Friday, 8 March 2013

Parabens in cosmetics:the debate

Hello Lovelees!

A “paraben-free” product trend has been noticed particularly in the last few years, and therefore increasingly more mainstream cosmetics companies are producing at least some products in their line to be “paraben-free”.

So what are parabens? I did a bit of research for myself and tried the best I could to simplify and share what I managed to absorb...

Parabens are a family of chemical preservatives found in a majority of cosmetic and personal care products.  They increase shelf life by inhibiting the growth of bacterial and fungal contaminants.  Most often on ingredient labels they are listed with the suffix "–paraben" eg methylparaben, ethylparaben, propylparaben, butylparaben, isobutylparaben etc. Even at very low levels (usually between 0.01% to 0.3% in skincare) they are extremely proficient at combating bacteria and microbes.  Bacteria love water and the fats in your cosmetics, plus the warm moist environment of your bathroom where your products are often stored.  They are introduced everytime you stick your finger in a jar or make any contact with the product, and without preservatives, your product will go off by changing to become rancid, smelly and/ or separate.

So we definitely need some sort of preservative in our cosmetics – what’s the problem with parabens?  They happen to be cheap and effective…sounds awesome!

The most notable study in the parabens debate was conducted by Darbre in 2004.  They had found parabens to be present in 18 out of 20 samples of breast cancer biopsy results.  It was criticized however for the small study size and that it was not definitive where the parabens had come from or if they had caused the cancers, but rather simply, that they were present. 

Consider that there are many other compounds in the environment that are able to mimic estrogen activity.  Parabens do have weak estrogen-like properties, being 10 000 to 100 000 times less strong than natural estrogens (the estradiol hormones) , if we are analyzing the role of estrogens in breast cancer development. Parabens are widely present, in personal care products, cosmetics and even foods (can even be naturally occurring in blueberries!).  There have been other studies that have found some form of parabens in 99% of US adults’ urine samples. This confirms that parabens come from many sources and may not causally link to particular health problems.  The concern was that paraben residues were discovered at concentrations up to 1 million times higher than the estrogen levels that would naturally be found in human breast tissue, from a study that collected 40 mastectomies of women with primary breast cancer.  This more than compensates for the comparative weakness of the parabens compared to estradiol. 

On this it is important to note however, that estrogenic activity and mutagenic (cancerous) activity of estrogens are not the same.  Mutagenic activity is rather dependent on free radical chemistry.  That is the why a longstanding health buzz word is “antioxidants” to aid in combat of free radicals in our body.

Cancer organisations such as the American Cancer Society obviously continue to keep an eye on the debate and studies available on the subject .  To date, parabens are still listed under “factors with uncertain, controversial, or unproven effect on breast cancer risk”.

So why not just eliminate the risk of parabens and use their alternative preservatives? 

These alternatives tend to require 6 or 7 times higher level of concentration than parabens to have the same efficacy.  The more preservative content in your creams more potential for skin irritation and often a tradeoff on the overall texture of the creams. Parabens are in fact FDA approved and for some reason fuels a lot more controversy than other “natural ingredients” such as soy or ginseng or even coffee extracts that have also been found to be a possible breast cancer risk.

PERSONAL OPINION: just because something is not proven yet, doesn’t mean it does not exist (in this case, parabens being a cancer risk). However, because there have been some red flags raised it does not hurt to be careful where possible :p  
Pathetically in my case, it simply translates to me feeling better when I buy a product that I like due to its performance and proven results, and see that it actually happens to be paraben-free too!! 

Everything in moderation I think is the key.

If you are somewhere in the middle of the bellcurve then the odds are not necessarily against you.  There are so many “health dangers” out there in the modern environment and lifestyle it is hard to police everything you do or use. 

Having said that I think if you have a strong family history of breast cancer, where possible it doesn’t hurt to take a more conservative approach with your personal care products, and try opt for preservative free alternatives.  The most under attack in the paraben debate is anti-perspirants or deodorants that are applied directly to the underarm.  Due to the ester-bearing form of the parabens found in the tumours , it has been suspected that the parabens that they came from something applied to the skin and helped to explain why up to 60% of all breast tumours are found in the upper outer quadrant of the breast nearest the underarm. actually also reminds readers that parabens are found in many other tissues in the body,  because of their wide use.  A resourceful link if you want to look up cosmetic products:
by the Environmental Working Group (EWG)'s where they give a hazard score based on the ingredients' links to health issues or allergies.

Conclusion: Stay beautiful, but stay safe ;) 

Please share this if you learnt something so others can do the same!

;) Connie    Follow on Twitter @MakeYouLoveLee ; Facebook: /makeyoulovelee

Links I looked up:

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