The other day, I watched nervously while a coffee shop cashier dealt with a receipt printing malfunction. She fumbled with the unraveling roll of thermal printer paper, smoothed creases with her palms, and even held one end up of the stubborn reel between her teeth while she fidgeted. When she finally got the contraption working, I declined her offer of a receipt.
Not wanting to hold up the line, I didn’t voice my concerns to her…but here’s what I was thinking: even handling thermal printer paper (especially for hours every day) can be hazardous to your health, and rubbing it on your hands and mouth is downright dangerous.
This is because of a simple but frightening fact: receipt paper is saturated with bisphenol-A (BPA), the potent carcinogen and endocrine disruptor that first gained its infamy as a toxin in plastic containers and water bottles.
We wrote about this incredible destructive chemical in a past article—how it’s a form of “fake estrogen” that hijacks your body’s endocrine system and makes it go haywire. The ensuing dysfunction can lead to devastating issues with fertility and reproduction, metabolism, immune functioning, sleep, and mood. Studies have linked BPA to over fifty different serious health issues.
Despite the impression given by the prevalence of “BPA-Free” plastic (which is still contaminated with other toxins, by the way), the chemical still poses a huge risk to our health and environment. While water bottle manufacturers calm our worries with misleading labels and claims, BPA is still seeping into our bloodstream through the receipts that most of us touch on a regular basis. Even handling paper currency, which is often in close contact with receipts, can be a health risk
How worried should we be about receipts?
As much as I’d like to say that this warning about receipts is a product of overcautiousness, the unfortunate truth is that they do present a clear and present danger. In fact, studies suggest that exposure to thermal printer receipt paper is one of the primary routes by which BPA enters the body—and once it’s in there, it accumulates over time and causes progressively greater dysfunction.
The Center for Disease Control reports that they found BPA in over 90% of urine samples that were taken as a representative of the U.S. population. For this reason—and because of the terrifying ease with which endocrine disruptors can disturb the entire body’s balance—many health experts believe that BPA (and its toxic cousins) can be linked to nearly every health issue facing our society.
And speaking of these toxic BPA analogues, some are even more toxic. Preliminary research has shown that bisphenol S (BPS) is up to one hundred times more toxic and endocrine-disrupting than BPA. Thermal receipt paper contains both of them, as well as a number of other analogues, including PBS and BPSIP.
What you can do to protect yourself
The easy and obvious answer is to decline receipts whenever they’re offered to you. Doing so will probably feel like a paranoid overreaction at first, but just think of this comparison whenever you find yourself at checkout: handling BPA-laced receipts without gloves is like handling paint thinner or other hazardous liquids without proper precaution.
If you religiously use receipts to track your expenses, consider going digital. There’s a number of great smartphone apps that allow you to take pictures of receipts (or input totals manually) and keep track of all your expenses through one handy interface. You might just find that you enjoy not being buried under all those old receipts—and your body will thank you too.
Research has also shown that the absorption of BPA is highly potentiated by some of the chemicals in hand sanitizers, skin moisturizers, and other industrial cosmetic products. Sometimes these products even carry their own dose of BPA and other endocrine disruptors—so you should avoid them anyway. At the very least, be careful not to use any of these products right before or after touching a receipt. This means that washing and sanitizing your hands after touching a receipt could actually worsen the exposure. Staying healthy is tricky these days, isn’t it?
There are also a few ways you can lessen the effects of BPA toxicity. A particularly strong protective effect has been exhibited by certain foods and substances, including kimchi (because of its probiotic, microbiome-supporting capacity), genistein (a phytoestrogen that helps balance the endocrine system), and high-antioxidant teas.
Incorporating detoxification practices into your life is absolutely essential, as well. Read more about how to make detoxing work for you here and here, and read this article to learn more about endocrine disruptors.
You’ll want to try out these BPA-mitigating practices even if you’ve sworn off receipts. While staying away from contaminated thermal printer paper is a step in the right direction, you’ll still be exposed to BPA through rampant industrial pollution—so your body will need all the help it can get. With a little thought and effort, though, you can preserve your personal health and balance in a world that still has a tough time prioritizing either of these ideals.