What the...Parabens

Do parabens deserve their controversial bad reputation? Lets check out the facts and see what has been established.. 

What exactly are parabens? 

Short version, they are a type of preservative and naturally occurring chemical. Preservatives are used so that your products don't become full of mold, bacteria, and fungus. Gross! The six most common come in the form of propylparaben, butylparaben, ethylparaben, isobutylparaben, or methylparaben. 

When and why did this controversy start? 

In 2004, a research study came out suggesting a link to parabens and breast cancer. Soon after, this study was regarded as mistaken, the metabolites (not the parabens) were detected in the tissue samples. Even the researcher that conducted this study responded in a medical journal saying "No claim was made that the presence of parabens had caused the breast cancers." All the current research has demonstrated that parabens are actually broken down and metabolized, then excreted harmlessly. They are even fully metabolized before they enter the bloodstream. Another area of suspicion is that parabens are phytoestrogens, producing a weak estrogenic effect on the body, but whenever the effect of an ingredient is evaluated, perspective is critical. How do tiny levels of parabens in skin care compare against other phytoestrogens that occur naturally in food or the estrogenic effects of commonly consumed medicines? Research showed parabens were 10,000 times weaker than naturally occurring phytoestrogens, like those found in the foods and medicines we consume every day. Interesting! 

Natural Preservatives: 

I love quite a few organic and natural skincare products. However there is definitely a misconception that natural is always better or safer. Natural doesn't always mean safe, and chemical doesn't always mean dangerous or scary. Parabens have a very natural origin, they are formed in an acid (p-hydroxy-benzoic acid) found in raspberries and blackberries . Foods like soy, beans, flax, cherries, blueberries, carrots, and cucumbers produce parabens and other chemicals that mimic estrogen—to a much higher degree than the tiny amounts of parabens used in cosmetics products and skin care. 

What does our science community say? 

The American Cancer Society has concluded that the scientific and medical research does not support a claim that the use of parabens in cosmetics can increase an individual’s risk of developing breast cancer. The FDA began studying the effects of parabens in response to the outcry of their potential estrogenic effect and link to breast cancer and found that parabens are safe for use in cosmetics, and it also says that, based on the weight of all the current scientific evidence, there is no reason for consumers to be concerned about the use of products containing parabens. The Scientific Committee on Consumer Safety: Final Opinion on Parabens, which is the official statement by the European Union on the unequivocal safety of parabens in skin care, cosmetics and personal care products. This summary of decades of long-term and short-term safety data reinforced the EUs previous decision that parabens are safe in personal care products. Health Canada, the Canadian FDA-equivalent, also finds that, "Currently, there is no evidence to suggest a causal link between parabens and breast cancer." The Personal Care Products Council, a US organization that reviews and assesses the safety of ingredients used in cosmetics in an open, unbiased and expert manner, consolidated more than 250 studies in The Journal of Toxicology that noted a women’s daily cosmetic regimen using products that contain parabens caused no adverse reproductive effects and confirmed the safety of parabens.

Bottom Line: 

There is no legitimate reason to avoid cosmetic products that contain parabens; especially in the tiny amounts used in products, as they do not pose a significant health risk. I will be sticking with my tried and true favorite products regardless if they contain parabens.