What are parabens? Why should I stay away?

costumer shopping in the supermarket choosing a product

With the new green movement in trying to promote a more sustainable lifestyle and natural products that are being promoted lately, we’ve seen a lot of controversy and claims that many things are now “paraben free”. But what exactly are parabens? And why should we be so afraid of them? It’s effective anti-microbial properties are effective and used in everyday things from shampoos to makeup products which is used as a preservative in nearly 90% of all cosmetics. Parabens, which include butylparaben, isobutylparaben, ethylparaben, methylparaben, propylparaben, isopropylparaben, and benzylparaben, can be absorbed through the skin and migrate into the bloodstream and body tissues. Due to the migration of the parabens, concerns have been raised recently, about possible links between some cosmetic products containing parabens and the incidence of breast cancer.

The reason why it’s linked to breast cancer is that these parabens, if entering the human body, are often found to accumulate in fatty components of body tissue. In several of the studies that I’ve read, concentrations of parabens were found in samples of breast tumours. Guys, don’t think this doesn’t count for you either! Although breast cancer in men are rare, certain populations are at higher risk as well as certain ethnic groups.

This posed a concern for scientists and a study for underarm antiperspirant or deodorant use and the association for breast cancer risk in women between the ages of 20 and 74 was conducted in 2002. The overall results showed that breast cancer risk was not found to increase with antiperspirant or deodorant use in general or with use of such products in those who shaved with a razor blade, or with use of such products within 1 hour of shaving. Although this may show that there is no correlation to breast cancer and the use of deodorants/antiperspirants, further information was found. The intensity of underarm exposure in breast cancer survivors (results from 437 women) revealed that an earlier age of breast cancer diagnosis was associated with the frequency and earlier onset of antiperspirant/deodorant use combined with underarm shaving. Therefore, because of this information, the investigators concluded that while underarm shaving with use of antiperspirants or deodorants may contribute to breast cancer, case-control studies are necessary to arrive at appropriate recommendations for alternatives.

Although we would like science to prove things definitively, that may not always be true. Unfortunately there will always be things that need further evidence and studying in order to come up with a more defined answer. Due to the fact that most of these studies are inconclusive, I’ll be erring on the side of caution myself and be more aware of what kinds of things I will be purchasing from now on.

What are your thoughts on the matter?

If you would like to know more information on parabens and various studies conducted, please check out these scientific articles for more information:

Parabens. (Cosmeceutical Critique) by Baumann, Leslie S. (2007)
Concentrations of Parabens in Human Breast Tumours by P. D. Darbre, A. Aljarrah, W. R. Miller, N. G. Coldham, M. J. Sauer and G. S. Pope. (2004)
Male breast cancer by Nicole P. Sandhu, Marie Brid Mac Bride, Christina A. Dilaveri, Lonzetta Neal, David R. Farley, Charles L. Loprinzi, Dietlind L. Wahner-Roedler and Karthik Ghosh. (2012)

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