What are parabens?
- Most widely used preservatives in cosmetic products.
- Chemically, parabens are esters of p-hydroxybenzoic acid.
- Can be found naturally in blueberries.
Why are preservatives used in cosmetics?
- To protect them against microbial growth, both to protect consumers and to maintain product integrity.
- To extend the shelf life of just about every packaged beauty product.
What kinds of products contain parabens?
- Parabens are used in a wide variety of cosmetics, as well as foods and drugs.
- Cosmetics that may contain parabens include deodorants, antiperspirants, makeup, moisturizers, toothpaste, hair care products, and shaving products, among others.
What are some of the retail names for parabens?
- Parabens are usually easy to identify by name – just look for a ‘paraben’ attached at the back. Eg. methylparaben, propylparaben, butylparaben, benzylparaben, ethylparaben or isobutylparaben.
Why are parabens controversial?
- It started with a study done back in a 2004 (released by Dr. Darbre in the Journal of Applied Toxicology) which claimed that parabens mimic estrogen and lead to breast cancer. However, this work has been criticized as flawed by many researchers including the American Cancer Society.
- In 2004, research done by Philip Harvey and D. J. Everett for the 24th Volume of the Journal of Applied Toxicology revealed that parabens were found in breast cancer tissue at a rate of 20 nanograms per gram of tissue in 18 of 20 breast cancer tissue samples.This peer-reviewed article sent the cosmetics and toxicology worlds into a blaze. While this was not the first study on parabens, it had a great deal of influence, and after the Harvey-Everett article was published, more toxicologists began conducting their own studies on parabens.
- However, as the saying goes, there are always two sides to a coin. After the Harvey-Everett paper was published, several labs came up with inconsistent conclusions. A study conducted by Soni et al (2005) attacked the Harvey-Everett article and concluded “the possible estrogenic hazard of parabens on the basis of the available studies is misleading, and fails to consider the metabolism and elimination rates of parabens.”
So, how safe are parabens?
- Is said to cause skin irritation on contact.
- The Environmental Working Group’s (EWG) Skin Deep Cosmetics Database indicated that parabens are linked to cancer, endocrine disruption, reproductive toxicity, immunotoxicity, neurotoxicity and skin irritation.
- Since parabens are used to kill bacteria in water-based solutions, they fundamentally have some toxicity to cells.
- The mainstream cosmetic industry believes that parabens, like most cosmetic ingredients, are safe based on their long-term use, safety record and recent scientific studies.
- In December 2005, after considering the margins of safety for exposure to women and infants, the panel agreed that parabens are safe to use in cosmetics. The result has been accepted by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), American Cancer Society and Canadian Cancer Society. The U.S. FDA has classified methyl- and propylparabens as GRAS, (Generally Regarded As Safe) by medical and toxicological experts for use in preserving foods.
- The European Commission has classified parabens as safe for use as cosmetic preservatives.
- The FDA found that parabens are safe up to 25% of the total chemical makeup of products. Currently, parabens usually consist of anywhere between 0.01% to 0.3%.
My take on this:
Will I continue to use products with parabens in them?
Most likely, as I think it is near impossible to avoid parabens altogether. Although, since I am now aware of the potential hazards of parabens, I may limit the usage of products which contain it. For example, I have recently switched my cleansers, shower gels, shampoo and conditioners to brands which are paraben-free and sulphate-free. There is a long list of other items that I have yet made the switch to such as toothpaste, mouthwash, foundation, concealer, blusher, eyeshadow, eyeliner, mascara, sunblock, medications, processed meat… and the list goes on.
Will I purchase something just because it’s paraben-free?
Despite the media frenzy surrounding parabens, the published research and global cosmetic regulatory organisations have made the answer clear: parabens used in small amounts in personal care products do not pose a significant health risk.
I personally feel that there is no need to avoid cosmetic products containing parabens just because of what you have heard or read. There is no legitimate reason to do so. There is also no causal link betwwen parabens and breast cancer. Of course, I am choosing to stick with the “no evidence of breast cancer” side. Having said that, if you prefer to be on the safer side and money is not an issue, switching to paraben-free, sulphate-free natural products might just be a good thing.
All of this information can leave consumers like you and I confused and frustrated. Should you throw away all your personal care products and start buying all-natural only?
What do you think? Is the current research enough to make you avoid parabens?
PS. A brand that strives to be all-natural. We’ve tried their products and we love it.