What’s the deal with Parabens?

As a mom of girls, and someone who occasionally wears makeup, I have started doing research into what is put into the products we buy. I have heard many, many negative things about Parabens and,

As a mom of girls, and someone who occasionally wears makeup, I have started doing research into what is put into the products we buy. I have heard many, many negative things about Parabens and, because it seems to be something that people are generally unaware of, I decided to share what I have learned.
Have you ever wondered how make up is made and what chemicals we are happily applying to our bodies? As a dance mom, I have realised that most of the products I had been using on Fifi’s face, was, in fact, toxic. Imagine my horror! Below I answer a few frequently asked questions I have been faced with since we made the decision to go paraben free.

What exactly are Parabens?

Parabens have been widely used in products to prevent bacteria growth since the 1950s. “About 85 percent of cosmetics have them,” says Arthur Rich, Ph.D., a cosmetic chemist in Chestnut Ridge, New York. “They’re inexpensive and effective.” New York City dermatologist Fran E. Cook-Bolden explains, “Parabens have a long history of safe use, and that’s why they’re commonplace. New preservatives have less of a proven track record.” In fact, typically, more than one form of the ingredient is used in a product. The most common are butylparaben, methylparaben, and propylparaben. Over the last few years, however, in response to customer concerns, many brands have started to manufacture (and label) paraben-free products, including lotions, lipsticks, shampoos, scrubs, and more.


What effect do Parabens have on the human body?

A new study has found that chemicals called parabens can spur the growth of certain types of breast cancer cells. And they appear to be able to do this even in tiny amounts.

Parabens are used in many food and personal care products. They have a chemical structure that’s similar to estrogen, which means they can mimic the effects of that hormone in the body. But they seem do this weakly, and on the scale of chemical threats, researchers thought parabens were pretty low on the list of things to worry about.

New research suggests, though, that they may be more harmful than previously thought.

For the study, scientists grew breast cancer cells in a lab. They treated the cancer cells with low doses of parabens along with heregulin, a growth-promoting substance that’s normally found in breast tissue. The two chemicals are known to have a more powerful effect when combined.

When the two chemicals were combined, the dose of parabens needed to stimulate growth was 100 times lower. That suggests parabens may be exerting effects at levels people are being exposed to in real life, according to study author Ruthann Rudel, who co-directs the research program for the non-profit Silent Spring Institute.


Why shouldn’t we be using products that contain Parabens?

The problem with non-natural ingredients: it’s really hard to test its safety in the long term. Until you have put it in products, and people have actually used it long-term. And that is what is happening now with the parabens. Gradually, awareness is growing that parabens might not be the perfect solution in our quest for preservatives. Parabens have estrogenic properties: which means they act as fake female hormones in the body. This can disrupt hormone balance in both women and men which can be very harmful to our health and make us prone to certain cancers. The effect is very small, though it is measurable.

Public opinion is that if science hasn’t been able to identify any adverse effects, it is therefore safe. Wonderfully illustrated by this quote from Wikipedia: “While even small amounts of parabens introduced in vitro stimulate breast cancer cell proliferation, there is no evidence that application of consumer products containing parabens cause cancer.” Flawed logic, in our opinion. ‘There is no evidence A leads to B’ is not the same as ‘there is evidence A does not lead to B’.


Keep an eye out for my next article featuring alternatives to using chemical rich beauty products.

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