The Surprising and Dangerous Link Between BPA and Beauty Products

A recent study found that when people use a hand sanitizer and then handle BPA coated paper, the amount of BPA absorbed through the skin skyrockets.

Even if you don’t know what BPA is, intuitively you’re probably thinking, that’s not good…

…and you’re right! But let’s look at why.

What is BPA?

Infamous for its prevalence in both reusable and disposable water bottles, BPA or Bisphenol-A is a chemical used to make most hard plastics and epoxy resins that coat aluminum cans and other household items.

For years activists have pushed for BPA-free plastic in food containers, water bottles and children’s toys. They’ve been somewhat successful and although BPA is still widely used, there’s usually an alternative to choose from (unfortunately new studies point to similar problems in the alternatives).

But even if we’re aware of BPA in plastic, we never hear about BPA in paper–specifically, as a coating on thermal paper–which, as little as you hear about it, is still nearly as ubiquitous as plastic.

Every time you get a receipt–at the grocery store, the ATM, the gas station–that receipt is most likely printed on thermal paper, and accordingly, most likely coated in BPA.

How many times a week do you handle one of these?

  • Grocery store receipts
  • ATM slips
  • Gas station receipts
  • Movie tickets
  • Airline tickets
  • Shipping labels
  • Prescription drug labels

Now, imagine if you work at a cash register or a movie theater where your entire job was handling these little slips of noxious paper.

That’s a significant toxic load!

Ok, so BPA is everywhere but why is that bad?

Well, along with many other common industrial chemicals, BPA is what’s known as an endocrine disruptor.

Specifically, it acts a lot like the hormone estrogen in your system and can confuse or even block the routine production, metabolism and function of important naturally-occurring estrogen.

This can lead to:

  • Obesity
  • Diabetes
  • Heart problems
  • Infertility
  • Early onset puberty
  • Cancer
  • Irregular thyroid, liver, kidney function
  • Compromised immune system

That’s right  – the BPA in your airline ticket could make you fat or give you cancer!

There’s not a lot of media attention on this thermal-paper-as-cancer-delivery-system link, and that’s mainly because the normal transfer of BPA from paper to skin was thought to be minimal. However, new research suggests that some widely used, everyday products are increasing that risk considerably.

Here’s the rub–hand lotions, sunscreens and hand sanitizers make it worse.

Although porous, the lipid and keratin proteins in our skin are pretty good at keeping things out. We’re naturally water resistant!

So, to make the skin more receptive to additives, beauty products also contain chemicals that increase absorption.

Companies use “dermal penetration enhancers” to break down lipids and keratin and allow the mixtures to sink into our tissue.  There are natural dermal penetration enhancers, like nut and olive oils, and not so natural ones.

The problem is, the skin can’t choose which substances to let in and which to keep out. Once the skin proteins are compromised, it opens the floodgates for a lot more problematic substances–namely, in this case, BPA.

How can I protect myself?

Well, first off, don’t use hand sanitizers. Studies have shown that soap and water does a great job of protecting against pathogens without killing all the good bacteria that our bodies need. (For more on this and other good reasons not to be a germ-a-phobe, get our free E-Book on Strengthening Your Child’s Immune System.)

If you’re a cashier, ticket-taker, or package-mailing fanatic, or if you’re planning on going through your receipts to balance your budget, wear gloves.

Try to moisturize before bed or only when you know you won’t be handling any thermal paper for at least a few hours.

Limit the time you hold any receipt or ticket in your hand. Put them away and then wear gloves to sort through them if you’re trying to budget.

Don’t eat directly after handling thermal paper. If you must eat fast food, forgo the receipt at the counter or drive-thru or wash your hands before sitting down.