Parabens are preservatives that are found in about 90% of all skincare and cosmetics products. The six most commonly used forms of paraben are Methylparaben, Ethylparaben, p-Propylparaben, Isobutylparaben, n-Butylparaben and Benzylparaben. They are commonly used due to their relatively unique property of being effective preservatives against bacteria, viruses, and fungi, and being correlated with a low incidence of irritation, according to the American Journal of Contact Dermatitis.
Here are some interesting facts about parabens:
1.) PARABENS ARE IN YOUR FOOD, IN MUCH HIGHER CONCENTRATION THAN SKIN CARE OR COSMETICS.
Parabens are found many of the following:
- Dairy products
- Pie crusts
- The jelly coatings of meat products
- Surface treatment of dried meat products
- Cereal- or potato-based snacks and coated nuts
- Confectionery (excluding chocolate)
- Liquid dietary food supplements
2.) ALLERGIC REACTIONS WITH PARABEN ALTERNATIVES ARE OFTEN HIGHER THAN WITH PARABENS THEMSELVES.
Most people experience very low rates of irritation, if any irritation at all, fromparabens in concentrations up to 0.25% (American Journal of Contact Dermatitis).
On the other hand, scores of paraben alternatives are not recommended for sensitive skin. These include methylisothiazolinone, which has been associated with scores of allergic skin reactions (Contact Dermatitis, 2010) and benzoic acid, which penetrates the skin better than caffeine or testosterone (Regulatory Toxicology and Pharmacology, 2004).
3.) THE RUMORS ARE ALL BASED ON MILLIONS OF TIMES THE TYPICAL APPLICATION SIZE.
Controversy has risen over paraben use in skin care and cosmetics has suggested parabens may cause cancer, influence estrogen levels, accumulate in tissues, and increase UVB-mediated DNA damage.
Despite these findings and consumer alarm, based on current scientific findings,parabens in skin care and cosmetics are safe. None of these studies hold practical implications for skin care products. In a breast cancer cell study, for instance, MCF-7 human breast cancer cells are subjected to parabens in one million-fold molar excess — tens of thousands of times beyond the amount ofparabens a person applies in a typical skin care product application.
Similarly, in a rat uteri study and a study with fish, parabens were ingested in doses between 100 and 300 mg/kg, which amounts to about 15000 mg ofparabens for the average woman. To put this in perspective, the average application is 60 mg — so this is 250 times the average application!
In addition, the CIR has also concluded parabens are safe for the consumer. The CIR is an industry-sponsored organization that reviews cosmetic ingredient safety and publishes its results in open, peer-reviewed literature. In 2005, the CIR opened an investigation on methylparaben, ethylparaben, propylparaben and butylparaben in order to offer interested parties an opportunity to submit new data for consideration. In December 2005, after considering the margins of safety for exposure to women and infants, the Panel determined that there was no need to change its original conclusion that parabens are safe as used in cosmetics.
4.) PARABENS ARE CLEARED FROM THE BODY EVERY 36 HOURS.
Yep, you read that right: Parabens are cleared from the body every one-and-a-half days (Cosmetics Design, 2008), so it’s not like they are accumulating in tissues and reaking havoc on you for years, like some natural and organic companies would have you believe. If parabens weren’t cleared from your system every one-and-a-half days, plain ol’ blueberries would probably kill you!
5.) Your body produces parabens.
A study in the journal Toxicology detected parabens in breast tumors. This was all over the media.
However, the study left several questions unanswered. For example, the study did not show that parabens were the cause of the cancer, or that they are harmful in any way.
The truth of the matter is, parabens are actually found in healthy tissue as well as cancerous tissue. The body has some natural production of parabens; this is called “endogenous production.” The studies seemed to imply (or the people interpreting them implied) that parabens in products caused the parabens to appear in breast cancer tissue. But, in fact, the parabens could have been naturally produced by your own body, found in your food, and to a much smaller extent absorbed by skin care and cosmetics.
At the present time, the scientific pundits find no evidence to support the claim that parabens in the concentrations they are used in skin care and cosmetics cause cancer, accumulate in tissues for longer than 36 hours, or disrupt hormone production.
6.) PARABENS ARE EFFECTIVE AGAINST BACTERIA AND FUNGI. MANY PARABEN ALTERNATIVES AREN’T.
Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, parabens are one of the only preservatives that are effective against bacteria and fungi. While parabens are safe, it is well-established that certain bacteria and fungal species will make you sick, every time. Last thing you want is these growing on you!
The following paraben alternatives have been found to be effective against fungi, NOT many types of bacteria (Cosmetics and Toiletries, 2005):
- 1.) Benzoic acid
- 2.) Potassium sorbate
- 3.) Sodium benzoate
- 4.) Sorbic acid
These organic acids interact only with the cell wall of microorganisms. That does not kill the majority of bacteria, only fungi! By contrast, parabens will interfere with the metabolic pathways of bacteria (Cosmetics and Toiletries, 2005), killing them in an efficient manner, similar to many antibiotics.
Therefore, we recommend products with parabens or phenoxyethanol to ensure that bacteria will not grow in your products.
Not a shred of evidence exists to link parabens as a cause of cancer. No studies have been presented to show that normal use of cosmetics containing parabens is harmful. More than 10,000 cosmetic products contain parabens and millions of people use these products everyday. Considering this, a significant increase in many types of cancer should have occurred during the past 20 years, when, in fact, the incidence rates of several cancers have decreased, including those of the breast, stomach, lung, colon, rectum and cervix.
Parabens are found in higher concentrations in natural foods like blueberries, strawberries, blackberries, cinnamon, milk, and cloves.
Though it is highly debated, parabens are safe for use in skin care and cosmetics. The concentrations in which parabens are found to be dangerous are often thousands of times higher than the amount used in a typical skin care product application. What’s more, parabens are cleared from the body every thirty-six hours, indicating that they will not accumulate to dangerous levels in the body, either.
Even worse, paraben alternatives like benzoic acids will allow certain species of bacteria to grow in your skin care and cosmetics. This can result in harm to your health — what you were trying to prevent by avoiding parabens in the first place!
Best to stick with products that contain parabens or the acceptable parabenalternative phenoxyethanol, which is also effective against most species of bacteria and fungi with a relatively low irritation potential.