The perils of parabens

Snapdragon77 asked: Everyone is afraid of PARABENS! The product line that I use (Bioelements) lists methylparaben and propylparaben as the last ingredients, and I know that they are preservatives, but what do I tell a frightened clientele who have just heard “Parabens=Bad!”

The Left Brain Responds:

What are parabens?

Parabens are preservatives used in nearly every kind of cosmetic. They are put in formulas in small amounts to prevent the growth of disease-causing microbes. Without preservatives, cosmetics would be much more dangerous to use. They have been used in cosmetics for at least 20 years and are quite effective at killing microbes.

It’s not surprising that parabens raise so many questions. Stories about these ingredients and the perils of using products that contain them are found everywhere on the net. A quick google search of parabens and cancer results in over 300,000 hits! Sites like this and this extol the evils of parabens. Of course, sites like this and this state a much different, less alarming position. So who should you believe?

Here’s what the FDA has to say about the subject. Their position is best summed up in the following quote, FDA believes that at the present time there is no reason for consumers to be concerned about the use of cosmetics containing parabens. But they are still looking at data.

And the primary governmental agency (in the United States) that receives money to research such questions, the National Institute for Health, has this position paper. Basically, researchers at the National Cancer Institute (NCI) are not aware of any conclusive evidence linking the use of underarm antiperspirants or deodorants and the subsequent development of breast cancer.

Why do people think parabens are bad?

So where did the furor about parabens and cancer come from? In 2004, Dr Philippa Darbre at the University of Reading published a study in the Journal of Applied Toxicology that said her group tested 20 different human breast tumors and found parabens in all of them. Neither she nor anyone else could explain how they got there or why they were there. They also couldn’t say whether normal tissue had parabens. This raised the possibility that the parabens could have something to do with the cancer, but no one could explain what was going on. And since then, there still hasn’t been an explanation. This doesn’t mean parabens have anything to do with cancer. We just can’t say they don’t.

So, what do we think?

Here at the Beauty Brains, we have to side with the majority of the scientific research. Namely, at the moment there’s no significant reason to be concerned. The notion that parabens are a major cause of breast cancer is just not true! It’s possible that they might play a role in breast cancer but there is no conclusive evidence that supports this idea. No matter how bad parabens are, microbes are much worse.

Many cosmetic industry suppliers are offering alternatives to parabens. Privately, these companies acknowledge that parabens are more effective. They also do not believe there are any real safety issues, but it is an opportunity to create new products so they are taking it. Unfortunately, every other effective preservative such as DMDM Hydantoin (a formaldehyde releasing ingredient) or Kathon (synthetic) have potential safety issues. And suggested alternatives like grapefruit seed extract · phenoxyethanol · potassium sorbate · sorbic acid · tocopherol (vitamin E) · vitamin A (retinyl) · vitamin C (ascorbic acid) don’t really work too well. The available preservatives aren’t perfect, but they are the best there is. And they are certainly better than using nothing. Bacteria, yeast, and mold could really kill you!

The Beauty Brains bottom line.

Preservative alarmists may have a point and the industry is constantly on the lookout for new, effective ingredients. They just haven’t found any. But the risk posed from these ingredients is so small that it’s not worth worrying about. There are much more critical things you can do to avoid cancer like not smoking, avoiding excessive sun exposure, exercising regularly and eating a well-balanced, low fat diet. Don’t waste your energy fretting about the preservatives in your cosmetics.