Image Credit: Sabine van Erp / Pixabay. This image has been modified.

What Not to Do When You Handle Receipts

The plastics chemical bisphenol A, commonly known as BPA, was banned for use in baby bottles in Canada in 2008, in France in 2010, in the European Union in 2011, and in the United States in 2012. Then, in 2015, France forbade the use of BPA in any food or beverage packaging, something the U.S. Food and Drug Administration had decided was not warranted. But, what about the more than 90 studies “reporting relationships between total BPA in [people’s] urine and a wide array of adverse health outcomes, including a significant increase in the likelihood of developing cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes, obesity, impaired liver function, impaired immune and kidney function, inflammation, reproductive effects in women…[and] in men…, altered thyroid hormone concentrations, and neurobehavioral deficits such as aggressiveness, hyperactivity, and impaired learning”?

Only a very small minority of studies appear to support the U.S. government’s assertions that there were no effects of BPA at low doses. Where is the disconnect? Governmental regulatory agencies determine safety levels of chemicals by sticking tubes down into the stomachs of lab animals. In these types of tests, BPA is released directly into the stomach, where it goes to the liver to be detoxified into an inactive form called BPA-glucuronide. So, very little active BPA gets into the bloodstream. But, that’s not what studies on humans show. People have active BPA in their blood. How did the FDA respond? By rejecting all such human studies as implausible.

The problem with a “blanket rejection” of human data is that there may be sources of BPA exposure that are not modeled by stomach tube exposure in rats. After all, “[t]his isn’t how food actually enters our bodies. We chew it, move it around in our mouths…before it enters the stomach.” It turns out “that BPA can be completely absorbed directly into the bloodstream from the mouth,” thus bypassing instant liver detoxification. The same would be the case for BPA absorbed through the skin, which you can see at 2:08 in my video BPA on Receipts: Getting Under Our Skin.

Thermal paper, often used for cash register receipts, luggage tags, and many bus, train, and lottery tickets, is 1 to 2 percent BPA by weight. Taking hold of a receipt can transfer BPA to our fingers, especially if they’re wet or greasy. Does the BPA then get absorbed into our system through the skin? Cashiers were found to have more BPA flowing through their bodies “[c]ompared with other occupations,” but that was based on only 17 people. “Strict vegetarians had lower urinary BPA concentrations compared with nonvegetarians,” but, once again, the sample size was too small to really make a conclusion. It’s been estimated that even cashiers handling receipts all day may not exceed the “tolerable daily intake” of BPA—however, that could change if they were using something like hand cream.

Indeed, “many skin-care products, including hand sanitizers, lotions, soaps and sunscreens,” contain chemicals that enhance skin penetration. So, using a hand sanitizer, for example, before touching a receipt could cause a breakdown of the skin barrier.

What’s more, we now know that “using hand sanitizer and handling a thermal receipt…prior to picking up and eating food with [our] hands” results in high blood levels of active BPA. Researchers at the University of Missouri, conducting a study to mimic aspects of the behavior of people in a fast-food restaurant found that when people handled a receipt right after using the hand sanitizer Purell, BPA was transferred to their fingers. Then, BPA was transferred from their fingers to their fries, and the combination of absorption through the skin and mouth led to significant levels of active BPA in their blood, as you can see at 3:45 in my video.

We can hold a receipt in our hand for 60 seconds and only come away with 3 micrograms of BPA in our body. In contrast, if we pre-wet our hands with hand sanitizer, we can get 300 micrograms in just a few seconds—a hundred times more BPA, as you can see at 4:05 in my video. “These findings show that a very large amount of BPA is transferred from thermal paper to a hand as a result of holding a thermal receipt for only a few seconds immediately after using a product with dermal penetration enhancing chemicals,” like hand lotion. This could explain why dozens of human studies show active BPA in people’s systems, contrary to the assumptions based on stomach tube studies in rodents.

When actual evidence contradicts your assumptions, you reject your assumptions. The FDA, however, rejected the evidence instead.

Watch my video to learn Why BPA Hasn’t Been Banned.

For more on BPA, see:

Interested in other examples of Food and Drug Administration failings? Check out:

Phthalates are another class of concerning plastics compounds. For more, see:

In health,
Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live presentations:


Michael Greger M.D., FACLM

Michael Greger, M.D. FACLM, is a physician, New York Times bestselling author, and internationally recognized professional speaker on a number of important public health issues. Dr. Greger has lectured at the Conference on World Affairs, the National Institutes of Health, and the International Bird Flu Summit, testified before Congress, appeared on The Dr. Oz Show and The Colbert Report, and was invited as an expert witness in defense of Oprah Winfrey at the infamous "meat defamation" trial.

53 responses to “What Not to Do When You Handle Receipts

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  1. What about using one of those hand-sanitizing pieces of plastic-y cloth that are available when you enter a store? By the time you get to the cash register your hands are dry. Is that enough?

    1. Joy,

      Yes, that is what immediately came to mind for me, too.

      Recently, I bought Silvertize cloths which I use instead of hand sanitizer now and I really love it.

      As someone who grocery shops often, I try to say, “no receipt” as often as possible, but when I pay with cash, they tend to wrap my money in the receipt whether I want it or not.

        1. or charged with theft. I had an officer beat on my door (I was sleeping after working all night) and I had to go to the store. The clerk that provided my license tag was no longer on duty. I had paid [cash] but no proof. They dropped the matter, but I now have a cracked front door. Never leave without a receipt. Not even digital. Wash your hands. I am curious I use a number of products that come in glass and they all seem to have a gasket of sorts between the glass and the lid. Any thoughts on these gaskets?

        2. YR,

          I’ve also had the opposite experience: I have walked out with something I didn’t pay for, actually more than once. Which I discover when I review my receipt (I like to see how much everything costs; I can’t remember from reading the little signs in the store). I go back and pay for it.

  2. THANK YOU SO MUCH for your timely and useful advocacy while trying to wheedle money as so many informative sites are doing.

  3. The fast-food concept, where the BPA’s transfer to the hands and transfer to the fries and increase in the blood so easily brings me back to what else BPA’s are in.

    1. I wonder if barrier creams would help or do they come under the moisturizer category?

      They say they protect hands from chemicals and allergens and things like poison ivy for about 4 hours.

    2. How about wearing thin white cotton gloves while you work in a bar… Especially now we’re trying to avoid picking up the corona virus through touching other peoples money, empty glass etc. At least your hands will be protected?

      1. How about wearing thin white cotton gloves while you work
        Or better yet, thin silk gloves for improved dexterity like picking up change.

        During cold weather, the mouse for my computer gets cold. My hand stays warmer when using the silks. The cotton ones work, but when you need to do something requiring use of fingertips, the cotton ones are just too thick.

  4. What is the chance that these “dermal penetration enhancing chemicals” could permit an infectious disease virus particle to get through the skin before being killed by the alcohol in the hand sanitizer?

  5. I feel like I have solved for shopping safety lately, except for the occasional receipt or them trying to push coupons on me.

    The Built welded cooler that I got at Christmas from either QVC or HSN is a game-changer. I was someone who always forgot my bags but I never forget my Built welded cooler. I use it every day to carry my lunch to work and then take it shopping and it cleans so well.

    It is made from white water raft material on the inside.

    Anyway, putting the food in it instead of the germy cart makes me happy and it keeps the cold stuff cold.

  6. BPA is also present in other paper products, such as glossy magazine paper. This glossy paper can be recycled into toilet paper and napkins. BPA content in napkins and toilet paper is in the microgram per gram paper level.

    Consider a bidet ?

    Environ. Sci. Technol. 2011, 45, 9372–9379.

    1. This glossy paper can be recycled into toilet paper and napkins.
      Ummm, I think I’ll switch to hemp toilet paper… when the price comes down. ‘-)

  7. I may have been doing things wrong. That is, when heading for town to grocery shop I coat my hands with coconut oil, hoping it provides a barrier to the coating on a receipt. I always take the receipt because it may be necessary if I need to return something… or in some stores, proof of payment to the exit checker that matches your receipt to the contents of your basket.

    Lately I’ve gone back to wearing pigskin leather gloves to protect against any germs on a basket handle are even the door handles for places that don’t have electronic doors.

    And while I don’t handle the fingers of gloves when I pull them off, I do wonder now if the residue from a receipt stays on the gloves… and if it does, can it be wiped off with a paper towel?

    1. Lonie,

      I think coconut oil is used in the essential oil industry as a carrier oil to increase absorption. Or that is what someone who sells essential oils may have said.

      According to one study where they applied safflower oil cream daily for 5 weeks, then measured blood levels of linoleic acid. Of the total 5300 mg applied to skin approximately 2000 mg had entered the blood. (A little less than 50% was absorbed.)

      1. I saw that in a study whether using vegetable oil-based hand creams was adding calories to your diet.

        The answer they gave was that it did add calories, but only up to 100 calories.

      2. According to one study where they applied safflower oil cream daily for 5 weeks, then measured blood levels of linoleic acid. Of the total 5300 mg applied to skin approximately 2000 mg had entered the blood. (A little less than 50% was absorbed.)
        Whoa! That is some good information Deb. I’ve always been a believer that we can absorb nutrition through our skin. Lately I’ve been applying a mixture of GDF-11 + DMSO (for absorption) + distilled water, on my skin. I’ve lost a little body fat lately and when I did my skin loosened up a bit. Just by the eyeball test, there seems to be some improvement in my skin. But the real reward would be some of the GDF 11 getting into my brain. It is a large molecule so this may not be happening, but if it’s in the bloodstream, maybe I’m getting some good out of it. TIMP 2 may be my best hope for brain protection. That’ll be next. ‘-)

      3. Deb,

        I’ve read that oils can penetrate the skin of premature babies, and may in fact be nutritional. But that it doesn’t penetrate the skin of adults much if at all.

        — “In our recent in vivo studies on human forearm skin, we have shown that both mineral and vegetable oils do not permeate through the stratum corneum (typical thickness on the forearm is 20 µm) and saturate the superficial layers only (max. 10 µm).” In other words, he writes, “I personally think that transcutaneous nutrition of oils through healthy skin is a fiction.”

        Premature infants may be a different story. Their skin is extremely thin, and massage with oil actually has been shown to result in greater weight gain compared to massage without oil, implying a significant nutritional contribution from the topical oil[2]. —

        Can you provide links to the studies you mention?

        1. Premature infants may be a different story. Their skin is extremely thin, and massage with oil actually has been shown to result in greater weight gain compared to massage without oil, implying a significant nutritional contribution from the topical oil
          This begs the question of how does topical application affect an older person’s skin?

          I rarely go outside without a long sleeved shirt or coat on and after doing this for decades, I can see my blue-blood veins in my arms. Obviously due to lack of sun damage my skin couldn’t be used to make a pair of alligator boots. ‘-)

          Anyway, curious how this affects the application of my various concoctions.

  8. “What Not to Do When You Handle Receipts”
    – — – – – –

    Rub your eyes, pick your nose, touch your face….

    The minute you get in your front door, rush to the kitchen or bathroom sink and vigorously scrub the front and back of your hands with soap and running water for at least 20 seconds.

    And don’t worry so damn much. Sheesh!

    1. YR,

      I agree with you. I always wash my hands after grocery shopping. Or after being out for almost any reason, even going for a walk.

      But that’s because I usually have to head straight to the bathroom…!!

        1. I’ve also heard (and which I do) that we should not only wash our hands but also wash our face — at least from the nose down — as soon as we get home. And not to touch foods, etc. until we do so.

          Also, not to forget to wash INSIDE our nose. Outside germs like to make a home there too.

    2. YR,

      I have a half-hour drive home from Whole Foods and I know that I do rub my eyes and touch my face and I generally forget to wash my hands by the time I get home.

      The last time I got the flu – it was a very, very, very long time ago, but it happened during a time when work was crazy and I was alone in my own office day after day after day with no human contact and I tried to do the math of how I possibly got the flu and grocery shopping was the only possible answer.

      I love that I have the Silvertize cloths with me now. I carry one in my purse in the same pocket I put my key, so I see it when it is time to get back in the car and I wipe my hands and the steering wheel.

  9. It is interesting to read how each of you solves these things in your lives.

    It seems like no matter what we choose to do, there aren’t perfect answers, and it is hard to figure things out.

    Lonie, I have thrown out receipts and had something be spoiled in the package.

    Then, I have kept receipts and had them clutter up my purse and probably touched them every single time I reached in all day long.

    I have put them in my wallet and had a few of the aluminum kind break, plus one with plastic sleeves tore.

    I have a lifetime wallet now and a crossbody bag made out of special materials, designed to last longer than the purses I have had, but with that and my Built cooler, we go back to plastics and do those rub off and do they do anything else before I die and someone who doesn’t value the high quality puts them in a landfill.

    1. No matter which topic we have to do cost, value, durability, brand, environmental ethics, vegan versus animal ethics, local versus global ethics, and a million health factors.

      No way of getting out of it.

      Well, one way. Solve for each “X” and never have to think about any of it again.

      My purses started being manufactured in ways where they started falling apart. Now, I have one that might end up in a landfill, but it is something that will last forever, and that is good until the landfill part.

      What will the minds of the next generation do?

      1. What I have learned now at this point in my life is that “Measure twice, cut once” is not just about measuring things.

        Every decision has a “Measure 10 times, never have to think about it again.”

      2. My purses started being manufactured in ways where they started falling apart. Now, I have one that might end up in a landfill…
        Interesting you bring up purses and landfill… I recently was going through some old boxes of things in my garage and found a box of my mother’s old purses that she carried many decades ago.

        First thought was to load them on my lawn trailer to be sent to the trash. As I was loading the box onto the trailer, I opened it and looked through those old purses. They were beautiful and still in good shape. Then it struck me… these would make good props for a future movie I’ll do… “Chrysalis.”

        So back into the house they went and are stashed among many of her old clothes that are also decades old, and will be used as wardrobe in the same movie.

        She seldom threw anything away… it appears like Mother like Son. ‘-)

    2. I have a lifetime wallet now and a crossbody bag made out of special materials
      I carry a wallet made from hemp fiber that I’ve had like 10 or 15 years… maybe longer. None the worse for wear.

  10. We usually keep a container of Wet Ones in the car, and wash hands, door handles, etc, often!

    I think we can also protect ourselves by avoiding sugar! It halts your immune system for a while, the number of hours depends on how many teaspoons of sugar you ingest!

  11. BPA isn’t the only one. There are many other Bisphenols, for example six are listed in Wikipedia, and one other, BPB, isn’t listed there yet. The situation is kind of like the media attention paid to Glyphosate, the so-called active ingredient in the world’s most popular herbicide, but there are many other herbicides with their own listed active ingredients plus the proprietary other ingredients. Well, the Sacramento Natural Foods Coop uses register receipts with no BPA, as a benefit for the customers and cashiers.

  12. How do we rid our bodies of BPA once it’s in our bodies? I try not to touch receipts but was recently tested and had an unusually high level of BPA in my body. I have been plant based for 2 yers now.

  13. It just seems like humanity is screwed no matter what we do. I didn’t know this about receipts. I guess that’s why they’re not recyclable like other paper. I’m kind of glad I’m 70 and whatever poisons I’ve been absorbing all my life will have already done their damage, so I can leave this toxic planet in the relatively near future and maybe go to a cleaner place. :-(

  14. I just watched a television piece about Chinese food. The paper inside fortune cookies looks like it was printed on thermal paper.

    Has anyone checked fortune cookies for BPA?

  15. Regarding previous posts and replies about toilet paper, Dr Mercola’s website has available bamboo paper in the form of toilet paper rolls. Also, it’s good to read the latest question about fortune cookie paper inserts. The time is past due for a website dedicated to such questions and answers.

  16. FUN FACT: Whole Foods used to have non-pba receipts. After Bezos bought Whole Foods, they went to regular receipt paper. Write to Whole Foods to urge them to switch back to non-bpa receipt paper, real paper, without plastic coatings.

  17. I’ve got a real problem. I work at Whole Foods and handle receipts 8 hours/day. For a long time, I didn’t take wearing those blue plastic gloves seriously. Now I wear white cotton gloves under the blue plastic gloves. I asked our store management if the receipt paper has BPA but have not gotten an answer. I even wrote to John Mackey, but did not get an answer. Also, do those blue plastic gloves have BPA? All I know is that they are made in China. I’d encourage people to question the mgmt. at their own stores. I just assume the paper has BPA because when I scratched the receipt, I got a dark gray line.
    Is there a way to get the gloves and the paper tested?

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