Parabens are a common preservative found in many personal care products that were developed in the 1950’s. Examples of different parabens include methylparaben, ethylparaben, propylparaben, butylparaben and isobutylparaben. Anytime a product contains water or an ingredient that has a high water content, like aloe, it is required by law to have a preservative. In this country where 1.5 pages of law exist for the personal care industry, this is one of them. If it doesn’t contain a preservative, the shelf life is extremely short and usually needs to be refrigerated. Preservatives are designed to kill mold and bacteria which can cause a host of health issues and because of what they are designed to do, none are 100% safe. Despite this they are necessary and some are safer than others.
Parabens are endocrine (or hormone) disruptors, which alter important hormone mechanisms in our bodies. The endocrine system regulates mood, growth and development, tissue function, metabolism, sexual function and reproductive processes. Some chemicals mimic a natural hormone and thereby fool the body into responding; a false cue like this could result in the body producing more estrogen, which in turn could lead to something like breast cancer. Other disruptors block the effects of a needed hormone, or cause overproduction or underproduction of hormones (for example, an overactive or underactive thyroid).
In the case of their link to breast cancer, they mimic estrogen by locking onto our cell’s own estrogen receptors and messing with important natural signals. A 2004 British study detected traces of five parabens in the breast tumors of 19 out of 20 women studied. This study showed the presence of intact parabens, unaltered by the body’s metabolism, which is an indication of the chemical’s ability to penetrate skin and remain in breast tissue. Due to their estrogenic effects, you will also see them impacting fertility, puberty, and menopause. We are only beginning to understand how various chemicals, like parabens, act when combined with other chemicals, but it is thought that certain combinations can be quite harmful. It is also thought that parabens build up over time, so you can start to see a cumulative effect. While each individual product may contain acceptable levels as set by the FDA, cumulative exposure to the chemicals from several different products could be overloading our bodies and contributing to a wide range of health problems.
Flip over those bottles and see if anything that ends in paraben is in your bottles and if you find it, please toss it!