Are the Parabens in Our Beauty Products Safe?
When you read the ingredients of your favorite beauty products, you’re likely to see that most products list preservatives called parabens. Whether you’re looking at facial cleanser, foundation, eye shadow, mascara or moisturizer, words like propylparaben, ethylparaben, methylparaben, butylparaben and isobutylparaben usually show up. They’re not just there to test your pronunciation skills; parabens keep bacteria and fungus from growing in the products and causing infection or irritation of your eyes, mucus membranes or skin.
If you listen to the media, you’ll often hear that parabens are dangerous and unhealthy, and we should avoid them like the plague. Since parabens are in so many products we use every day, that can be really scary. Let’s take a closer look at the story.
Why Is Everyone So Afraid of Parabens?
Paraben-haters point to a research study from 2004 that started the hate movement. It caused many people to claim a link between parabens and breast cancer. In reality, it was the metabolites of parabens – and not the parabens themselves – that were found in cancerous tissue, and the researcher who conducted the study responded to the controversy by stating that there was never any claim that parabens were to blame for breast cancer. It was all a misunderstanding.
Parabens are phytoestrogens; this means they have a weak, estrogen-like effect on the body. Since excess estrogens can lead to cancerous changes in breast tissue, parabens got sentenced without a trial. Many people simply didn’t bother to put the information into perspective.
Phytoestrogens: You Probably Had Some for Lunch
Phytoestrogens aren’t foreign materials from outer space; they occur naturally in the foods and medications we consume every day. In fact, the level of phytoestrogens we’re exposed to routinely is 10,000 times higher than the tiny amount we encounter from parabens in our beauty products. Although manufacturers of natural products like to call parabens “chemicals,” parabens have a natural origin. They’re formed from p-hydroxy-benzoic acid found in berries. If you’re scared of your moisturizer because it has parabens in it, then you’d better run from blackberries, too. Ironically, so-called natural brands often have to add synthetic preservatives to avoid including parabens. They just pick the ones that aren’t currently in the news.
A note from skincare expert, Nicki Zevola, of FutureDerm.com, “Paraben alternatives like sorbic acid and other organic acids don’t protect against bacterial growth like parabens do. They only guard against fungal growth. I will only use paraben-free products with phenoxyethanol, not organic acids.”
Your Hand Lotion Probably Won’t Kill You
The bottom line is that the miniscule amounts of parabens contained in our beauty products are broken down and metabolized safely by our bodies. Beauty products usually contain small amounts of parabens (0.01 to 0.3%). The Cosmetic Ingredient Review (CIR) reviewed the safety of methylparaben, propylparaben, and butylparaben in 1984 and concluded they were safe for use in cosmetic products at levels up to 25% (they reevaluated in 2005 and agreed that there was no reason to change the safety percentages). These small amounts are eliminated harmlessly without causing any significant estrogenic effects that would encourage cancer growth. The American Cancer Society, the FDA, the Personal Care Products Council and the Scientific Committee on Consumer Safety stand behind the evidence that parabens pose no health risk, so I believe it’s perfectly safe to stop worrying about our mascara giving us cancer.