By now most of us realize the importance of understanding food labels. You are what you eat, right? Well, your skin is the largest organ in your body- so the same is true for the products you put in your hair and on your skin. There’s one class of ingredients in your beauty routine that may be cause for concern: Parabens.
Let’s play a little game. Go ahead and check the back of your daily face cleanser in your medicine cabinet, the body wash that’s currently residing in your shower, or the deodorant sitting on your bureau. Have your spotted it yet? Continue to pick up the body “cleansing” items within your home to try and identify how many products that you own contain parabens. Hair products, skin products, antiperspirants, cleansing products, baby products… how many did you find?
Let’s back up a bit here.. what exactly is a paraben? In a nut shell, parabens are a group of preservatives. According to the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, “Parabens are used to prevent the growth of microbes in [water based] cosmetics products. Parabens are actually several distinct chemicals with similar molecular structures. Four of these are used frequently in cosmetics: ethylparaben, butylparaben, methylparaben and propylparaben. Sounds like it’s used for our safety, right? Unfortunately, that isn’t entirely true. Although parabens exist in nature, methylparabens are in blueberries for example, the ones used commercially are almost always synthetic. Companies use synthetic parabens because they are cheaper and easier to manufacture.
Where are synthetic parabens found? Synthetic parabens are most commonly found in personal care products such as shampoos, lotions, deodorants, body scrubs, lip moisturizers, and makeup. Synthetic parabens can sometimes be found in processed food products and pharmaceuticals. And of course, synthetic parabens can be easily absorbed through skin, blood, and the digestive system (ugh!).
Why should I avoid parabens? According to the Breast Cancer Fund, measurable concentrations of six parabens varieties have been identified in biopsy samples from breast tumors (Darbre, 2004). The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics explains it like this…
Of greatest concern is that parabens are known to disrupt hormone function, an effect that is linked to increased risk of breast cancer and reproductive toxicity. Parabens mimic estrogen by binding to estrogen receptors on cells. They also increase the expression of genes usually regulated by estradiol (a natural form of estrogen); these genes cause human breast cancer cells to grow and multiply in cellular studies .
Parabens are linked to cancer, endocrine disruption, reproductive toxicity, immunotoxicity, neurotoxicity and skin irritation . Since parabens are used to kill bacteria in water-based solutions, they inherently have some toxicity to cells . A 2004 UK study detected traces of five parabens in the breast tumors of 19 out of 20 women studied .
According to the Breast Cancer Fund, it’s not just widely found in those with breast cancer…
Parabens have also been found in almost all urine samples examined from a demographically diverse sample of U.S. adults through the NHANES study. Adolescents and adult females had higher levels of methylparaben and propylparaben in their urine than did males of similar ages (Calafat, 2010).
The important thing to note here is that the amount of natural paraben in the aforementioned blueberries is so small that there is no way the body can accumulate the amount of paraben that becomes toxic to us. However, think of the amount of “beauty” products a woman uses over the course of her life.. starting at say, age 12. Likely A LOT. Synthetic parabens tend to stick around and compound within our bodies. The Cosmetic Ingredient Review recommends limiting concentration in a single product. But, this recommendation hardly takes into consideration the fact that consumers are likely using more than one paraben containing product at a time, thus multiplying that concentration with every product used on a regular and semi-regular basis. Let alone the fact that it is only a recommendation.
Now, it has not been proven that parabens cause cancer, but it is believed that it may be a contributing factor.
What steps can I take to eliminate Parabens from my personal products?
1. Take the time to thoroughly check the ingredients of all personal products you have in your home. Toss the ones containing parabens or anything marked as an “E” number- such as E219.
2. Replace the trashed items with products that clearly say “Paraben Free”, “Free of Parabens”, or are not water based and do not have any ingredient ending in “-paraben” on its ingredient list. Do your research ahead of time to find which brands you prefer that do not use parabens.
3. Many organic products have found safe alternatives to parabens that have a shorter shelf life (about 6-12 months), but hey if you really need it, you’ll use it regularly, and likely before the expiration date.
4. Or, try making your own beauty products! As you regular readers know, I like to say that if you can eat it, it’s safe for your personal care use as well! Try mixing various combinations of coconut oil, olive oil, essential oils, coarse sugars and salts, herbs and spices! Do some research, experiment a bit, and have fun with it!
5. Make sure to help aid your body in the detoxifying process by minimizing your exposure, drinking plenty of water, and eating lots of organic fruits and vegetables.
Don’t stress too much about this folks! There are plenty of safe products available to us. If you have spent good money on your current makeup, face wash, body wash, shampoo, conditioner, and/or lotion and refuse to throw it away.. fine. As each product runs out make sure to replace it with a paraben free version, slowly but surely. And don’t try to give me the “but the [safer] version is more expensive” excuse, poor quality products are just as, if not more, expensive than the paraben-free stuff, and taken an even greater toll on your health. Your life as a healthy individual is much more important than the $0.35 difference you might see.
As always, feel free to comment below or send me a private email if you have any questions at all!
You can also check my personal cheffing for nutrition sources.
“Campaign for Safe Cosmetics : Parabens.” Campaign for Safe Cosmetics : Parabens. Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, n.d. Web. 05 Dec. 2013.
“Parabens.” Parabens. Breast Cancer Fund, n.d. Web. 04 Dec. 2013.
 Byford JR, Shaw LE, Drew MGB, Pope GS, Sauer MJ, Darbre PD (2002). Oestrogenic activity of parabens in MCF7 human breast cancer cells. Journal of Steroid Biochemistry & Molecular Biology 80:49-60.
 Environmental Working Group. Skin Deep. Parabens. Available online: http://www.cosmeticsdatabase.com/ingredient.php?ingred06=704450&refurl=%2Fproduct.php%3Fprod_id%3D17311%26. Accessed December 9, 2008.
 Ishiwatari S, Suzuki T, Hitomi T, Yoshino T, Matsukuma S, Tsuji T. (2006). Effects of methyl paraben on skin keratinocytes. Journal of Applied Toxicology 27:1-9.
 Darbre PD, Aljarrah A, Miller WR, Coldham NG, Sauer MJ, Pope GS (2004). Concentrations of parabens in human breast tumors. Journal of Applied Toxicology 24:5-13.