What are Parabens and Why Should You Worry About Them

Contamination by bacteria, fungi, yeast, and mold are all scary. The mere mention of mold can make some people run for the hills. However, the reality is that, wherever you are, there are microbes around you – in the air, in your bathroom, and on your hands. This is the reason why we need preservatives in our personal care products and cosmetics. These products repeatedly make contact with our hands and face as well as the moist environment of the bathroom. Microbes will try to infect your beauty products. But when they’re formulated to contain effective preservatives, you eliminate the conditions for germs to survive and live in your self-care items.

Parabens are one of the most widely used preservatives in the cosmetic and beauty industry. They do the work of killing fungi and bacteria to stop  them from growing in your personal care products. However, they’re also one of the chemicals that many companies have sworn off due to their potential toxicity. You may have noticed “paraben-free” in product labels, but if you’re still on the fence about their safety, this guide will definitely help you out.

What Are Parabens?

Parabens are a group of chemicals that have been utilized since the 1950s to repress microbes from making a home out of creams, scrubs, fragrances, foundations, lipsticks, shampoos, and more.They effectively stunt the growth of bacteria and fungi, leaving them no chance to develop. They’re usually easy to spot – propylparaben, methylparaben, butylparaben, ethylparaben, and other ingredients ending in paraben, although they’re sometimes listed as alkyl hydroxy benzoates. Preservatives are crucial to keep personal care products and consumers safe, but should you really trust parabens to do that work?

Parabens and Cancer

What are Parabens and Why Should You Worry About Them

There is a long-standing debate about the link between parabens and cancer, however, new research has found that there is cause for concern. Studies have shown that even tiny amounts of parabens can feed cancer cells.

Proponents argue that the amount of parabens that enter the bloodstream is very little to cause adverse effects, but the concern lies in repeated use. The body cannot completely clear 100% of the chemicals that we absorb and repeated use of multiple products may still lead to high paraben levels pooling in the body.

During the study, scientists treated laboratory grown breast cancer cells with low doses of parabens and heregulin, a substance naturally found in breast tissue that promotes cell growth as well as metastasis of breast cancer. After the two substances were combined, the level of parabens needed to stimulate cancer cell growth was lowered by 100 times. This is particularly alarming in light of the fact that the amount of parabens we’re exposed to in daily life does pose risks.

Parabens and Hormone Disruption

What are Parabens and Why Should You Worry About Them

Parabens have also been suspected as endocrine disruptors, and multiple studies have been looking into this. Experts have found that parabens possess a chemical structure and behavior similar to estrogen, which only spells bad news because if parabens disguise themselves as estrogens, the body would think estrogen levels have jumped. This also goes back to the aforementioned concern, because an excessive amount of estrogen may lead to a variety of health conditions, including cancer.

Estrogen is one of the primary hormones of females, while men produce them in lower levels. Increased estrogen in men may lead to infertility, gynecomastia, and erectile dysfunction.

Excessive estrogen can also lead to:

  • Weight gain
  • Irregular menstrual periods
  • Low sex drive
  • Water retention
  • Fibrocystic growth in the breast
  • Hair loss

What Does The FDA Say?

If you think food regulations in the US are inadequate, you haven’t heard about the FDA’s cosmetic regulations. The FDA collectively refers to makeup, hair care, and skin care products as cosmetics, and this is what they say about preservatives: 

“FDA doesn’t have special rules that apply only to preservatives in cosmetics. The law treats preservatives in cosmetics the same as other cosmetic ingredients. Under the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FD&C Act), cosmetic products and ingredients, other than color additives, do not need FDA approval before they go on the market.”

This means it’s up to companies to decide what ingredients and preservatives they use because ingredients don’t need approval before they hit the market. Without stricter regulations about preservatives, our best tool of defense is turning the bottle around and reading ingredients list each time we shop. 

Data about the carcinogenic and estrogenic properties of parabens are hefty enough to warrant extra caution when choosing personal care products. Your beauty items will constantly be subjected to microbes, but you don’t have to let any toxic chemicals enter your body and interrupt your quality of life.