Paraben Scare!? Understanding Parabens

by in Knowledge August 7, 2015

For the past few years, parabens have gotten a bad reputation due to a claim that it is a causer of cancer. This study was never validated nor could it be duplicated in a lab or under natural conditions. Right now, a lot of people don’t understand what preservatives are, how they work, and why they are used. Let us try to understand what preservatives and parabens are exactly.

So, what are parabens exactly? Invented in the 1950s, Parabens are a group of ingredients used in cosmetic products as preservatives. Preservatives assist in keeping the beneficial ingredients contained in cosmetic products from becoming susceptible to bacterial/fungus growth. Since preservatives, like parabens, are strong chemicals, cosmetic companies restrict their usage % on formulas. Parabens are cost-effective, more effective, and are less irritating compared to other preservatives in the ingredient market.

If parabens prevent bacteria/fungus on cosmetic products, why is it bad? Well, a research study conducted in 2004 claimed to have paraben metabolites, NOT PARABENS themselves, in breast cancer tissue samples collected. This created fear in the consumer. This accusation scared the market and led many companies to disassociate themselves from parabens. Whether or not the companies believed that parabens caused breast cancer, many of them did not want to take the risk and lose their customers.

So if parabens are bad, why is it NOT banned by the FDA or on the California Prop 65 list of carcinogenic agents?  The FDA is aware of the current situation since this is drastically affecting the cosmetic industry. In response to this situation, the FDA released a statement stating that the….

“FDA believes that at the present time there is no reason for consumers to be concerned about the use of cosmetics containing parabens. However, the agency will continue to evaluate new data in this area. If FDA determines that a health hazard exists, the agency will advise the industry and the public, and will consider its legal options under the authority of the FD&C Act in protecting the health and welfare of consumers.”

With the FDA’s decision and action towards parabens, should we still be afraid of parabens? According to a study published by the Journal of Applied Toxicology, it was stated that parabens are detected in breast tumors. But, the study left several questions unanswered in terms of how it was tested. For example, the research did not show parabens causing cancer (they only found paraben metabolites in cancer). Also, the research did not consider looking at possible paraben levels in normal tissue or even the usage of parabens in cosmetic products.

Aren’t parabens similar to estrogen, a linker to deadly forms of breast cancer? Scientists have been concerned over this matter as parabens do belong to a class of chemicals known as phytoestrogens. Phytoestrogens are compounds that mimic the effects of female sex hormone estrogens. But, it is showed that many “safe” and “natural” foods we eat every day are high in phytoestrogens. Phytoestrogens can be found in oats, soybeans, rice, apples, carrots, and even blueberries. Scientists found that estrogenic effects on the body of parabens were weaker than that of many of the foods we seem to eat every day.

Overall, are parabens to be afraid of? That is your decision. To this day, many rumors persist to claim that parabens are extremely dangerous chemicals and should be avoided by all cosmetic companies. With little ACTUAL proof that it does cause breast cancer, a good amount of today’s media and social sites still persist in claiming to the world that parabens are bad. These fears are drastically affecting cosmetic companies and ingredient vendors that contain parabens. It is also affecting the prices of cosmetic products since parabens were cost-effective preservatives compared to other preservatives. The next time you go shopping and see a “paraben-free” product, just consider the fear factor that is feeding the pricing and quality of that product.

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