In recent years, the use of parabens in cosmetic products has come under scrutiny. What are parabens, what do they do, and are they dangerous?
What are parabens?
Paraben is a popular term for a class of parahydroxybenzoate esters and acids that have been widely used in cosmetic products and personal care products like moisturizers, shampoos, shaving products, lubricants, makeup, and even toothpaste and food additives. They have a long history of use, dating back to the 1930s. They are widely used due to their antifungal and antibacterial properties, making them a reliable and cost-efficient preservative. In skincare and cosmetics, the most common parabens that are used are:
What is the concern with parabens?
There is conclusive evidence from both human and animal studies that parabens don’t have any immediate or acute toxicity. The fact that they have been used for a variety of products without any immediate health issues also points at this. The concern is largely focused on its possible long-term effects.
In 1998, studies found that parabens have a small trace of estrogenic activity. In 2004, a study identified traces of paraben in the breast tissue of patients with breast cancer, causing controversy about our use of this ingredient. Parabens can enter the body both by ingesting it via food or through the skin. The concerns raised focus on the potential effect of accumulating parabens due to long-term exposure via foods, cosmetics, and environmental contacts. When parabens enter the body via the skin, it isn’t diluted by the body metabolizing it. Finally, parabens can trigger an allergic reaction for some people. In most cases, they cause common skin symptoms such as rashes and itching where the skin came into direct contact with the paraben. Serious complications are infrequent.
What do the regulatory bodies say?
The European Union has restricted the concentration of parabens to 0.8% concentration for use in cosmetics. This restriction came at the recommendation of SCCP (European Scientific Committee on Consumer Products). In Canada and the United States, there are no regulatory restrictions on the use of parabens.
Should we be worried about parabens?
There has been considerable research into the potential effects of parabens in recent years. These studies have generally concluded that there are no significant concerns to health that can be demonstrated and that regulatory changes are unnecessary. Parabens have been in the market for over 80 years now without significant issues, and this also suggests that there is no need for alarm.
Recent findings of estrogens and their possible link to breast cancer will require further investigation. In the meantime, there are some alternative preservatives to consider. Unfortunately, many have more rather than fewer concerns when it comes to safety, and grapefruit seed extract, a natural preservative, also has its issues with potential interactions with drugs. For those concerned about paraben, particularly people who have an allergic response, there are alternative cosmetic products available.