What the Heck are Parabens & Should You Avoid Them?

You may have seen labels on personal care products in recent years advertising that they are “paraben-free.” Presumably this is a good thing, soo what exactly are parabens, and why should you avoid them?

First of all, parabens are chemicals commonly found in personal care products – cosmetics, moisturizers, lotions, hair care products, fragrances and perfumes and more.  They are even found in some food and medication products.

So why do companies use them?  Because they serve as inexpensive and effective preservatives that extend the shelf life of products by preventing the growth of microorganisms.  They have been in widespread use since the 1950’s.

You can identify parabens on product labels by their names – such as methylparaben, butylparaben, propylparaben, ethylparaben, and isobutylparaben.

Why should you be concerned about parabens?

One problematic issue is that these chemicals are easily absorbed by your body.  They have also been found to mimic the effects of the hormone, estrogen, potentially disrupting your body’s hormone system. This causes concern about a potentially increased risk of breast cancer and other cancers.

Some studies have shown that when methylparaben is put on the skin, it reacts with the sun’s UVB rays, resulting in skin damage and aging.

If you are exposed to parabens on a daily basis, then you could be exposed to their cumulative effects if they stay within your body – as some studies have shown that they do.

In 2004, a researcher by the name of Philippa Darbre found high concentrations of parabens in breast tumors.  However, the study received criticism as they did not study the breast tissue of those unaffected by cancer.

In addition, studies done with rats show that sperm counts decreased when they were exposed to parabens.

Why aren’t parabens regulated?

Some countries do regulate the use of these chemicals, while others do not.  For example, in the U.S.A., the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) states it has no reason to believe that there are safety concerns.  This is in accordance with the Cosmetic Ingredient Review (CIR) findings in 2005.

In Canada, there are also no safety concerns expressed with the use of parabens.  However, the European Union has much more strict protocols in place, and has banned or limited the maximum concentrations of some parabens.

Should you avoid parabens?

Obviously, there does not seem to be much consensus about parabens among the medical community or even the governments of different nations.  This can make it very difficult for the average consumer to know what to do.  However, if you are interested in living a healthy lifestyle and taking steps to improve your health and lower your risk of disease, reducing or eliminating the amount of paraben-containing products that you use on a daily basis may be a good idea.

My philosophy is, as long as the jury is still out on parabens, it may be wise to err on the side of caution. After all, it certainly wouldn’t be the first time that something that was sold as “safe” initially later turned out not to be…

Fortunately, some manufacturers are responding to consumer concerns, and you can now find many products that do not contain parabens. There are even entire cosmetic companies dedicated to providing all-natural and organic products that are paraben-free and safer for your health. Aubrey, MiEssence, and Acure are a few of our favorites.



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