There is no question that most of us are being exposed to long-term, low-dose levels of parabens daily.
After a quick look around my house I found the following products containing parabens:
- My entire daily facial skin care routine (cleanser, day cream with SPF, moisturizer, eye cream, night serum)
- Cosmetics (mineral powder foundation, loose powder, mineral cheek and eye colors)
- Body wash and body lotion – use all over body
- Baby wash and baby lotion – use all over body
- Sun screen for me and my kids – use all over body
- Lip balm – use multiple times a day
- Diaper cream – used on baby’s sensitive areas as needed
So, exactly what are parabens?
Parabens are preservatives commonly found in cosmetics and skin care products to prevent bacteria and fungi from growing and decaying the product. These preservatives can also be found in foods and medicines.
Parabens are produced through a chemical process called esterification using parahydroxybenzoic acid and an alcohol (methanol, propanol, ethanol, etc). Common names for parabens on product labels include: propylparaben, methylparaben, ethylparaben, butylparaben and benzylparaben.
Are parabens really bad?
A paraben acts as a xenoestrogen, meaning it mimics the affects of estrogen on the body. This creates concern if the amount absorbed through the skin would be enough to have an effect on the body’s own estrogen production and other endocrine functions. Estrogen has been shown to play a role in some cancers.
The concern over parabens was brought to light by a 2004 study led by Dr. Philippa Darbre of the UK that found parabens intact in the tissues of breast tumors. However, this study did not look at paraben levels in healthy breast tissue.
During 2005-2006 the Center for Disease Control (CDC) and Prevention found measurable amounts of methylparaben and propylparaben in the urine of most participants. Female participants had much higher concentrations of these parabens than males. This is likely related to the higher use of cosmetics and skincare products by females.
In 2008, the Cosmetic Ingredient Review issued a report stating the use of parabens in cosmetics is safe at levels up to 0.4 percent for any one paraben and up to 0.8 percent for a combination.
Research indicates there is a link between parabens and cancer and also suggests parabens are absorbed through the skin when applying cosmetics and personal care products. However, there is no proven cause and effect relationship between exposure to the ingredients in small doses and developing cancer or other health related issues. The unanswered questions leave enough room for concern that it may be best to avoid exposure where practical.
Who regulates the cosmetics industry?
The cosmetics companies are responsible for proving the safety of their own products and ingredients. The Federal Drug Administration (FDA) does NOT approve cosmetics or their ingredients before they go to market and does not have the authority to issue product recalls.
The Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act only authorizes the FDA to get involved if cosmetics are adulterated (containing poisonous or contaminated products) or misbranded (improperly labeled or packaged). A change in federal law would be required to change the FDA’s authority over cosmetics.
Are there alternatives?
In general, it is best to seek out natural ingredients where possible, but I am not suggesting throwing away everything that contains parabens. I have a hard time throwing away money and, to me, throwing away useful products I paid for is like throwing away money.
Just like it hasn’t been determined if the products we use everyday really are harming us, it also hasn’t been determined what effect removing all paraben products will have on our bodies after having already been exposed to them for so long. When I find healthier alternatives, I like to introduce them into my routine as it comes time to replace my current products.
THAT Skin Care is a paraben-free line of facial skincare products that includes a cleanser, a moisturizer and an all-in-one eye gel. This product line is available on Amazon.
Emerald Essentials has a full skincare line for face and body that is all organic — and, therefore, naturally paraben-free.
What are some of your favorite paraben-free products?