BPA on Receipts: Getting Under Our Skin

BPA on Receipts: Getting Under Our Skin
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Using skin lotion or hand sanitizer before touching thermal paper, such as cash register receipts and printed tickets, can facilitate the absorption of BPA into the body.

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Below is an approximation of this video’s audio content. To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video.

The plastics chemical BPA was banned from baby bottles in Canada in 2008, in France in 2010, in all of Europe in 2011, and in the United States in 2012. But in 2015, France forbid the use of BPA “in any food or beverage packaging”—something the U.S. FDA decided was not warranted. But, what about the 90+ studies reporting links between BPA levels in people’s urine, with a wide array of adverse health outcomes—”including a[n apparent] significant increase in the likelihood of developing [heart disease] and…diabetes, obesity, impaired liver, immune, and kidney function, inflammation, reproductive effects in women…and men…, altered thyroid [function], and [developmental] deficits in children, such as aggressiveness, hyperactivity, and impaired learning.”

Only a very small minority of studies appear to support the federal government’s assertions that there were no effects at low doses. So, where’s the disconnect? Governments determine safety levels by sticking tubes down into the stomachs of lab animals. The 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. And so, the FDA response was to reject 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 enters our bodies,” actually. “We chew it, move it around in our mouths…before it enters the stomach.” And, it turns out “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.

So-called thermal paper is 1 to 2% BPA by weight. That’s like “cash register receipts, luggage tags, [and] bus/train…lottery tickets.” Taking hold of a receipt can transfer BPA to our fingers, especially if they’re wet or greasy. But, does it then get absorbed into our system through the skin?

Well, cashiers were found to have more BPA flowing through their bodies. But, that was just based on a few people. Same problem with those studies showing those eating more plant-based diets having lower levels of BPA: too small of a sample size to really make a conclusion. It’s been estimated that even cashiers handling receipts all day long may not exceed the tolerable intake. However, if they’re using something like hand cream, that could change.

“…[M]any skin care products…hand sanitizers, lotions, soaps and sunscreens, contain…chemicals that [enhance skin penetration].” So, using a hand sanitizer before touching a receipt could, in theory, cause a breakdown of the skin barrier. Theoretically, that is—until now.

We now know that holding a receipt and eating food, after using hand sanitizer, results in high blood levels of active BPA. Researchers at the University of Missouri “conducted [a] study to mimic aspects of the behavior of people in a fast-food restaurant where [they] observed people using [a] hand sanitizer,…handling a…receipt,…and eating food with their hands.” They found that when people handled the receipt right after using Purell, BPA was transferred to their fingers, then fries, and then the combination of absorption through the skin and the mouth led to significant levels of active BPA in their blood.

You can hold a receipt in your hand for 60 seconds, and only come away with 3 micrograms in your body. Whereas, if you pre-wet your hands with hand sanitizer, you get 300 in just a few seconds—a hundred times more. These findings show that just a few seconds touching a receipt after using something like hand lotion could transfer large amounts of BPA.

And so, 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 the assumptions. But, what the FDA did was instead reject the evidence.

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

Image credit: MPCA Photos via flickr. Image has been modified.

Below is an approximation of this video’s audio content. To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video.

The plastics chemical BPA was banned from baby bottles in Canada in 2008, in France in 2010, in all of Europe in 2011, and in the United States in 2012. But in 2015, France forbid the use of BPA “in any food or beverage packaging”—something the U.S. FDA decided was not warranted. But, what about the 90+ studies reporting links between BPA levels in people’s urine, with a wide array of adverse health outcomes—”including a[n apparent] significant increase in the likelihood of developing [heart disease] and…diabetes, obesity, impaired liver, immune, and kidney function, inflammation, reproductive effects in women…and men…, altered thyroid [function], and [developmental] deficits in children, such as aggressiveness, hyperactivity, and impaired learning.”

Only a very small minority of studies appear to support the federal government’s assertions that there were no effects at low doses. So, where’s the disconnect? Governments determine safety levels by sticking tubes down into the stomachs of lab animals. The 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. And so, the FDA response was to reject 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 enters our bodies,” actually. “We chew it, move it around in our mouths…before it enters the stomach.” And, it turns out “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.

So-called thermal paper is 1 to 2% BPA by weight. That’s like “cash register receipts, luggage tags, [and] bus/train…lottery tickets.” Taking hold of a receipt can transfer BPA to our fingers, especially if they’re wet or greasy. But, does it then get absorbed into our system through the skin?

Well, cashiers were found to have more BPA flowing through their bodies. But, that was just based on a few people. Same problem with those studies showing those eating more plant-based diets having lower levels of BPA: too small of a sample size to really make a conclusion. It’s been estimated that even cashiers handling receipts all day long may not exceed the tolerable intake. However, if they’re using something like hand cream, that could change.

“…[M]any skin care products…hand sanitizers, lotions, soaps and sunscreens, contain…chemicals that [enhance skin penetration].” So, using a hand sanitizer before touching a receipt could, in theory, cause a breakdown of the skin barrier. Theoretically, that is—until now.

We now know that holding a receipt and eating food, after using hand sanitizer, results in high blood levels of active BPA. Researchers at the University of Missouri “conducted [a] study to mimic aspects of the behavior of people in a fast-food restaurant where [they] observed people using [a] hand sanitizer,…handling a…receipt,…and eating food with their hands.” They found that when people handled the receipt right after using Purell, BPA was transferred to their fingers, then fries, and then the combination of absorption through the skin and the mouth led to significant levels of active BPA in their blood.

You can hold a receipt in your hand for 60 seconds, and only come away with 3 micrograms in your body. Whereas, if you pre-wet your hands with hand sanitizer, you get 300 in just a few seconds—a hundred times more. These findings show that just a few seconds touching a receipt after using something like hand lotion could transfer large amounts of BPA.

And so, 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 the assumptions. But, what the FDA did was instead reject the evidence.

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

Image credit: MPCA Photos via flickr. Image has been modified.

Doctor's Note

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:

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

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