Personal Care Product Chemicals Trigger Breast Cell DNA Damage

There are distressing results from a new scientific study focusing on the adverse health effects from chemicals commonly found in cosmetics and personal care products:  At least two of these chemicals have now been shown to damage the DNA of breast cells–even at low doses*.  The chemicals examined:

(1) oxybenzone (aka the ultraviolet filter benzophenone-3 (BP-3) which is commonly found in sunscreen products and cosmetics with sunscreen protection)

(2) propylparaben (PP), (an antimicrobial preservative found in both cosmetics and personal care products)

*Breast cells contain estrogen receptors and scientists think this is why they may be more susceptible to the adverse effects of these chemicals. 

Study overview

The study used a new approach that identified a mechanism by which estrogens and xenoestrogens — environmental chemicals that act like estrogens — may promote breast cancer. The two chemical compounds (oxybenzone and propylparaben) were examined both in cells grown in the lab and in the mammary glands of mice.

“The new research offers more sensitive tools to screen for the potential deleterious effects of environmental chemicals, which would be overlooked by methods currently usedFederal agencies, such as the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), typically screen for toxicity of these chemicals in cell lines that do not have estrogen receptors.”

-Dr. D. Joseph Jerry, professor of veterinary and animal sciences, University of Massachusetts, Amherst, science director of Pioneer Valley Life Sciences Institute, and co-director, Rays of Hope Center for Breast Cancer Research (a partnership between University of Massachusetts, Amherst and Baystate Medical Center)

Results overview

The new research demonstrated that DNA damage in breast cells with estrogen receptors occurred at concentrations that are 1/10th to 1/30th of that required to stimulate proliferation or gene expression.

The scientists examined whether PP (propylparaben) and BP-3 (oxybenzone) have estrogenic effects at concentrations relevant to normal population exposures because “we know that estrogen can promote breast cancer.”

“It’s not toxic unless the cells have estrogen receptors.  So the chemical compounds [PP (propylparaben) and BP-3 (oxybenzone)] are acting through the estrogen receptor to create this damage. There is no consequence if you test it in other cells.”


Future studies are needed, but in the meantime you may want to reduce your risk. Read the labels of all personal care products and cosmetics. Seek out alternative organic options that are free of (1) oxybenzone and (2) the paraben compound propylparaben.



Journal Reference: Prabin Dhangada Majhi, Aman Sharma, Amy L. Roberts, Elizabeth Daniele, Aliza R. Majewski, Lynn M. Chuong, Amye L. Black, Laura N. Vandenberg, Sallie S. Schneider, Karen A. Dunphy, D. Joseph Jerry. Effects of Benzophenone-3 and Propylparaben on Estrogen Receptor–Dependent R-Loops and DNA Damage in Breast Epithelial Cells and Mice. Environmental Health Perspectives, 2020; 128 (1): 017002 DOI: 10.1289/EHP5221