon until the company reformulates its products to replace all toxic ingredients with safe alternatives. A class of ingredients in Avon products, parabens, has been shown to stimulate the growth of breast cancer cells in laboratory tests and parabens have been identified as possible causes of breast cancer, Dr. Epstein points out. Used as preservatives, parabens mimic the hormone estrogen, which is known to play a role in the development of breast cancers. Dr. Epstein is concerned about cancer-causing ingredients in all cosmetics and personal care products, but he is particularly concerned about Avon Products because of a newly announced collaboration with the National Cancer Institute, a U.S. government agency. In August 2009, the National Cancer Institute's (NCI) Cancer Biomedical Informatics Grid (caBIG) and the Love/Avon Army of Women announced that they intend to collaborate. Their objective is to develop a computerized initiative to recruit and study women in order to improve the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of breast cancer. Dr. Epstein acknowledges that this is an "important and worthy objective." Dr. Susan Love is a well-known and leading national breast cancer surgeon. The Avon Foundation is a non-profit organization of Avon Products, a leading global beauty company. Avon is the world's largest direct seller and markets to women in over 100 countries through independent sales representatives. Relating to a prominent advertisement by Avon Products in a November 2008 issue of The New York Times, Dr. Epstein identified a wide range of toxic ingredients in their products:

Benzophenone-1 (hormonal and penetration enhancer) in Nail Experts Nail Brightener. Methylparaben (hormonal), ethylparaben (hormonal), and imidazolidinyl urea (cancer precursor) in Wash-Off Waterproof Mascara. Ceteareth-20 (cancer precursor), and disodium EDTA (penetration enhancer) in Advance Techniques Body Building Conditioner. PEG-80 sorbitan laurate, and PEG-10 rapeseed sterol (cancer precursors) in Anew Beauty Youth-Awakening Lipstick. "I communicated these disturbing concerns to Avon's chief scientific officer. However, she responded dismissively," Dr. Epstein said. Dr. Epstein then informed Dr. Love of these concerns. She replied reassuringly, but non-responsively, to the effect that this information "could be used for future research by Love/Avon." However, and of major concern, says Dr. Epstein, is persuasive evidence that has accumulated over the last decade, that parabens are readily absorbed through the skin, and that they pose powerful hormonal or estrogenic effects even at very low concentrations. Parabens have shown to be readily absorbed through the skin of immature female rodents, and to stimulate premature uterine growth, Dr. Epstein observes. Parabens have also been shown to stimulate the growth of breast cancer cells in laboratory tests, and incriminated as possible causes of breast cancer, he warns. Dr. Epstein stresses that parabens are the commonest of all ingredients in cosmetics and personal care products. "As disturbingly, it has been estimated that women are exposed to high levels, as much as 50 milligrams of parabens daily, from cosmetics and personal care products," he points out. An article in the September 10, 2009 issue of the Journal of Clinical Oncology, indicates that breast cancer patients may unknowingly be dosing themselves with estrogen by using topical moisturizers. The researchers report that the estrogenically active substances found in laboratory tests of 16 moisturizers were not mentioned in the product ingredient lists. The moisturizers tested were not identified by brand name. Of additional and generally unrecognized concern is that other ingredients in Avon products, benzophenone, and EDTA, are "penetration enhancers." These facilitate their own absorption, and that of other toxic ingredients in any product, deeply through the skin. Based on these considerations, Dr. Epstein is urging the National Cancer Institute to "insist that Avon reformulate its products to phase out all toxic ingredients and replace them by safe alternatives" before proceeding with the computerized initiative to recruit and study women to improve breast cancer prevention, diagnosis, and treatment. If Avon is unwilling to do this, the NCI should terminate its relationship with the Love/Avon initiative, Dr. Epstein says. The Cancer Prevention Coalition has written to Dr. John E. Niederhuber, the director of the National Cancer Institute, detailing and warning of the risk of cancer, and other risks of Avon cosmetics and personal care products. Dr. Epstein says products containing these toxic ingredients could be subject to the Food and Drug Administration's Black Box warning as required by the 1938 Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act.

Samuel S. Epstein, M.D. is professor emeritus of Environmental and Occupational Medicine at the University of Illinois at Chicago School of Public Health; Chairman of the Cancer Prevention Coalition; The Albert Schweitzer Golden Grand Medalist for International Contributions to Cancer Prevention; and author of over 200 scientific articles and 15 books on the causes and prevention of cancer, including the groundbreaking The Politics of Cancer (1979), and Toxic Beauty (2009).

To read Dr. Epstein's columns in the Huffington Post, go to:

Samuel S. Epstein, M.D.
Chairman, Cancer Prevention Coalition
Professor emeritus Environmental & Occupational Medicine University of Illinois at Chicago School of Public Health
Tel: 312-996-2297

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