Researchers have found a new way harmful chemicals may enter your body: through cash register receipts. They found that using hand sanitizer or handling greasy food can enhance this effect, leading to possible health problems.
The chemical in question is bisphenol A (BPA), a chemical commonly used in plastic products and as a coating on thermal receipts. When scientists had found a link between BPA and health problems, regulators banned the use of those chemicals in baby bottles, cups, and other products that come into contact with food. The fear there is that as liquids come into contact with products made of BPA, the chemical is leeched into the food and then enters the body through the stomach.
However, new research suggests a significant proportion of BPA may also enter the body through the skin. Use of body lotion, sunscreen, and hand sanitizer can affect the protective barrier of the skin, allowing chemicals to enter through that route. The same is true of oily foods, which absorb into the skin, sometimes with chemicals attached. When a diner uses hand sanitizer or touches oily food, then handles their receipt, the BPA coating the thermal receipt can enter through their skin and into their bloodstream.
Researchers tested this by measuring BPA levels of volunteers who used hand sanitizer then handled a receipt, or that handled a receipt and were given oily potato chips to eat. The scientists measured BPA levels in the volunteers’ skin, urine, and blood before and after the experiment, and were alarmed at what they found.
After handling a receipt for just a few seconds, participants had up to 581 ug BPA on their skin. This level then fell drastically after just a few minutes, likely because the BPA was being absorbed into their bodies. An hour and a half after handling the BPA-coated receipts, the volunteers had up to 20 mg BPA/g creatinine in their bodies, which is enough to put their health at risk.
In previous studies assessing the risks of BPA exposure, that level was high enough to be linked with the risk of heart troubles and type 2 diabetes. Other studies had shown that BPA exposure can be harmful to infants and unborn children, causing developmental and behavioral problems by interfering with estrogen and other hormones. In adults, BPA exposure can contribute to cancer, obesity and other health problems. In one of the more disturbing studies, researchers revealed that when a pregnant mother is exposed to BPA, the chemical can affect the ovaries and eggs of her unborn fetus, which could mean a third generation is affected by the initial BPA exposure.
Lawmakers in various states and countries had banned using BPA in children’s plastic food and drink containers over concerns about the chemical. However, very few places, excluding Connecticut, had banned using BPA on receipts since the risk of exposure had been considered low. The current study has just shown that BPA on receipts can actually still pose a significant threat to health, even if the BPA is not directly swallowed.
Banning the use of BPA on receipts may seem the logical next step, but experts say this may be easier said than done. There are currently no viable alternatives for coating thermal receipts, since bisphenol S could also interfere with hormones and cause health issues.
Since BPA will not likely be removed from receipts any time soon, your best course of action would be to take caution when handling receipts. Try to avoid handling receipts more than necessary, especially before eating, and try not to do so in combination with hand sanitizer or oily foods.