The perils of parabens

You may have noticed that more and more products from shampoo to dishwashing liquid are adding “No Parabens” to their labels. Regardless of whether or not you know what parabens are, this is a good thing. Here’s why.

You may have noticed recently that more and more products from shampoos to dishwashing liquids have “No Parabens” included on the labels. Regardless of whether or not you know what parabens are, this is a good thing. Here’s why.

Parabens are used as a preservative in many cosmetics, consumer products and food. They are found in everything from shampoos to moisturizers, shaving gels, topical and prenatal pharmaceuticals, spray tans, sunless tanning lotions, sun block, makeup and even toothpaste.

Parabens are used primarily for their bacterial and fungicidal properties, as they tend to prevent the growth of microbes in cosmetics and other products. The most common parabens include methylparaben, ethylparaben, propylparaben, butylparaben and heptylparaben. While these preservatives have been in use in countless products for years, the potential problem is that they can be absorbed into the skin, blood, and digestive system, according to The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics.
Parabens are even found naturally in some foods. However, these edible forms are harmless compared to the synthetic versions, which have been linked to breast cancer and other negative side effects.

The Environmental Working Group includes parabens on their “common ingredients to avoid” list. According to their website, parabens are estrogen-mimicking preservatives that may disrupt the endocrine system and cause reproductive and developmental disorders.
Controversy over parabens started in 2004, when a study published in the “Journal of Applied Toxicology” reported that they were found in a study of 20 human breast tumors. Comparison of individual parabens showed that methylparaben was present at the highest level and represented 62 percent of the total parabens recovered in the extractions, according to the report.

Four years later the journal reported a toxicology update in part to answer whether or not the parabens found in the 2004 samples could have originated from topical applications of body care products. The follow-up published in May 2008 confirmed that the presence of parabens in human tissues can be the result of topical use.
The report also stated that there is further need “to carry out detailed evaluation of the potential for parabens, together with other oestrogenic and genotoxic co-formulants of body care cosmetics, to increase female breast cancer incidence, to interfere with male reproductive functions and to influence development of malignant melanoma which has also recently been shown to be influenced by oestrogenic stimulation.”

You may be wondering, how could something potentially harmful be allowed in so many commonly used products?
Believe it or not, the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act (FD&C Act) doesn’t authorize the FDA to approve cosmetic ingredients — with the exception of color additives that aren’t coal-tar hair dyes — according to the FDA’s website.

In general, cosmetic manufacturers can use any ingredient they choose, except those prohibited by regulation. Important to note is that it’s illegal for a company to market cosmetics if they are adulterated. According to the FDA’s website, “a cosmetic is adulterated if, among other reasons, it bears or contains any poisonous or deleterious substance which may render it injurious under the labeled conditions of use, or under customary or usual conditions of use.”

In summary, a company can’t use something that they know is harmful. But what if research on an ingredient is still ongoing? While many products are adding claims that say “no parabens,” the preservative is still allowed as an ingredient.

Hopefully, the next time you see “no parabens,” listed on a product, you’ll know why.

So what does it all mean for you? Whether or not you want to continue to use products containing parabens is a personal choice, but it’s important to be informed. The good news is that some companies make the decision easier by omitting paraben ingredients, and noting this action prominently on their product labels. It’s up to you to decide whether or not you want to toss out your lotions and cosmetics and opt for natural brands that don’t contain parabens and other toxic ingredients found in many common cosmetics and other consumer goods.


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