Parabens are synthetic preservatives used in cosmetics and personal care products. Many people get allergic reactions to parabens. Products using alternatives to paraben are available in the market.
Why should I be aware of this?
- Parabens are preservatives commonly found in shampoo, makeup, skin lotions, creams, foaming cleansers, lipsticks, lip glosses, deodorants and shaving gels to protect them from bacterial and fungal contamination.
- Parabens are being used in products like lotions, deodorants, and make-up that stay on the skin for long periods of time, being absorbed directly into the body.
- Some scientists are concerned that parabens could migrate through the skin and into the bloodstream, bypassing the gastrointestinal system, which normally breaks down and eliminates toxins from the body.
- The so-called natural, nontoxic hair care products and cosmetics could indeed be toxic.
How does this affect me?
- There could be possible negative effects from long-term exposure to parabens.
- Many people have allergic reactions to these preservatives causing skin rashes and irritation.
- They are suspected to be endocrine disruptors, and have been found to mimic estrogen in laboratory experiments.
- A study published in 2004 (Darbre, in the Journal of Applied Toxicology) detected parabens in breast tumors. The study also discussed this information in the context of the weak estrogen-like properties of parabens and the influence of estrogen on breast cancer.
All about parabens
Parabens are chemicals. There is nothing natural or organic about them.
What are parabens
Parabens are used as preservatives in many thousands of cosmetic, food and pharmaceutical products to which we are exposed. Parabens are permitted as preservatives in food up to 0.1%. In cosmetics, parabens are permitted in concentrations of up to 1%.
Typically, more than one paraben is used in a product, and they are often used in combination with other types of preservatives to provide preservation against a broad range of microorganisms. The use of mixtures of parabens allows the use of lower levels while increasing preservative activity.
What to look for on cosmetic label
All items listed below are parabens, check your product labels for these terms:
- Methylparaben (E218)
- Ethylparaben (E214)
- Propylparaben (E216)
- Benzyl-parahydroxybenzoic acid
- Methyl-parahydroxybenzoic acid
- Ethyl-parahydroxybenzoic acid
- Propyl-parahydroxybenzoic acid
- Butyl-parahydroxybenzoic acid
- Parahydroxybenzoic acid
FDA and paraben regulation
The Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FD&C Act) USA does not authorize FDA to approve cosmetic ingredients, with the exception of color additives that are not coal-tar hair dyes. In general, cosmetic manufacturers may use any ingredient they choose, except for a few ingredients that are prohibited by regulation
Paraben in food
Methyl paraben is a stable, non-volatile compound used as an antimicrobial preservative in foods, drugs and cosmetics for over 50 years. Methyl paraben is readily and completely absorbed through the skin and from the gastrointestinal tract. It is excreted through urine and there is no evidence of accumulation.
Principal applications for parabens in food includes
- Jelly coatings of meat products
- Surface treatment of dried meat products
- Cereal or potato based snacks
- Coated nuts
- Confectionery (excluding chocolate)
- Liquid dietary food supplements.
An expert science panel at the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has concluded that a group ADI (Acceptable Daily Intake) of 0-10 mg/kg body weight per day could now be established for methyl and ethyl parabens and their sodium salts, but not propyl paraben due to recent research that questioned its impact on sperm production in rats.
What can I do?
There have been a few studies linking paraben usage to adverse impact on health. However, science has yet to comprehensively prove the same. Thus, limiting one's exposure to parabens is a personal choice, and if one wants to then there are plenty of paraben-free products available.
- Do not assume that products that are labeled ‘natural’ or ‘organic’ do not contain parabens. Always check the label, you will often find the parabens on small print at the bottom of the back label.
Is the impact of paraben different in different personal care products?
The impact of paraben is not different. But since the duration of application is different, the impact on health gets aggravated.
When your face wash or soap contains parabens, you are exposed for a short period of time. When you apply deodorant / antiperspirant, it stays on your skin throughout the day. Any harmful substance that can be absorbed through the skin, has ample time to get absorbed.
- A 1995 survey of 215 cosmetic products found that parabens were used in 99% of leave-on products and in 77% of rinse off cosmetics. methylparaben is effectly known to penetrate through our skin.
- Parabens: food authority proposes limit for food preservative
- Evaluation of the health aspects of methyl paraben: a review of the published literature