A is for Arsenic

Arsenic is a known carcinogen.

Carcinogens are bad. Period.

Agreed? We don't want them at all, do we? Not even the slightest hint of carcinogenic exposure!

Let's remove them from every product we may use, consume, or otherwise come into contact with. Let's obliterate them from the planet!

There, that's done.

Here are a few of the carcinogens that we've just destroyed and removed from our daily existence.

Let's start with the letter A

Since arsenic no longer with us, the all-time symbol of health and wholesome goodness – the apple – is also now gone.


Who would have thought that apples have a naturally occurring content of arsenic?

There are a few other things missing now as well:

Black pepper – a staple on every dinner table and in every kitchen – contains safrole. Safrole is a known carcinogen.

Coffee, tea, and cocoa all contain tannins. Tannins are known carcinogens.

Cinnamon, nutmeg and many other spices that many of us will be enjoying in baked goods in the coming Christmas season all contain safrole.

While We're at It

On the American Cancer Society's website is a very long list of known carcinogens. Here are just a few of them:
  • Alcoholic beverages
  • Diesel engine exhaust
  • Coke production 
  • Leather dust
  • Mineral oils, untreated or mildly treated 
  • Outdoor air pollution 
  • Salted fish – Chinese style 
  • Wood dust

And there are a few probable carcinogens from the same page
  • Frying: emissions from high temperature
  • Hairdresser or barber (workplace exposure)
  • Petroleum refining (workplace exposure)
  • Shiftwork that involves circadian disruption (see more here)
Find the complete list here 

My Carcinogenic Point

I'm not dismissing the need to address our exposure to carcinogens. I am merely calling for a bit of perspective.

In recent years there have been countless accusations directed at the cosmetics industry for 'putting toxins and carcinogens' in personal care products such as deodorant, creams and hair products.


The cosmetics industry is trying to kill off its customers while charging them for it?


I'm having a hard time seeing the sense in that.

In his comments on this blog post, cosmetic scientist Perry Romanowski recently wrote: 
"I agree we should limit carcinogen exposure – however the levels you get from cosmetic compounds are not significant enough to worry about."

Allow me to extract a few words from this comment: "Not significant enough to worry about."

Mr Romanowski isn't the only scientist saying this. Not by a long shot.

Now excuse me while I take a break and have a bite.

Find more about Apples and Arsenic

Wikipedia about arsenic
Food Safety Q & A about arsenic and apples
FDA on the safety of apple juice


Lorraine said…
Hi Lise,
I completely agree that we shouldn't blow things out of proportion and that we should use good science to make decisions (although sometimes I still think the customer is king and we just need to go with what consumers do and don't want).

Perry is right, I'm sure - any carcinogenic substances used in cosmetics will undoubtedly be present in such small quantities that they pose a very low risk when you apply that personal care product.

Nonetheless, the point many concerned consumers are making is this - what happens if you apply that tiny amount of carcinogen day in, day out, for years, decades, lifetimes? What happens when it works in conjunction with any carcinogens in foods, drinks, cleaning liquids, goods around the home? What happens when all of this is combined with environmental factors that can be carcinogenic, e.g. air pollution, water pollution, pesticides, etc.?

Admittedly there comes a point that you don't want to be terrified of the risk of using every single item around the house, but I think that consumers who make a lot of noise about 'toxic cosmetics' are essentially saying: "If I cut out these cosmetic chemicals which pose a risk of being carcinogenic and I cut them out of all other areas of my life too because there are alternatives which in my eyes pose less of a risk, then maybe, just maybe, I will be healthier and live longer". And I don't think there's anything wrong with that.

Because, as I've said before in other places, cosmetic chemists don't operate in a bubble - they are driven by what the market wants.
LisaLise said…
Thanks for your input Lorraine - I understand your point about compounding factors. It just seems to me that topical use cosmetics products have gotten far more 'scolding' in the media than any other areas.

Why, for example, are many of the very consumers complaining about toxicity of cosmetics quite happy to consume multiple questionable ingredients on a daily basis through overly processed food and drink?

Surely eating or drinking a questionable or possibly dangerous ingredient would have more impact on the body?

It's been far easier to jump on the 'toxic cosmetics' bandwagon and point fingers than to take a measured view of the situation. The problem: taking a measured view requires thought, study, reflection, research and a whole lot of time.

Try telling people that most of the parabens are safe and check the reaction you get. Everyone has been saturated with paraben misinformation for so long that the untruths are beginning to be perceived as truth.

Facts don't seem to count any more – headlines do. If the facts can't be explained in 2 easy sentences (or the equivalent of a snappy headline), then the point is drowned in attention-grabbing babble.

This is completely unacceptable. We are smarter than that - I know we are.
Lorraine said…
Hi, you are of course completely right - cosmetics have taken a much greater beating than many other products such as food and drink. Which given that certain chemicals don't even absorb into the skin is a bit silly really (I wrote a blog post on this recently which was met with surprise by quite a few people - http://www.herbhedgerow.co.uk/can-cosmetics-be-absorbed-into-your-bloodstream/).

Your comment made me chuckle actually because I'm currently halfway through writing a new blog on the fact that parabens are used so ubiquitously in our food and drink - I'll tweet you the link when I'm done. I suspect it will shock a lot of people who know nothing about food preservation!

I also agree that the media play a huge role in this. Particularly where I live (the UK), some of the newspapers are really only good for one thing - lining cat litter trays. They make stupid statements, share half truths and scare-monger. Then of course people go on the internet and find themselves surrounded by blogs written by people who haven't got a clue. :)
LisaLise said…
Hi Lorraine - I just checked out your blog post - great work! I look forward to your parabens in food post as well. :)