By Laura Weinberg and Lisa Levine
Robin Shum, a Great Neck Breast Cancer Coalition (GNBCC) student intern and 2016 graduate of Great Neck South High School, was presented with a Gold Award from the Nassau County Girl Scouts during a ceremony at the Merchant Marine Academy. Shum was honored for her Cosmetic Awareness Project based on research she conducted regarding toxins and carcinogens found in popular cosmetics, and her identification of safer alternatives.
Shum became motivated to initiate this project after participating in GNBCC’s Students and Scientists Breast Cancer/Environment Research Internship Program in summer 2014 at Dr. Richard Gross’ laboratory at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI). At RPI, Shum learned that certain surfactants, substances that create lather and are found in myriad cosmetics, contain toxic ingredients and estrogen-mimicking chemicals linked with breast cancer. She assisted in the development of nontoxic surfactants with GNBCC interns Michael Shen and Sunny Shi.
Shum realized that the public could benefit from what she learned during her GNBCC internship. By educating groups about safer alternatives, she could help people reduce the risk of breast cancer and other diseases.
After approaching her Girl Scout mentors, Shum received approval to move forward with her Cosmetic Awareness Project. She developed a PowerPoint, which she presented at Great Neck Synagogue and to hundreds of students in Ms. Di Palo’s health class at Great Neck South Middle School. During her presentations she demonstrated how to read cosmetics’ labels and explained that 60 percent of what is applied to the skin is absorbed into the bloodstream. On average, a person applies 12 cosmetics daily. For details, visit Shum’s website at www.projectcosmeticawareness.wordpress.com.
The GNBCC Students and Scientists Research Breast Cancer/Environment Internship Program was founded and developed in 2005 to educate aspiring researchers/scientists on environmental links to breast cancer and how to develop safer alternatives through green chemistry and breast-cancer prevention. To date, GNBCC has sponsored 52 high school internships from six Nassau County and New York City high schools at 10 different research facilities in the northeast. For more information, visit www.greatneckbcc.org and Like the group on Facebook.