Are Parabens Dangerous?
I’ve long been concerned about the ingredients in my skin care products and lately I keep coming across information about parabens.
I recently read in a book on the topic of cellular health (called Never Be Sick Again), that parabens can actually damage the skin and accelerate aging even more than sunburn!
Now don’t get me wrong – I’m certainly concerned about my health, but my vanity might make it more likely that I will be moved to get rid of products that contain parabens!
But for real. It’s a little disconcerting to think that the very sunscreen I’ve been slathering on my pale face since I was a preteen could actually be harmful to my health or my skin.
So I decided to do a little digging to find out if parabens are indeed dangerous for your health and damaging to the skin.
And after all the research, I’m more confused about parabens than before.
But I’ll share with you what I found so that you can make a decision for yourself. And I won’t leave you hanging about what I’ve decided to do either.
So first let’s talk about what parabens actually are.
Parabens are preservatives.
They’re ingredients added to skin care products for their bacteriocidal, fungicidal, etc effects. Because noone wants their facial moisturizer separating or oozing or moldy, the beauty companies add parabens.
You can recognize them easily when they are called these names: methylparaben, ethylparaben, propylparaben, and butylparaben.
They are also known by some other names that are trickier.
Some parabens occur naturally in plants we eat, like blueberries for instance. They contain methylparaben. If the stuff is so bad, why did God put it in a fruit?
Of course, noone rubs blueberries on their skin. We eat them.
Back to the topic I brought up earlier, about parabens being dangerous for beauty.
In 2004 one researcher, Professor Toshikazu Yoshikawa, who led a team of researchers from the Kyoto Prefectural University of Medicine conducted a study on methylparaben.
Despite the fact that this stuff is considered to be safe, these guys looked for any side effects from normal use. What did they find?
Possible bad effects of parabens
The researchers found that skin cells coated with methylparaben (in most skin car and makeup products) and are exposed to sunlight, they had three times the levels of a lipid called peroxide, than the skin without methylparaben. The bottom line effect? Accelerated aging in your skin.
Professor Yoshikawa’s conclusion was that methylparaben, when exposed to UV (ultraviolet) rays, advances the aging process in skin cells.
Does it seem contradictory that the same product you use for antiaging could be making you older, faster?
Sounds like a great way to sell more beauty products to me.
One study found that parabens were showing up in our urine. Well, that doesn’t seem like an awful thing. It means our bodies are detoxing the stuff, right?
Some people are allergic to parabens, and everybody seems to agree that they can cause rashes and other symptoms. A smaller group of people are highly sensitive to them and will get severe symptoms (like breathing difficulties) and rashes that mimic impetigo, eczema and other woes from exposure.
Here’s where some confusion comes in.
Noone seems to be certain if parabens are absorbed by the skin.
Some of the experts thing the particles are too large to be absorbed into the skin. Others say if they’re found in urine and other body tissues, they must be.
I don’t know. Maybe they’re coming from the blueberries.
An area of concern to me is the reported estrogenic effect of parabens. I’m someone with several family members who had breast cancer. I’m always thinking about how I can decrease my risk.
One small study showed that breast tumors contained parabens. And even the naysayers agree that parabens have a mild estrogenic effect.
But what we don’t know is which came first, the cancer or the parabens? I’m no scientist, but I do know that when analyzing a study, one must prove that two things don’t just occur together often, but that one actually causes the other.
To illustrate: You could make the argument that playing pro basketball causes tallness, because all pro basketball players are tall. But is that true? Of course not. What is true is that tall people are drawn to basketball.
Like the abnormally high aluminum levels found in brain tissue of Alzheimer’s patients, did the aluminum cause the Alzheimer’s, or is there something about the brains of Alzheimer’s patients that likes aluminum and can’t detox it. Or something?
According to the Breast Cancer Fund website:
“Parabens have been shown to be weak estrogen mimickers, binding to the cellular estrogen receptor (ER). They also increase the expression of genes that are usually regulated by estradiol and cause human breast tumor cells (MCF-7 cells) to grow and proliferate in vitro.”
Obviously, more research needs to be done on the potential dangers of parabens.
Given what I said earlier about my family history, this information is reason enough for me to make sure none of my beauty products contain parabens. I went through my stash today and got rid of the ones that did.
Thankfully I had plenty of great, paraben free stuff left to use on my skin and hair!
I have several products from Mambino Organics, all paraben free. My shave cream is by Alba Botanica (their parent company, Avalon Organics, has removed parabens from their products too). Also paraben free. My shampoo is Burt’s Bees. My other shampoo (and conditioner) is from ecoStoreUSA. Deodorant? Lafe’s Natural. (By the way, the owners of the last two companies will be joining me for an interview so look for them on the podcast soon!)
That takes care of my bathroom.
Unfortunately, parabens can also be found in some other products, like prepared foods such as salad dressings (more motivation to make my own. I usually do make my own salad dressings because I don’t like to use soy or canola oils, and olive oil and vinegar are far cheaper!), and even some drugstore items such as topical wound treatments. But I don’t use any of those either so I won’t worry about that.
My final take on the issue is “When in doubt, leave it out.”
If it’s just as easy to choose products that don’t have a potentially dangerous ingredient, why not go ahead and do just that?
More paraben free products: