At a time when people are becoming more and more conscious of what they are putting in their bodies, both when it comes to food and their beauty products, one of the ingredients we are constantly advised to avoid is parabens. But are parabens dangerous, really?
Some cosmetic companies have begun advertising their products as being paraben-free, which is supposed to be better for you, and we are told we should avoid parabens like the plague. But just what are parabens, and are they really that bad for you? If so, how have we survived all these years?
Here are some of your questions, answered:
What are parabens?
According to the FDA (US Food and Drug Administration), parabens are chemicals which are regularly used in food and cosmetic products as preservatives in order to prevent the growth of harmful bacteria and mold and extend shelf life. The parabens you will usually find in cosmetic products are methylparaben, propylparaben, butylparaben, and ethylparaben. So, if it has any of these ingredients listed, the product contains parabens.
Are parabens dangerous?
There is a lot of controversy around this issue, and it mostly all began in 2004 when research was published which claimed to have found traces of parabens in the breast tumor of 19 out 20 women which they studied. Even though the study never claimed that parabens cause breast cancer, (the study merely showed paraben was there) it opened the way for speculation and thus began the stories of parabens being linked to breast cancer, and people started becoming worried to use products which listed it.
But do parabens actually cause breast cancer?
The concern mainly comes from the fact that studies have shown that parabens contain some weak estrogen-like properties, and estrogen is the female hormone which causes breast cells (both cancerous and normal) to grow and divide.
According to the American Cancer Society, “studies have not shown any direct link between parabens and any health problems, including breast cancer. There are also many other compounds in the environment that mimic naturally produced estrogen.”
But another concern is that even though the Food & Drug Administration has deemed parabens safe to use within the amount that is present in cosmetic products, the accumulation of paraben intake from different sources, including food, could prove too much and contribute to health problems. ACS also adds that paraben has been found in the urine of nearly 99% of US citizens.
Furthermore, a study in 2017 found that methylparaben (a type of paraben) was linked to increased tumor size in breast cancer cells as well as in playing a direct role in chemoresistance by modulating stem cell activity. Dr. Dale Leitman, the lead researcher of the study, said: “Although parabens are known to mimic the growth effects of estrogens on breast cancer cells, some consider their effect too weak to cause harm. But this might not be true when parabens are combined with other agents that regulate cell growth.”
According to him, the safety measures that are taken when it comes to parabens only look at them in isolation, failing to consider that parabens may combine with different types of signaling molecules in the cells to increase the risk of breast cancer.
And even though the FDA insists that parabens have not shown to be harmful – and so far there are no laws which ban the use of parabens in cosmetics in the US – the European Union has seriously limited their use, claiming parabens can pose possible risks to human health, and should not be used until they are proven to be safe.
What’s the bottom-line?
Well, there seems to be no straightforward answer when it comes to the question of “are parabens dangerous”. The argument that parabens produce estrogen can be counteracted by the fact that many other foods may produce the same effect, and to a larger degree than the miniscule amount that can be found in cosmetic products.
However, since the debate about possible health risks is on-going, it is best to take a cautious approach. Seeing as the US has no laws which ban the use of parabens, if you’re taking the safe route and avoid parabens, it is up to you to try and find products which are free of them.
More and more cosmetics companies in recent years are getting rid of parabens from their list of ingredients completely, but unfortunately, in a lot of cases, they’re just replacing them with other synthetic preservatives that may be just as harmful. So, you are not going to be able to easily cut parabens off your life entirely since they are so common, but if you wanted to take a step towards it, one way would be to use preservative-free makeup. The downside to that is that they may have a shorter shelf-life, so you’d have to use them up or throw them away in a few months’ time.
Still, parabens are not completely necessary and irreplaceable – they are just more convenient since they’re cheap and a small bit goes a long way. Only a minuscule amount can be used to keep your products from getting moldy and going bad. There are now safe alternatives to parabens which mean that you can choose paraben-free makeup and still get a considerably good shelf-life for your product – just make sure to check the labels.
See a list of paraben-free makeup here.
Disclaimer: The contents of this article: text, graphics, images, and other materials contained are strictly for informational purposes only. The Content is in no way intended to be used as a substitute for professional medical diagnosis, advice, or treatment. Please, always seek the advice of a qualified health provider with all the questions that you have related to, or about, a medical condition.