Thursday, December 3, 2009


The Good:
Parabens are a group of preservatives that are used by the cosmetic industry to protect products against bacterial and fungal activity. Parabens offer companies a low cost way to protect their products for deterioration and protect their customers from nasty growths in the products they buy. Parabens have a long history of safe use and have been proven effective, unlike some "natural preservatives" such as grapefruit seed extract. Parabens are derived from benzoic acid. Benzoic acid is a chemical commonly found in plants. So, to some extent, parabens are “natural”. The Cosmetic Ingredient Review has decided in two separate reviews that parabens were safe at up to 25% concentration. Parabens are used in very small concentrations (.01-.3%) causing absolutely no reason for concern for most people. Plus, any product not properly preserved will have a short-shelf life, which means that the consumer may not have the product long before it goes bad. Parabens are among the most effective and cost-effective preservatives available.

The Bad:
A study done in the UK showed that parabens were found in breast cancer tissue, which led many groups to link the use of parabens to the risk of breast cancer. Parabens are metabolized into an estrogen-mimicking compound and estrogen is also linked to the development of breast cancer. There is also a concern that rinse-off products such as shampoos and conditioners that contain parabens pose a threat to the environment because these estrogen-mimicking compounds get into our water and food sources. These compounds are then ingested and can disrupt hormonal acitivity in males and females of all ages.

The Unknown:
The truth is that we really don't know if the information found by the UK study means anything. The study did not show that parabens had a causal effect, plus the parabens were found in very low concentrations. Parabens can also naturally be found in foods we eat, so there was no proof that the parabens found came from cosmetics. It is also necessary to point out that deodorants and antiperspirants do not contain parabens and many groups have decided that these cause breast cancer too. Other studies have shown that the effect of parabens was 10,000-100,000 times weaker than our own estriadiol and this was only seen when very high levels of parabens were used.

My Conclusion:
There is no solid evidence to suggest that parabens are not safe for human use, comsumption, or the environment. I do think its prudent to err on the side of caution. However, if the choice is between endangering comsumers by a known risk of bacteria and fungus that WILL grow in a product that is not properly preserved; or using a preservative that has yet to be proven harmful; I have to say I would prefer the preservative. I will say I chose a different preservative and I pay more for it, but I don't shy away from products with parabens either.

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