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Parabens are a group of popular preservatives that are found in a wide variety of products. You may see them written towards the end of the ingredient list sometimes as methylparaben, butylparaben, isopropylparaben or others ending in paraben. Used in the cosmetic and pharmaceutical industries for a number of years, they have a lengthy and somewhat controversial history. So, what is really behind all the worry of Parabens and are they ingredients we need to be concerned about?

 

 

Chemistry 

Parabens are esters of para-hydroxybenzoic acid. Found naturally in many plant sources, the commercial supplies that are used in products are usually all synthetically produced.

 

Use & Benefits

  • Used as a broad spectrum anti-microbial preserving agent alone or in combination with other preservatives
  • Inexpensive
  • Effective at very low concentrations 
  • Effective toward a number of different microbes
  • Overall low toxicity 

 

Controversy

1.) Over the years, some Parabens have been found in breast cancer tumors in a few different studies creating suspicions that they may be a contributing factor in the role of breast cancer. 

2.) The chemical structure of Parabens also slightly mimic estrogen which is a hormone known to play a role in breast cancer and gives them the possibility to play a role in endocrine disruption as well. 

The majority of studies have found Parabens to be safe when used at normal levels. Yet, the few studies that have shown a possible role with breast cancer and endocrine disruption taints their reputation even though the majority of these studies weren't properly executed and their results inconclusive.

 

So... do Parabens really pose a threat? 

 

Based on the majority of scientific evidence and the long term history and prevalent use in products, one would conclude no. 

However, given that many products we use everyday do contain these ingredients and the average individual uses multiple personal care products daily, there is a possibility that over exposure combined with a weakened immune system can contribute to long term problems for some individuals. Especially those that may be positive for estrogen dependent breast cancer or those with endocrine problems, most notably estrogen dominance. 

With so many other exogenous hormones (many of them estrogen mimics) in our food supply and other chemicals in our products, the addition of a potential carcinogen or endocrine disruptor would be undesirable. Especially when there are many other alternative preserving agents available.