“Parabens” seems to be a negative buzzword in the health and beauty industry at the moment, but why? It is always good for responsible consumers to be well informed about the products they are using, but it can also be hard to sift through conflicting information and outdated findings.
To help you understand why there’s concern about the use of parabens in beauty products, we’re going to answer the most important questions that people have on the topic.
How Are Parabens Used in Cosmetics and Beauty Products?
Parabens are used as a preservative. Now, the word “preservative” has also gotten its fair share of bad press in the past. In reality, preservatives are actually an extremely important aspect of beauty products as they prevent the growth of bacteria and mold.
Many cosmetics and beauty products are used in particularly sensitive areas, such as around the eyes and mouth. The introduction of any type of mold or bacteria to the skin especially in areas close to mucous membranes, can lead to serious infections. So in other words, parabens are in your beauty products to keep bacteria, mold, fungus, and other nasty organisms out.
Why Do People Think They’re Dangerous?
In 2004 a study was published which showed breast cancer cells containing traces of parabens. The medical community almost immediately called the study into question citing, among other issues, that healthy breast tissue was not tested for parabens as a comparison.
In fact, since that original study was published, we have come to understand that there is no scientific evidence showing any link between parabens and breast cancer. However, the incorrect findings of the original study still linger in the minds of many people, and continue to cause concern.
Parabens were identified as phytoestrogens, which are substances that can produce a weak estrogenic effect on the body. Many people immediately drew the conclusion that because parabens act like estrogen, this was the reason they were linked to breast cancer.
However, further studies showed that the phytoestrogens present in parabens were up to 10,000 times weaker than the phytoestrogens the average person consumes every day in their food or medicines.
How Are Parabens Derived?
When people hear negative buzzwords such as “parabens” or “preservative” they automatically assume that there must be some artificial or harmful element to it. The surprising truth is that parabens are derived from a substance found in raspberries and blackberries called p-hydroxybenzoic acid.
As preservatives go, that’s about as natural a source as you can ask for.
So, Are They Safe?
Parabens have been used widely in beauty products for over 50 years. In that time, they have undergone extensive testing and scrutiny to make sure they are completely safe for consumer use. In fact, it would be far more dangerous to provide consumers with preservative-free cosmetics, due to the risk of the growth of infectious organisms.
The American Cancer Society has stated conclusively that it can find no link between parabens and breast cancer. And it seems the original study published in 2004 which first suggested that there may be a causal link was widely misinterpreted.
Furthermore, although it is true that parabens are phytoestrogens, remember that you are exposed to far stronger phytoestrogens every time you eat beans, blueberries, or soy. Also, parabens are naturally derived from raspberries and blackberries, two foods which are not linked with any negative estrogenic effects on people.
The Bottom Line
It is always important to be mindful of the products you are consuming or are using on your body, but despite their negative press, parabens do not deserve to be vilified. If you have specific questions about certain products, it is always advisable to contact the companies who make them, directly. If you find any of their answers unsatisfactory, you can stop using their products and look for a company with which you feel more comfortable. However, parabens alone should not cause you undue worry.