February 5, 2010
I told my friend recently that I have no clue what is in all the body products I use. I’m diligent about reading the ingredient list on the food I buy, but completely ignorant to the ingredients in a bottle of say, lotion. Her response was “Yah, it’s not good. Parabens are so bad for you.” Huh? Parabens? I don’t even know what that is! Well when I got home, I Googled ‘parabens’, and let me tell you – she’s right, it’s not good.
Parabens are chemicals that are used as preservatives. They are the most widely used synthetic preservative in cosmetics and body products. The problem with parabens is that they interfere with the endocrine system, by mimicking the body’s natural hormones – namely estrogen. The danger of it mimicking estrogen (other than the obvious of it being a synthetic chemical that tricks the body into thinking it’s a natural hormone), is that estrogen is involved in the development of breast cancer. Nobody would knowingly use a product that includes ingredients that may contribute to breast cancer. But the key word here is knowingly.
The problem is a lot of people don’t know this. Shoot, until recently I didn’t know this. And I’m sure I can’t possibly be the last female left that didn’t know about the dangers of parabens. We aren’t taught this in school. It isn’t mentioned in product commercials. It’s just not common knowledge. So unless you have someone in your life that shares this information with you, you can unknowingly expose your body to this danger for years… as many women do.
Now I know studies have been done regarding the possible side effects of parabens, and it has been said that the levels are not high enough to cause any harm. HOWEVER, I also learned that 1) the FDA is aware that estrogen plays a role in breast cancer, 2) parabens mimic estrogen, 3) the FDA does not regulate ingredients in the cosmetic industry, 4) parabens were found in 18 out of 20 breast cancer tumor samples (!!!), 5) up to 60% of breast tumors are found in just 1/5 of the breast – the upper-outer quadrant (right by where deodorant is applied – scary), 6) the American Cancer Society has admitted that “larger studies are needed to determine what effect parabens might have on breast cancer risk” – which lets me know even they aren’t convinced that it’s completely safe, 7) parabens may affect both female and male reproductive organs, and 8 ) parabens have been linked to lower both sperm and testosterone levels in men. And as if all that wasn’t bad enough, studies have shown that when methylparaben is applied on the skin, it may react with UVB, leading to increased skin aging and DNA damage (two more things no woman wants!)
Now some people may find comfort in the fact that the FDA has said there is no reason for consumers to be concerned about using body products that contain parabens. I am not one of those people. I would like to say I trust everything the FDA tells us, but there are several things that were deemed safe at one point in time, that turned out to be quite harmful years later (cigarette, anyone?). I prefer to err on the side of caution. I’m not willing to take chances with my health.
If you’re like me, and you want to eliminate parabens from your life, you must read the ingredient list on products. It will not be listed as paraben, but rather butylparaben, ethylparaben, methylparaben, or propylparaben.
References:  Harvey PW, Everett DJ (2004). “Significance of the detection of esters of p-hydroxybenzoic acid (parabens) in human breast tumours”. Journal of Applied Toxicology 24 (1): 1–4. doi:10.1002/jat.957, pmid: 14745840.  http://www.fda.gov/cosmetics/productandingredientsafety/selectedcosmeticingredients/ucm128042.htm  Harvey PW, Everett DJ (2004). “Significance of the detection of esters of p-hydroxybenzoic acid (parabens) in human breast tumours”. Journal of Applied Toxicology 24 (1): 1–4. doi:10.1002/jat.957, pmid: 14745840; Darbre PD, Aljarrah A, Miller WR, Coldham NG, Sauer MJ, Pope GS (2004 Jan-Feb). “Concentrations of parabens in human breast tumours”. J Appl Toxicol 24 (1): 5–13. doi:10.1002/jat.958, pmid: 14745841.  Vince G (12 Jan 2004). “Cosmetic chemicals found in breast tumours”. New Scientist.  The American Cancer Society Antiperspirants and Breast Cancer Risk.  http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12419695  Osamu H, Satoko A, Tomohisa T, et al. (3 Oct 2006). “Methylparaben potentiates UV-induced damage of skin keratinocytes”. Toxicology 227 (1-2): 62–72. doi: 10.1016/j.tox.2006.07.018, pmid: 16938376; Okamoto Y, Hayashi T, Matsunami S, Ueda K, Kojima N (July 26, 2008). “Combined activation of methyl paraben by light irradiation and esterase metabolism toward oxidative DNA damage”. Chemical Research in Toxicology 21 (8): 1594–9. doi: 10.1021/tx800066u, pmid: 18656963.
Image Source: McDermott, Laura. “Paraben Free.” Picture. DermaSweep.blogspot.com 02 Nov. 2010. 05 Feb. 2011. <http://dermasweep.blogspot.com/>.