Store Receipts Won’t Give You Diabetes or Cancer

We’ve blogged about media coverage of the presence of Bisphenol-A (BPA) in store receipts before, and today another study was released showing that BPA can be absorbed through the skin after handling a thermal receipt. The study, published in PLOS One, found that the amount of BPA transfer was particularly high after using hand sanitizer. Before you start refusing all paper receipts or rethinking your use of hand sanitizer, consider:

  • The study was designed to mimic behavior in a fast food restaurant: individuals use hand sanitizer, hold a receipt, then eat food. But actual execution of the study doesn’t adequately mimic this real world scenario:
    • In the study, participants’ hands were still wet after using hand sanitizer. They were given 3 squirts of hand sanitizer that “was not allowed to dry prior to holding the receipt paper.” Since hand sanitizer only takes 20-30 seconds to dry, it’s highly unlikely that in real world situations individuals are touching receipts with very wet hands. The study also showed that BPA on dry hands was nearly 100 times less than when participants touched the receipt with wet hands. It’s no surprise that wet hands resulted in more BPA transfer—most hand sanitizers contain alcohol, which is very efficient in drawing out BPA. In fact, researchers used wipes wetted with ethanol (a type of alcohol) to remove the BPA from participants’ hands after the experiment.
  • Participants then ate French Fries, orally ingesting BPA, and researchers then found higher levels of BPA in participants’ urine 90 minutes later.
  • The U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which has studied BPA extensively and reviewed a huge volume of research on the chemical and says, “oral BPA administration results in rapid metabolism of BPA to an inactive form. This results in much lower internal exposure of BPA.” Most of the research that purportedly links BPA to negative health effects like diabetes or cancer has been performed on rodents that have had BPA directly injected into their bloodstream. We explain that further here.
  • This is a very small sample size—only 10 total participants.
  • The study didn’t actually link BPA to an increased risk for any health problems. The study only found that BPA can be transferred from thermal paper receipts, and that more BPA is transferred if your hands are very wet with hand sanitizer and you hold onto your receipt for 45 seconds.

As we’ve explained in other blog posts, BPA has been studied extensively—much more than most chemicals. Major health and regulatory bodies, including the FDA, Environmental Protection Agency, and European Commission, have looked at these studies and concluded that BPA does not pose any health threat at current exposure levels.