Lately, more and more personal care products have been touting themselves as “paraben free”. But what exactly are parabens, what do they do and why should we be concerned? Let’s take a look at this interesting compound.
Parabens are a class of chemicals which inhibit bacteria growth and are commonly used as preservatives in a variety of cosmetics and personal care products, such as deodorants, shampoos, conditioners, lotions, sunscreens and liquid soaps. These products can substantially extend the shelf life of cosmetics(translation: improve profitability). Parabens are also used as preservatives in food and pharmaceutical products.
WHY SHOULD WE BE CONCERNED?
Parabens can be absorbed into the body both through the skin and via ingestion. An estimated 80 to 90% of all cosmetics contain parabens. But cosmetics aren’t the only place you’ll find parabens. The presence of parabens has been found in nearly all urine samples of a wide cross-section of American adults.1 Parabens mimic the effects of estrogen in the body and act as an endocrine system disruptor. Your body has difficulty breaking down synthetic estrogens and these compounds have a tendency to accumulate in fatty tissues, such as the breast tissue. Estrogenic compounds such as parabens are known to cause cell division in breast tissue. A study in the Journal of Applied Toxicology from 2004 has noted the presence of parabens in biopsied breast tumors in 19 out of 20 women.2 It is important to note that it has not been proven that there is a direct correlation between parabens and breast cancer. Although interestingly, sixty percent of all breast tumors are concentrated in the twenty percent of breast tissue closest to the armpit, where deodorant is applied. A 2003 study conducted at Northwestern University showed that early breast cancer diagnosis was more common in those who frequently shaved their armpits and used deodorants.3 “I personally feel there is a very strong correlation between the underarm hygiene habits and breast cancer,” said immunologist Dr. Kris McGrath, the author of the study. Furthermore, a study in the January 2009 Journal of Reproductive Toxicology found that the estrogenic effect of parabens adversely effected the health of the cells of the testes, which may result in reduced sperm count. Yet another study suggested that methlyparaben when exposed to UVB resulted in increased skin DNA damage.4 Not a property you should look for when purchasing a sunscreen.
After looking at some of the evidence, there is good cause to be conscious of products containing parabens. A few common ones to keep an eye out for on ingredient lists include methlyparaben, ethlyparaben, propylparaben, and butylparaben. At Integrity Botanicals, all of our products are paraben free. Check back for future posts on new product releases, as well as more info on ingredients to be aware of in your personal care products.
1. Ye X, Bishop AM, Reidy JA, et al. (2006a). Parabens as urinary biomarkers of exposure in humans. Environ Health Perspect, 114: 843-1846.
2. Darbre PD, Aljarrah A, Miller WR, et al. (2004). Concentrations of parabens in human breast tumours. J Appl Toxicol, 24:5-13.
3. McGrath, Kris (2003 Dec). “An earlier age of breast cancer diagnosis related to more frequent use of antiperspirants/deodorants and underarm shaving”European Journal of Cancer Prevention 12 (6): 479-85
4. Yoshinori Okamoto, Tomohiro Hayashi, Shinpei Matsunami, Koji Ueda, Nakao Kojima (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.