The Paraben Paradox- clarifying a very controversial topic
By: Carrie E. Pierce
Many Menopausal women have asked about the paraben controversy currently sweeping the cosmetics industry. There is so much misinformation swirling about this issue, it’s difficult to tell what the truth actually is.
Parabens are the most commonly utilized preservative system in the United States. The parabens are designated as methyl-, propyl-, butyl-, and parahyroxybenzoate and stem from a family of chemicals called alkyl esters of p-hydroxybenzoic acid. They are petroleum derived.
During 1977 approximately 30 % of all cosmetic formulations registered with the FDA utilized parabens as preservative.
Water has been the only ingredient used with more frequency in cosmetic formulations.
Parabens are known to be broad-spectrum antimicrobials and they are deemed safe for use; shown to be nonirritating, nonpoisonous, stable over the pH range. They are also non-sensitizing.
Parabens are used in very tiny amounts within cosmetic formulations in a range usually from 0.2 to 0.5% for methylparaben and approximately 0.1% for propylparaben.
They’ve been widely used since the early 1900s and have appeared in thousands of products ranging from cosmetic preparations to pharmaceutical medicines.
Other preservatives such as urea and quaternarium/quaternary ammonium compounds cannot be represented in such a benign way.
The current hullabaloo surrounding these little molecules started in Europe during 2004. An English toxicologist published a study stating that she had found paraben residues in cancerous breast tumors.
She also stated that there was strong evidence indicating that these paraben residues came from parabens that were applied to the skin, not consumed via mouth.
Although there were several proven flaws in her study, the study was published and widely circulated throughout the world.
Numerous agencies built upon the study’s incorrect findings and circulated misinformation. Soon, it became widely believed that parabens cause breast cancer.
By 2005, scientists began to publish opinion pieces on the European study, evaluating paraben safety as it relates to breast health.
As there were many faults contained in the original European study it was important to dispel the myths.
This has proven a tough task, as folks have run scared, and some cosmetic companies are doing all they can to keep the fear raging- because they are profiting from it.’
The original study was fundamentally flawed on several levels:
#1: The toxicologist performing the original study, looked at only 20 breast tumors; an extremely small group of tissue samples.
#2: There was no control group. The toxicologist failed to study healthy tissue samples to look for paraben residues in them.
Had she, she would’ve found them.
#3: No mention was made that methyl- and propylparaben are the primary preservative systems for chemotherapy drugs.
Of course these tumors contained traces of paraben residue! If any of the tumor donors had received chemotherapy, it was a given that their tumors would show traces of paraben residue.
#4: No one studied the lifestyles of the tumor donors. Perhaps they had participated in hobbies or occupations that exposed them to other more potent sources of parabens, aside from just cosmetics preparations.
#5: The study claimed that the source of the paraben found in the breast tumors came from underarm deodorants/ antiperspirants.
The SCCP (Scientific Committee on Consumer Products) makes the point that approx. 98% of deodorant and antiperspirants do not contain parabens.
So, what does all this mean to the dazed and confused consumer?
It has been concluded that there is little evidence that parabens cause/are linked to breast cancer, especially when taking into consideration their very weak estrogen mimicking potential.
(Parabens are one thousand to one million times weaker than naturally occurring estrogenic compounds and also weaker than soy.)
It is acknowledged that parabens are capable of penetrating the skin, though not to the degree that folks seem to think. When paraben penetrates the skin it is not stored in the body but is rather turned into a metabolite that is incapable of becoming estrogenic.
Another point to consider: methyl and propylparaben do not release formaldehyde gas when the product containing those parabens is used. Many other preservatives do.
It makes sense to demand that the cosmetics industry work to develop naturally derived preservative systems so that we can do away with outdated, petroleum-derived preservatives.
Yes, it is far better to use products that are formulated from natural ingredients that are recognized by the body: ingredients that our bodies have evolved with, throughout history.
The bottom line at this stage is simply this, in my professional opinion:
Until all companies are required to use only naturally-derived preservatives, as a professional who has studied this topic in-depth, I have no problem using a preservative system that: doesn’t release formaldehyde gas, is stable over the pH range, kills yeast, fungus AND mold, is deemed safe enough for use in IV medicine and is less of an estrogen mimicker than soy. Like it or not… agree with it or not… Methyl and Propyl paraben fits this bill.