Hair Care

Hype or Fact: Are Parabens in Cosmetics Really That Dangerous? You Bet!

+ Pamela Friedman

So you’ve heard it all before: Avoid parabens because they’re toxic and bad for your health. Is it really true?

The fuss around parabens may seem like the latest trend, but the threat from this synthetic ingredient is worse than you may think. To put it simply, parabens are preservatives used in a variety of cosmetic and personal-care products to help them last longer. They go by many different names, including butyl, isobutyl, isoprobyl, methyl, and propyl parabens.

Sure, they’re common, but are parabens really that dangerous? According to our “Ingredients to Avoid” list, a study in the 2004 Journal of Toxicology found that “…18 out of 20 breast tumors contained significant concentrations of parabens.” Study researchers added that almost all of the tumors tested originated from products applied to the skin (like deodorants, creams, or body sprays). Although further research needs to be done before the relationship between parabens and cancer becomes clear, experts agree that simply knowing “parabens can be absorbed through the skin and retained in breast tissue” is a step in the right direction. Despite the cosmetic industry’s continual stance that chemicals (like parabens) are not absorbed into the body, scientist Dr. Philippa Darbre explains, “[This study] demonstrates that if people are exposed to these chemicals…then the chemicals will accumulate in their bodies.”

“Think Before Your Pink” details that one of the primary dangers behind paraben ingredients is their ability to disrupt normal hormone function (by adding outside estrogen into the body). Additionally, because we use many products a day, the accumulative affect of toxic ingredients may amplify the dangers of parabens even more. How many of us are really exposed to high levels of parabens in our daily lives? According to the Breast Cancer Fund, “Parabens have been found in almost all urine samples examined from demographically diverse samples of U.S. adults.” Sadly, parabens find a way of sneaking into almost every one of the products we use on a daily basis. Ann estimated 90% of beauty and cleansing products contain this toxic ingredient.

The best way to take control of your health and protect yourself against parabens is to know the ingredients in your favorite products. Super sleuth and savvy blogger The Paraben Princess explains her process: “When I’m looking for a new product, I check for the list of ingredients online. It’s easier to read labels online than in the store. I start at the bottom and read my way up. The bad stuff is usually the preservative and will be near the end. If there is an ingredient I don’t recognize, I look it up on the Cosmetics Safety Database.” (Click here to read our post on reading product labels). Fortunately, there are a wide array of organic and toxin-free companies that specialize in paraben-free products (including Afterglow Cosmetics and Aubrey Organics). If you want to know more, research safe brands at websites like Skin Deep, or check out a complete list of paraben-free alternatives here.

* What Do You Think: Do you take the studies about paraben ingredients and cancer seriously? What are your tips or tricks for choosing paraben-free products?

Photo courtesy of Snap Village