Parabens in Personal Care Products – Do you Need to Be Concerned?

Skincare Products on Store Shelves

In recent years, many consumers have expressed concerns with parabens found in many of their personal care products – cosmetics, moisturizers, lotions, hair care products, and more.  They are even found in some food and medication products. 

You can identify parabens on labels by their names –methylparaben, butylparaben, propylparaben, ethylparaben, and isobutylparaben.   

So what exactly are parabens?

They are inexpensive and effective preservatives that extend the shelf life of products by preventing the growth of microorganisms.  They have been in widespread use since the 1950’s. 

Parabens are also ingredients in fragrances. 

Why has concern been expressed over the use of parabens?

Parabens are easily absorbed by your body.  They have been found to mimic the effects of the hormone, estrogen, potentially disrupting your body’s hormone system.  Therefore, this leads to the concern of increased risk of breast cancer and other cancers. 

Some studies have shown that when methylparaben is put on the skin, it reacts with the sun’s UVB rays, resulting in skin damage and aging. 

If you are exposed to parabens on a daily basis, then you could be exposed to their cumulative effects if they stay within your body. 

In 2004, a researcher by the name of Philippa Darbre found parabens in breast tumors.  However, the study received criticism as they did not study breast tissue of those unaffected by cancer. 

What are some other potential health consequences?

Although not directly linked to parabens use, consider that girls are now entering puberty at earlier ages than ever.  Could the estrogen effects of parabens be playing a small role in this? 

In addition, studies done with rats show that sperm counts decreased when they were exposed to parabens. 

Are parabens regulated?

It depends where you live.  For example, in the U.S.A., the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) states it has no reason to believe that there are safety concerns.  This is in accordance with the Cosmetic Ingredient Review (CIR) findings in 2005.

In Canada, there are also no safety concerns expressed with the use of parabens.  However, the European Union has much more strict protocols in place, and has banned and limited the maximum concentrations of some parabens. 

What should you do?

Obviously, there does not even seem to be consensus among the medical community and even government of different nations.  This can make it very difficult for the average consumer to know what to do.  However, if you are interested in a healthy lifestyle and taking steps to improve your health, reducing or eliminating the amount of parabens you use on a daily basis could be one way to do this. 

After all, this would not be the first time that something put into the marketplace was later found to be harmful.  So it may be wise to err on the side of caution. 

Fortunately, some manufacturers are not waiting and are responding to consumer demand.  You can now find products that do not contain parabens, and there are cosmetic stores dedicated to providing all-organic products to their customers. 

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