After receiving comments on my Paraben Police Report on The Body Shop, I realized that although I have referred to parabens several times in this blog, and told you that they are bad; I have never actually written a post telling you exactly what they are and why I choose to, and encourage people to avoid them.  I think I did that with antioxidants too…sorry about that!

Writing a blog is a funny thing…I start out a day planning on writing about one thing, then something happens throughout the course of the day (or while I am actually writing the post) that makes me go in a completely different direction, or off on an unrelated tangent.  I then look back and realize I never wrote the post I actually intended to write!  I will try to be better at that moving forward…so anyway, here’s the deal about parabens.

What are parabens?

According to Milady’s Skin Care and Cosmetic Ingredients Dictionary, by Natalia and M. Varinia Michalun, parabens are “one of the most commonly used group of preservatives in the cosmetic, pharmaceutical, and food industries.”

They are antibacterial and anti-fungal, and are supposed to be the least sensitizing preservatives for leave-on topical application.  They are also some of the least expensive preservative ingredients that can be used in cosmetic formulations.  They stabilize and extend the shelf lives of the products in which they are used.

Although they are commonly used in other industries, the cosmetics industry uses higher concentrations of them in skin care and personal care products.  There are many parabens, but the most commonly used ones are methylparaben, ethylparaben, p-propylparaben, isobutylparaben, n-butylparaben and benzylparaben.

Why are they bad?

As I have said in previous posts, not all preservatives are bad.  Parabens, however, have become a topic (and often debate) of great controversy in recent years, because of a study conducted by British oncology expert Philippa Darbre.  The results were published in 2004.  This study found evidence of completely intact parabens in several samples of breast cancer tumor tissues.  The results heavily suggested that the parabens were absorbed by the skin, accumulated in the body over time, and produced an overabundance of estrogenic activity which led to breast cancer.  There were several limitations of this study, including its small size; but the results were solid enough to warrant extensive further research on the topic.

Since the 2004 study, there have been countless others; some suggesting that “certain parabens act as antiandrogens…and may also affect thyroid function…” Dr. Darbre and her colleagues released results from another study in 2008 that stated that “the presence of intact paraben esters in human body tissues has now been confirmed by independent measurements in human urine; and the ability of parabens to penetrate human skin intact without breakdown by esterases and to be absorbed systemically has been demonstrated through studies not only in vitro but also in vivo using healthy human subjects.” Parabens have also been (and continue to be) studied for their effects on the male reproductive system, and other health issues.

On the flip side, there have been a huge number of studies claiming that the use of parabens in small concentrations in cosmetics are safe, because they do not produce a high enough level of estrogenic activity to be harmful, and that they are “metabolized rapidly by the body and therefore cannot exhibit any adverse effects,” which is contrary to Darbre’s research.

So what is the actual risk?

I suppose that is something that you will have to decide for yourselves.  Whether or not parabens actually cause cancer is the topic of several ongoing studies; and probably will not be confirmed or refuted anytime soon.

All of this research has caused many cosmetic companies to take parabens out of their products and replace them with somewhat safer alternatives, such as ethylhexylglycerin, sorbic acid, potassium sorbate, sodium benzoate, and phenoxyethanol.

Many companies have removed chemical preservatives altogether, instead opting to use blends of highly concentrated plant extracts and essential oils that have naturally occurring antibacterial and antifungal properties; as well as antioxidants that prevent the breakdown and oxidation of a product’s ingredients.  Colloidal silver is also a good option since it has antimicrobial and germicidal properties.

But many cosmetic manufacturers have elected to keep the parabens in their products.  The exact reasons, I don’t know for sure. I suspect that a lot of it has to do with keeping manufacturing costs down, and assuming that most of the general public is not aware of the potential risks posed by parabens.

The fact that many of the companies that still use parabens do not disclose their full ingredient lists on their websites suggests to me that they are fully aware of the potential risks, and that they realize that more people are also becoming aware; so they don’t want people to know that they still use them.

If these companies were really so sure that they were safe, then why wouldn’t they fully disclose that they use them?  I’m sorry, but that is just shady to me.  Consumers have the right to know what is inside their products, and they should be able to have a choice on whether or not they want to purchase paraben-containing products.

It all comes down to this:

All types of cancer are on the rise.  More people today get some type of cancer than ever before.  I do not know a single person who has not been affected by cancer in some way.  Many of the causes of cancer are things we have little to no control over, such as genetic predisposition and environmental toxins and pollution; but there are some risks we can reduce or eliminate.

I have seen too many people’s lives taken from them or changed forever because of cancer. To me, avoiding parabens and other ingredients that have any level of cancer risk at all is a no-brainer.  If I can do something that cuts my risk of getting cancer even a little bit, then why wouldn’t I do that?  That doesn’t just include avoiding parabens…it involves making healthy choices in all areas of nutrition and lifestyle.

For me personally, any risk is too much risk.  That goes for my family and that goes for my clients.  I obviously cannot make people stop buying products containing parabens, and I certainly cannot make companies stop putting them into their products. However, I can at least offer some information on the topic and let you know that there ARE safer alternatives out there.

As always, I encourage you to do your own research so you can become more informed and have the ability to make your own educated decisions.

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