Thursday, July 16, 2009

Debate Over Parabens - Truth And Research

Parabens ~ The Demon Ingredient

The question still remains, "are Parabens safe?" The debate over Parabens will probably rage on, however much more data has come to light and the truth and research is now available to provide actual statistics to the consumer.

The American Cancer Society has also weighed in and the information they have provided on this debatable issue is practical and timely after there has been a lot of negative press on this subject dating mainly back to 2004. Parabens are used as a preservative to improve shelf life and to protect the products from contamination once opened. The main studies originally released were the catalyst to there allegedly being a correlation of the use of antiperspirants and deodorants causing breast cancer.

In doing much research over the past 20 years about certain ingredients, I have always tried to approach it from a standpoint of showing both sides. Never taking what I read or see at face value, I do my own research and while the alarmists may try to validate their points, I try to allow these tales to play out and see what the final outcome will be. It may take several years for this to happen, but as a rule of thumb, I am not easily swayed by those that are strictly trying to serve their own agenda to demonize certain ingredients when in reality they really don't have the proof to substantiate their claims. Opponents and proponents have done battle in the lab and it is clear that the original theories proposed by the opponents to Parabens, no longer hold true.

Throughout this article you will find direct links to final statistics and reports from the necessary authorities on this subject. I hope this will finally remove the undue paranoia that has run rampant throughout the internet causing us to double-check our labels and throw out a lot of otherwise great products based on unsubstantiated theory and narrow testing.

Paraben Family And Other Preservatives

Parabens are a group comprised of various types for providing antibacterial, anti-fungal and antimicrobial properties. They are methyl, ethyl, propyl, butyl, isopropyl and isobutylparaben.

Without preservatives, personal care products will get pretty nasty after being opened or even degrade on a drugstore shelf after a certain period of time. Preservatives are a necessary ingredient to provide complete consumer safety from what actually can go wrong within your favorite skincare or makeup product.

Whether it be in the form of Parabens, Phenoxyethanol, Germall, Potassium Sorbate and a few others, it is actually going to be a personal preference once the research is completed. Also, preservatives are typically combined with one another since a single preservative will not have enough broad spectrum protection as a stand alone ingredient. In most cases you will see propylparaben combined with methylparaben and these two are the most popular in skincare products. Phenoxyethanol is combined with Tetrasodium EDTA to prevent oxidation and to stabilize the preservative further providing additional protection and shelf life.

I have never completely believed Parabens to be the "black hat" that many natural and organic companies have touted to steer clear of since they have a purpose behind their theories and that is to sell their products. So naturally they take the negative reports to support their theories and run with it. Although other preservatives are available with less questionable backgrounds as to their safety.......believe me, there isn't going to be a single preservative out there that can't be identified as having some kind of issue with it. Even natural preservatives are being linked with problems for the users by watchdog groups, and it only serves to make the consumer paranoid.

Why I Don't Use Parabens

I strictly chose to avoid Parabens due to the negative press and not because of a concern for cancer. There have also been allergic skin reactions reported in some cases believed to be linked to Parabens, especially for those with rosacea. So better safe than sorry! However, even though I believe synthetic preservatives are necessary for consumer safety, I still wish to keep the levels as low as I can to keep the skincare products I sell as chemically free as possible without compromising performance. My paraben free solutions possess less than 1% phenoxyethanol to overall product ingredient totals.

Organic preservation under challenge testing in the lab has shown they will not provide the safety levels a consumer needs when purchasing skincare products. The nasty little germs and fungi will begin to develop long before you will actually see them. I wrote an article on "The Importance Of Chemical Preservatives" showing what happens to naturally preserved products after only a couple of months of being opened. Invasion of the nasties occurs much sooner, long before you actually see the contamination.

The Rumors

Over the past few years, going back to 2002, there have been rumors and articles strewn throughout the internet as Parabens being linked to breast cancer due to them acting like estrogen creating endocrine disruption. They have further made this connection primarily in women that use antiperspirants and that Parabens were found in breast tumors so this was the main reason they were linked to the actual cause of the cancer.

The beauty of this is antiperspirants are considered an over the counter (OTC) drug by the FDA since they are designed to stop perspiration in the user and contain aluminum based compound as the active ingredient. So based on this fact antiperspirants are strictly regulated, scrutinized and have been extensively evaluated by the FDA, whereby they are met with approval for being sold to the consumer after the relevant testing. Due to this scrutiny, invaluable testing and evidence is available for assessment and was evaluated by not only the FDA, but the American Cancer Society, (complete Article from ACS) and further testing was done by The National Cancer Institute and Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, WA.

Only The Facts Without Propaganda!

Through evaluation and further testing by these entities, it was shown there is no proof that the use of a deodorant or antiperspirant causes cancer. A related theory which suggested that shaving the underarm area increased the risk of deodorant or antiperspirant induced breast cancer was also disproved in the same study.

Although they have found Parbens in our body tissue, as we would find many chemical compounds in our tissues simply by breathing our air and drinking our water, studies have not unequivocally proven that there is an actual correlation between Parabens or any direct link to causing DNA changes resulting in tumors despite finding low levels of Parabens within the breast tissue.

The American Cancer Society has also addressed these concerns in their own report as the information being spread is "myth" and concede that the rumors, though well intentioned, may be spread for financial gain.......which is what I have stated clearly and repeatedly.

Here We Go Again! makes the argument after also weighing all the research that many opponents to this debate again, show their results through testing on lab animals. This argument is weak and is inconclusive since we are not lab animals. Some of these studies suggest a very weak estrogenic or endocrine disrupting effect of Parabens. However, these studies, which have been conducted in animals, are observed only when they are dosed with extremely high amounts of Parabens..... far greater than anyone would be exposed to under actual conditions of use or with repeated use. The simple fact is that Parabens are 100,000 times weaker than natural estrogen in the body....... far too weak to have any effect in humans.

Some scientific studies have suggested that butyl and possibly propylparaben can mimic the effect of the endocrine hormone estrogen when tested at very high concentrations in cell cultures and female mice. This effect is sometimes referred to as endocrine disruption. Some recent studies have claimed that there is a link between Paraben exposure, particularly in underarm cosmetics, and breast cancer caused by endocrine disruption. These studies have been largely discredited by the scientific community, particularly by those who study the toxic effects of chemicals on the body. In fact, scientists who study the effects of products on the population (epidemiologists) have found no direct link between underarm products and breast cancer.
ref:(1) Mirick, D.K., Davis, S., and Thomas, D.B. (2002) Antiperspirant use and the risk of breast cancer. J. Natl Cancer Inst. 94(20):1578-80.

Many materials found in plants used as food also have an estrogenic effect. These naturally occurring materials are called phytoestrogens and are present in soy and other fruits and vegetables. Some of these phytoestrogens, when tested in the same way as Parabens, give similar estrogen-like results.

Most scientists agree that there is no endocrine disrupting effect from the use of Parabens in cosmetic and personal care products because their action, if any, is so weak.

For me, the lab animal testing is tired and I personally wish they would leave the poor animals out of the equation. There are plenty of studies on humans available through long term observation and use of certain ingredients by way of manufacturers within their material safety data sheets (MSDS) and the many volunteers who participate in trial studies.

Bottom Line.....

The FDA supports the use of Parabens as does the European Union....and under regimented testing by the cosmetics directive of the European Union they too, found no direct correlation of Parabens and cancer. Most recent study updates have been published as of 2008, four years after the string of unsubstantiated reports surfaced in 2004.

The knee jerk reaction of negative reports when they surface is to spread the "bad" word and to be on the negative band wagon as fast as they can. Have you ever noticed that some people love to spread the bad news more-so than the good news?......Sad but true!

Negativity creates drama in their lives and for some it is a part of life and is as necessary as the air they breathe......otherwise known as "gossip" since it is very rarely based on fact but simply something they heard or read. It won't matter to them whether or not all the facts are in, but more importantly to be the bearer of the news first. Recognition and importance becomes the mainstay for those that release these reports such as in the case of scientists trying to establish a reputation and name for themselves or watchdog groups wishing to demonize something to meet their own agenda. And at the risk of being redundant, some of the negativity comes from trying to pursue personal financial gain.

In a society which we are constantly bombarded with negativity at every turn these days....the economy, job losses and financial collapse, it is difficult to sift through the actual facts. Newscasters very rarely spread "good news" since it is not typically newsworthy. Only good news rebuts the spread of "bad news" first, and only then can a consensus be made as to the actual truth the news holds.

This is why patience is necessary as we wait out the final conclusions on ingredients in question since proponents will come forth after opponents have lambasted a certain ingredient, unchallenged. Knee jerk reactions are human nature but if we allow the overblown exaggerated tales to play out, then the actual final conclusion will always make things crystal clear.

In closing, please remember ladies to do self breast exams and get those mammograms to protect yourself in order to catch the early onset of breast cancer, while at the same time feel secure in using your favorite skincare or antiperspirant / deodorant. Yet again, this is a personal preference, but with the facts at hand, the fear of Parabens is unwarranted and will hopefully subside in the future.

Have a great weekend and enjoy your personal care products!

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  1. Thank you so much for this very enlightening article on parabens. I have been confused by the conflicting info. This has helped to clear up the facts.

  2. Glad it helped! I do aim to please and clear up most of the myth you'll find on the internet!