Handle with extreme care: credit card printouts are a major source of BPA.

You’ve probably heard that the hormone-disrupting chemical Bisphenol-A (BPA) is found on the surface of thermal paper, where it functions as a print developer. Chances are you dismissed this as being an almost irrelevant source compared to other consumer products such as water bottles, and resins used to line metal food and beverage containers. In fact, numerous regulatory agencies take the position that virtually all BPA exposure is from food and beverage packaging.

The hand cream connection

Not so, according to a new study from the University of Missouri, which provides the first data that BPA from thermal paper actually accounts for high levels of the chemical in humans.

One factor not taken into consideration with thermal paper as a source of BPA exposure is that some commonly used hand sanitisers, along with other personal-care products such as hand creams, soaps and sunscreens, contain mixtures of penetration-enhancing chemicals that can increase – by up to 100-fold – the skin absorption of lipophilic chemicals like BPA.

The researchers found when study participants held thermal receipt paper immediately after using a hand sanitiser containing penetration-enhancing chemicals, a significant amount of BPA was transferred to their hands. When they subsequently ate French fries with their fingers, the combination of dermal and oral BPA produced in a rapid and dramatic increase in blood levels of BPA.

Washing your hands with pure castile soap and rinsing them thoroughly before going shopping may help minimise your risk of exposure. Skip the hand cream, as even natural cosmetics contain penetration-enhancing ingredients. And be sure to wash your hands before eating or handling food.

Diana Barnett is the director of SevenCanaries (, a marketplace and information resource for allergy-free and non-toxic living.