Butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA)- not to be confused with beta hydroxy acid (also abbreviated BHA)- is a preservative found in food and cosmetics.  It is used to keep fats from going rancid and to preserve shelf life of cosmetics.  Most common foods it can be found in butter, meats, cereals, chewing gum, baked goods, snack foods, dehydrated potatoes, and beer, as well as in animal feeds.  It was found on EWG’s Skin Deep Database in 307 products, including popular cosmetics (especially lipstick and eye shadow) by Cover Girl, L’Oreal, NARS, and Revlon, as well in shave gels, hemorrhoid cream, and some Desitin Diaper creams.

The FDA has deemed BHA safe for human consumption in food at levels not to exceed .02% of the fat content of a particular food.  To my knowledge there is no such concentration standard for cosmetics or personal care products.

However, The National Toxicology Program has deemed BHA as reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen.

While human studies of this link are lacking, there is documentation of BHA’s cancer causing properties in animals.  Both male and female rats, and male mice and hamsters, that were fed BHA developed benign and malignant tumors of the forestomach.  Fish fed BHA as larvae developed liver cancer as adults.

Another study found BHA to be “weakly estrogenic.”  This means that it mimics estrogen and can disrupt the body’s metabolism and production of hormones, potentially contributing to reproductive issues.

Again, none of these studies or determinations by the government take into consideration the number of products that we use with BHA and its potentially bioaccumulative effect on our bodies and the little ones we love. The government and cosmetic industry may not be ready to definitively link BHA to cancer and hormone disruption, but enough evidence points to being very cautious when it comes to exposure to BHA.

What can you do?

  • Try to avoid processed food wherever possible.  If you must pick processed foods, look for BHA on the label and opt for one without.
  • Opt for fresh produce as often as you can.
  • Avoid personal care products that list BHA as an ingredients, especially on children.  Their developing bodies metabolize toxins in greater quantities than adults and are much more exposed to their hazards.  Keep products like play lipstick, and eye shadows away from the playroom (most of these toys will not list ingredients).
  • Opt for plant or mineral based cosmetics, but make sure BHA is not on these labels also.

I’ll be back Monday with Toxin #12- Nitrosamines

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