Breast Cancer

The FDA Says They’re Safe, but Can Parabens Cause Breast Cancer?

+ Pamela Friedman

We mentioned in an earlier post the study that found parabens in the breast tissue of women with breast cancer. However, the FDA maintains parabens are safe. Do we need to worry?

Parabens are popular preservatives used in a wide range of cosmetic products, like shampoos, lotions, shave gels, soaps, makeups, and more. The Journal of the American College of Toxicology reported parabens are currently used in over 13,000 hygiene products. They help deter bacteria from forming, which means the product lasts longer on your shelves. You’ll find them listed on the ingredient deck as methylparaben, ethylparaben, butylparaben, and propylparaben.

These preservatives were first approved for use in 1984, when the FDA determined they were safe. They’ve been ingredients of concern lately, however, because studies have shown their ability to mimic estrogen. A 2002 study showed they can act like estrogen in the body-so much so that they can cause breast cancer cells to grow and proliferate. However, a 1998 study showed that the estrogenic activity of parabens is 10,000-100,000-fold less than the activity of regular estrogen cells. And a 2007 review said that, based on maximum daily exposure estimates, parabens could not increase the risk of estrogen-mediated breast cancer.

But then there’s that study where scientists actually found parabens, intact, in breast tumor tissue. And not just in some-all the samples had at least one paraben, with methylparaben showing up the most. This wasn’t a perfect study. It was small-only 20 women-and the results weren’t compared to women without breast cancer. And it didn’t show that parabens cause breast cancer, only that it was there, in the cancerous tissue.

There’s no doubt that most people walking around today are carrying chemicals in their bodies. (We talked about this in a former post.) A 2008 Dateline NBC story followed 2 families-all members showed in tests to have low-to-moderate levels of 40 chemicals, including parabens. Obviously it doesn’t feel good knowing that we have these chemicals inside us. But are parabens any more dangerous than the others?

Simply put, we don’t know. Science doesn’t know. So far the studies are concerning, but inconclusive. Yes, they found parabens in breast-tumor tissue, but did those parabens have anything to do with causing those tumors? We don’t have the answer yet.

What we do know is that parabens can quite easily penetrate skin, that they do have some estrogenic activity (though weak), and that they can survive, intact, in our body tissues. Beyond that, we need more studies. In the meantime, what do we do?

We at Cinco Vidas just don’t feel comfortable with the idea of estrogenic chemicals hanging around inside us. It’s just not worth the risk. If you, like us, want to avoid piling up potentially dangerous chemicals in your body, watch the ingredient lists on the products you purchase, and avoid those that list parabens. Alternative preservatives that appear more safe include vitamins E and C (tocopherol and ascorbic acid); essential oils like tea tree, thyme, and neem seed; and grapefruit seed and rosemary extracts.

Are you avoiding parabens? Please share your thoughts.

Photo courtesy Pixels of Asta via