The Truth About Parabens

We have heard it before: Avoid parabens. They are toxic and harmful to our health.

Being “paraben-free” seems to be the new marketing buzz word for food and beauty brands all over the globe. But are they really as bad as everybody says they are?

Many studies have shown that parabens have carinogenic properties. In 2004, a study by Dr. Philippa Darbre found one or more parabens were detected in 99% of breast cancer patients. Parabens have an estrogen-like effect in the human body, which 80% of breast tumors are fueled by this hormone. However, Dr. Philippa Darbre adds “The fact that parabens were detected in the majority of the breast tissue samples cannot be taken to imply that they actually caused breast cancer in the 40 women studied”.

What are Parabens?
Most people don’t know what a paraben is. They just know it is bad and to be avoided at all cost. Simply put, they are preservatives used in a wide array of food, drugs and cosmetic consumer products; formulated to prevent the growth of micro-organisms and help products last longer.

The word “parabens” is the umbrella word for a family of preservatives. The most common ones are methylparaben, propylparaben, butylparaben and benzylparaben.

Prior to the 2004 findings, most (if not, all) consumer goods used synthetically-produced parabens. Why? Because they have a strong efficacy as preservatives, relatively low cost to produce and have a long extensive history of commercial use. Natural alternatives such as grapeseed oil extract did not prove as effective and came at higher cost.

These days, more and more companies are adopting a paraben-free philosophy. Eco products are developed using natural preservative alternatives derived from new techological advancement. At the same time, the price of these new eco products are marginally increased to sustain the higher costs. With this newly created need for paraben-free products, cash registers have started pinging!

Are Parabens Really Bad?
Despite the media frenzy on parabens, global cosmetic organizations have published countless research to show that parabens, especially in small amounts used in cosmetic products, do not pose a significant health risk. The question here is: How do we know when our body has had enough? Answer: We don’t.

Solution? Know your parabens.

Know Your Parabens

#1: Not all parabens are created equal. Some parabens are synthetically produced like propylparaben, butylparaben and benzylparaben, while some are naturally occurring substances in plant sources like methylparaben. However, methylparaben can also be synthetically produced. So, when you see methylparaben in your moisturizer’s ingredient list, you need to go one step further. Make sure to ask if this ingredient is naturally-dervied or synthetically-produced.

#2: Paraben toxcity levels are accumulative. While small amounts of parabens is generally harmless to the human body, this chemical substance does accumulate in toxicity and can come from many sources. Deodorants, makeup, shampoo, body lotion, toothpaste, hand soap, sunscreen and hairspray, just to name a few.

#3: Parabens that enter the body through ingestion is not a cause for worry. There are two ways parabens are introduced into the body – through the skin and through the mouth.

Cosmetics, beauty and personal care products have parabens that absorb into the body through the skin. But parabens can also enter into the body through pharmaceuticals, food and beverages. The latter bypassess the liver. What this means is ingested parabens that enter the body are easily and quickly excreted out in urine. Hence, one less thing to worry about – we only need to be watchful about parabens that are absorbed through the skin.

In a nutshell…
The jury is still out. We do not know whether or not parabens have a direct link to our health.

But if you ask me, it’s better to be safe than sorry. My best advice is: Continue to flip over skincare and personal care products, read labels carefully and avoid synthetically-produced parabens.

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