We’ll tell you how to spot parabens, where they’re hiding, and why to avoid themUpdated on August 2, 2018 Written by: Susie Wang®
No doubt you’ve heard about those sneaky little preservatives called parabens. They’re abundant in cosmetics, food, pharmaceuticals, and hair care products. Alarmingly, the American Chemical Society estimates that parabens are in 85% of personal care products. These are products you’re using daily, dozens of times a day, 365 days a year. As you might imagine, the effects of parabens can build up when used this frequently.
What Do Parabens Do?
The purpose of parabens is to prevent bacteria from forming in products. A great example is face lotion in a tub or jar, which comes into contact with germs from our hands during every application. That’s why you’ll see parabens in everything from food, to medicine, to makeup. OK, so why are parabens bad for us? Anything we inhale, ingest, or put on our skin can be absorbed in the body and potentially cause damage over time. The majority of paraben exposure happens when these products (and their parabens) are absorbed through the skin: lotion, hair care, deodorant, makeup, and skin care. And if you’re consuming parabens through food, food additives, or even by accident through toothpaste or lipstick, the effects can be potentially worse.
Why Are Parabens Bad?
Studies show that parabens artificially mimic estrogens in the body, leading to a host of problems including extra fat storage, male breast growth, metabolic, developmental, hormonal and neurological disorders, various cancers including and most notably, breast cancer. Estrogen is a female hormone that has been known to cause both normal and cancerous breast cells to grow and divide. In the past decade, research has concluded that parabens were present in 99% of breast cancer tissues sampled. Breast cancer tumors contained measurable amounts of six parabens, found in relative concentrations that closely parallel their use in the synthesis of cosmetic products.
This was realized by lecturer and researcher Philippa Darbre of England in 2004, during her investigation of estrogen’s effects on breast cancer. Her team identified parabens in 18 of 20 biopsies of breast cancer tumors. When parabens are absorbed into the skin, they mimic estrogens, disrupt our endocrine systems and can lead to breast cancer in both men and women. Darbre found that not only do parabens fuel the growth of existing cancer cells, but they are also carcinogenic. In 2012, Darbre repeated her study -- she found that the paraben level of her 2004 samples were four times higher. "I do think that the parabens are only one part of a much bigger picture," Darbre said. Even if they’re only a small part of a bigger problem, parabens should still be avoided.
Parabens were also discovered in almost every adult urine sample through the demographically diverse NHANES study. Teens and adult women had the most propylparaben and methylparaben in their urine compared to males, likely because they use more personal care products. Healthy young males were given lotion with parabens to put on their bodies, and just hours after exposure to the lotion, the men’s blood and urine contained parabens! This proved that these widely used chemicals get absorbed quickly and easily into the skin. This fact alone is concerning! The FDA doesn’t believe there’s cause for alarm, however the EWG suggests that repeated paraben exposure over time (and through the many items containing them) could cause serious harm. If you’re still wondering, ‘why are parabens bad?’ best to re-read this last section, to let their serious side effects sink in (no pun intended).
How to Spot a Paraben
Spotting a paraben is a lot easier than you might think, but you need to start by reading EVERY product label. Most common are methylparaben, propylparaben, ethylparaben and butylparaben -- notice a pattern? Any personal care product that has an ingredient ending in -paraben should be on your list of products to avoid. In food, parabens are a little trickier to spot; they’re identified as “E” ingredients like E214, E216, etc. If you’re looking to avoid parabens in your personal care products, start with your shopping list. These are the top offending products that might contain parabens, so give their ingredients an extra close read:
- Hair Serum
- Body Lotion
- Face Moisturizer
- Eye Cream
- Face Cleanser
- Face Serum
- Shaving Cream
The Good News About Parabens
The good news about parabens is that they can easily be avoided, and replaced with safer alternatives. The purpose of parabens is a noble one, but when it comes to their high risk factor to your health, we can’t help but disagree with their use. Opt for truly natural (not greenwashed) brands that use antioxidants, tocopherols, or herbs to preserve their formulas. 100% PURE uses all three! Japanese Honeysuckle (pictured above), is also a potent preservative, which has been proven to be much safer than synthetic parabens.
More good news? The overall number of products containing parabens has dramatically decreased from 2005-2011, researchers believe, as a result of consumer pressure. What we buy and choose as consumers absolutely makes an impact, for our individual health and that of the collective whole! Stay away from anything ending in -paraben on the label and tell your loved ones to do the same. The more we know, the more educated our decisions can be. What we put on our skin (just like what we put in our bodies) can either nourish or hurt us. Here at 100% PURE, we’ve always been paraben-free and completely natural. We want to teach others how to live life as purely as possible to avoid the consequences of toxic beauty. Stay tuned for more blogs on Pure living!