27 March 2006

The Cancer Post

What's in your shampoo?

Have you ever thought about it? Do you care? Maybe you should.

I've been thinking about it a lot lately. My hairdresser has told me to avoid shampoos with certain ingredients because they will ruin my hair. She is concerned with companies that add waxes that purport to make your hair shiny, but over time just weigh it down and make it look gross and dirty all the time. But I've become concerned about something a lot more serious and frightening.


Do you know what they are? I don't just mean, "Do you know that a carcinogen is any substance or agent that promotes cancer?" (Wikipedia) I mean, can you name one or two or five?

Some carcinogens occur naturally in the ecosystem. Others are man-made. I've become worried about the latter.

This concern started with an interview on CBC Radio One's The Current. Wendy Mesley, a CBC reporter, was diagnosed with cancer, and she started a crusade (of sorts) to discover why cancer is on the rise. You can listen to the piece here (realplayer required).

She discovered that 50% of the population is at risk of getting cancer. People are getting more and more of the types of cancer associated with exposure to carcinogens as opposed to body-breaking-down, old-cells-mutating cancers with which we've been familiar for decades.

To avoid repeating everything that ended up in her TV documentary, take a look for yourself. While the report itself was extremely manipulative in its presentation, and limited in scope, she presents a lot of good information that is worth exploring further.

  • She reveals her own bloodwork for a tox screen.
  • She looks at the politics behind cancer prevention and treatment.
  • The site lists some other cancer-related stories covered on Marketplace.

It also lists some of the known carcinogens that are found in everyday household and personal care products.

If you want to know whether something in your shampoo or moisturizer or laundry detergent is a carcinogen, look it up on Google. For example, I looked up "formaldehyde carcinogen" and found this site that says: "While the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has ranked formaldehyde a 'probable' human carcinogen, the World Health Organization recently upgraded its classification to 'known,' concluding that formaldehyde 'is carcinogenic to humans.'"

So, what has formaldelhyde in it? Well, that's what puts the "magic" in Mr. Clean's Magic Eraser for starters. According to the above website, it can cause "nasopharyngeal cancer and may also be linked to cancer of the nose and throat in humans." Sounds like fun. What's especially great is that the ads for this product specifically point to all it's great uses on the messes that kids make -- like crayon moreks on walls and furniture -- without mentioning that the toxic substance it contains is most harmful to developing children.

Pets aren't exempt either: "Test animals exposed to formaldehyde fumes have developed nasal cancer." So, Muffy and Rover are also at risk if you plan on using these products around them.

What is most frustrating is that most companies that use known or suspected carcinogens are well aware of that fact. They continue to do so thinking that we'd rather have "cheap" products than "safe" products. They're probably right. But without regulation, very few companies are going to change practices that take time and cut into profits to develop -- even though, in many cases, they known how to reformulate since natural formulas are often used in R&D and then synthesized to lower costs and recoup expenses faster.

And until someone launches a lawsuit that proves the link, a chemical is considered "safe". Instead of requiring testing (as we now do for pharmaceuticals -- whether the testing is effective is an argument for another day) to prove a chemical is dangerous, we assume it's safe until people start dying.

Do I really need to point out how backwards this is?

There are lots of alternatives out there. You may need to clean the tub more often, or give up the luxury of glaringly WHITE whites, but many natural products are as effective as their chemical alternatives. Home remedies are often a lot less expensive (baking soda+vinegar=Liquid Plumbr), but the store-bought natural products can be quite pricey.

Loblaws and affiliates tend to carry natural household products in the organic sections of their stores. This site lists some uses for natural, common household items, plus some naturally-formulated products you can buy. And this one has information about what's in some common products, plus some for sale.

I recently bought some all-natural dish and dishwasher detergents. I'll admit that I haven't tried them yet, and the price was hard to swallow (about double what the brand names cost), but I'm starting to think it's worth it. I'm not really in the mood to live with or die from cancer. I'm not in the mood to raise kids to expect that fate, and I'm starting to really believe in leaving the world a better place than I came into it. And if $4 extra every 3 months for dish soap is going to help, hell, sign me up.

E-mail the PM, the Environment Minister and the Health Minister with your concerns. They all require that you provide them with proof that you're a real person (name, address, etc.) if you want a response. You can also contact your local MP.


Me said...

Nothing is safe anymore. We should all just look ourselves in our apartments and throw all the cleaning supplies out the window.

I'm not surprised though...and I'm sure if you went through a list of perservatives in our food that you would also find that they also cause cancer too. It's a scary, scary world!

Dr. Weezie said...

Me's comment is a natural and common reaction to news about hidden carcinogens. (It was mine too, a few years back when I started reading up on healthy eating and alternative cleaning products. It still happens to me if I read a particularly insidious new factoid.)

And when Minako says it's a free-for-all until somebody actually funds a test to "prove" something causes cancer, that's not even the half of it. Known carcinogens can STILL be legally added to things if they're beneath a "safe amount." What they don't have to consider is how many "safe amounts" of that carcinogen we're getting per day from OTHER products. Manufacturers leave US to do the math, trusting that we won't bother.

But it's not QUITE true that "nothing is safe anymore." There are lots of POSITIVE findings, too. Drink organic loose-leaf green tea every day, for instance (as per Cancer Society recommendations), and you can counter-act some of the free radicals caused by carcinogens. Wash your veggies with pesticide-cutting soap (or buy organic). Eat things lower on the food chain (more grains/fruit/veggies - less meat) to avoid high concentrations of contaminants. Drink plenty of (filtered) water, which "covers over a multitude of sins." Exercise (- for whatever reason, it's a known cancer preventative)! And read labels ... if you can't pronounce any of the ingredients, chances are THEY'RE NOT FOOD! It's hard to make the switch to pronounceable eating, but it's far from impossible. As for cleaning products? I have four words for you: baking soda and vinegar. And don't despair; it's not all-or-nothing. A few better choices is better than no choices at all.