As much as we try to keep an eye out for our favorite anti-aging ingredients (ie. matrixyl 3000, idebenone, syn-tacks), it is just as important to seek out parts to avoid (ie. BHT, sodium benzoate, phenoxyethanol). Nowadays, you'll find cosmetics companies touting all kinds of exclusions, from "paraben free" and "phthalate free" to "gluten free" and "mineral oil free." Based on the latest finding in a study conducted by Breastlink, you may one day see products with "estrogen free" on their labels as well.

Has it ever occurred to you how easily your body can absorb hormones through the skin? Why else would pharmaceutical manufacturers have latched onto the method of topical patches for delivering medications, most notably birth control? Dr. Adrienne Olson, a survivor of estrogen receptor-positive breast cancer (ER+ accounts for 75% of breast cancers), drew a connection between estrogen and the moisturizer she used to restore her chemotherapy-drained skin. Because estrogen helps maintain skin integrity and promote a "youthful appearance," she hypothesized that the moisturizer contained estrogen, despite the lack of any reference to estrogenic molecules in the ingredients list.

Following up on Dr. Olson's suspicions, a team of Breastlink's medical experts collected samples of sixteen non-prescription commercial moisturizers (ranging in price from ten dollars to several hundred) from department stores and pharmacies. They endeavored to focus on products promising "youth-enhancing" and "wrinkle-removing" results. The samples were sent to a lab in Oklahoma City and analyzed for three types of humanly produced estrogens: Estroidiol, Estriol, and Estrone. "Designer estrogens," which are chemically modified, were not included in the study.

Six of the moisturizers were found to contain measurable levels of Estriol and Estrone, though nothing in their ingredients indicated any estrogenic hormones. This means that consumers could be unknowingly exposing themselves to common estrogens on a daily basis, at a rate that could be risky for anyone and actually life-threatening for ER+ breast cancer patients. As we covered in a previous post, estrogen-mimicing ingredients crop up in cosmetics under all sorts of guises, including placental extracts, benzophenones, petrochemicals, and alkylphenols.

After we contacted the leader of Breastlink's study, Dr. Olson responed via email that the purpose of the screening test was to encourage others in the scientific community and the FDA to repeat and expand upon the findings. Besides raising concern and informing women, her goal is for manufacturers to maintain tranparency about estrogen-like compounds and to invite additional study. She witheld the brand names of the sixteen moisturizers under scrutiny, which could be misleading since companies frequently change their formulations. And, ultimately, disclosing the specific products might incite undue alarm.

Dr. Olson's team hopes to publish a short summary in a peer reviewed medical journal in the near future.