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KEMRI, Nakuru county probe link between cosmetic use and cancer  

The County Government of Nakuru and the Kenya Medical Research Institute (KEMRI) have initiated joint scientific research to probe an association between the use of beauty products and the rising prevalence of cancer in the devolved unit.

Executive Committee Member in charge of Health Ms Jackline Osoro disclosed that various research findings in Nakuru have raised the red flag over the increasing cases of cancer particularly among women aged over 15 years due to potential links to cosmetic products such as dyes and relaxers.

This comes after the Kenya Bureau of Standards (KEBS) issued an alert on the rising imports of harmful cosmetic products into the country.

In October last year, the standards watchdog said some of the makeups it has banned including bleaching products have found their way back into the market, despite containing harmful components that endanger users’ skin.

“Most of the harmful makeups being sold are coming from neighbouring countries. They remain popular in the market despite their harmful effects notwithstanding. We have seen products that we have banned are also quite preferred by the people, they prefer the bleaching (products) that contain mercury, hydroquinone and such,” KEBs indicated in a statement.

Ms Osoro who was flanked by Deputy Director of the Centre for Community Driven Research (CCDR) at KEMRI, Dr. Esther Matu, County Chief Officer for Medical Services Dr. John Murima and his Public Health counterpart Alice Abuki further said public health awareness initiatives are essential to educate residents about research outcomes related to beauty products and cancer risk.

“We should all be able to trust that the products we use on our bodies are safe. It is deeply worrying that not enough is being done to inform women using some of these beauty products of the potentially serious damage that may be caused by their long-term use,” she stated.

A 2015 report by the World Health Organization (WHO) confirmed that Lindane, an ingredient in lotions imported from Asia causes cancer.

While stating that after assessing the impacts of cosmetic items, the joint research team will recommend interventions to prevent cancer linked to use of cosmetic products, the County Executive Committee Member (CECM) also urged manufacturers of beauty products to invest in research on the long-term use of cosmetics and their impact on the health of women.

Osoro noted that usage of makeup in Kenya has grown rapidly over the past few years, surpassing many other commodities to rank top among those brought in.

According to official statistics imports of the products last year rose past the Sh20 billion mark.

KEBS has warned that some of the harmful health products are not coming into the country through the normal border entry points, but come through porous borders carried by people who travel to neighbouring countries.

One of the least doubted products is the ordinary hair shampoos and conditioners, whose ingredients list include parabens, salt lauryl sulfate (SLS) and perfume/fragrance.

Reports by the non-profit organization indicate that Breast Cancer contain Parabens that can be absorbed through the skin and act like weak estrogen in the body with the potential of developing breast cancer positive receptors.

Butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA) is commonly used as a preservative in cosmetics that contain oil or fats, such as lipstick, eyeliners, lip balms and moisturizers.

Several groups including the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer, the U.S. National Toxicology Program and California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment consider BHA a potential carcinogen.

Studies in rats (the findings of which do not always apply to humans but can suggest areas for human research) have linked BHA to stomach cancer, damage to kidney cells, and to the development of reproductive systems in males and females.

Benzene, a toxin associated with cancer and its derivatives including aldehydes and phthalates, is a common ingredient in perfume synthetic fragrances.

In April, an American multinational known for developing medical devices, pharmaceuticals, and consumer packaged Johnson & Johnson (J&J) agreed to compensate about 70,000 people with Sh10 trillion (USD8.9 billion) after they sued the firm’s talcum powder products on grounds that they were laced with cancer-causing asbestos.

The win for the claims, which would be settled over a period of 25 years, was described as “milestone” and a “momentous success” in a legal tussle that spanned a decade.

Individuals who litigated against J&J were survivors and families of some consumer who had succumbed to effects of gynaecological cancers and mesothelioma, a type of cancer that develops in the lining covering the outer surface of some of the body’s tissues and organs.

Questions relating to the safety of using talc powder have been raised frequently since 1970s with various studies linking the application of talc powder by women to their genital area to ovarian cancer.

Research findings posted on the National Centre for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) have found that, in its natural form, talc may contain asbestos, a substance known to cause cancers in and around the lungs, and throat lining when inhaled.

Talc is a natural mineral mined from rock and earth deposits. Apart from baby powder, talc is an ingredient in personal care products such as loose and pressed powders, blush, eye shadow and liquid makeup. In the food industry, it is added to rice to give it a whiter, cleaner appearance and to chewing gum as filler. In pharmaceuticals, it is used as an anti-caking agent in tablets.

In Kenya, it is not uncommon to find barbers using baby powder to mark their customers’ hairlines during a cut. In salons, baby powder is used to protect the scalp when relaxing hair.

Other health effects upon inhalation or ingestion, according to NCBI, include chest discomfort, pain or tightness, coughing or spitting up blood, body chills, cough with thick mucus, dizziness, fainting, fast or irregular heartbeat, general feeling of discomfort or illness.

In February, over 60 lawsuits against a French personal care company L’Oreal were consolidated in a Chicago federal court claiming hair relaxer products sold by the firm and other companies caused cancer and other health problems.

The lawsuits allege that the companies knew their products contained dangerous chemicals but marketed and sold them anyway.

By Anne Mwale


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