Recently I posted an editorial on parabens, and in the resulting discussion one of my readers, Lulubelle of Bon Vivant Beauty, brought up a good point that I want to address. Since my commentary was more on the marketing aspect of the paraben controversy, I glossed over some of the concerns about this common family of preservatives. I am not a chemist or dermatologist, and being that the science on parabens is still emerging, I have generally left the issue to those who have greater access to the current literature on the subject. Still, my commentary has opened up some discussion (which I love) and I definitely don't want to ignore such a vital topic.
Though I discussed paraben sensitivities in my article, one of the prevalent concerns about parabens is the possible link to estrogenic activities. In her comment, Lulubelle mentions having looked at several studies, and though there is a mountain of research on the issue, the majority of the scientific literature I've seen doesn't exactly point to a direct cause and effect situation. One thing I've learned in my years of cosmetic research is how important it is to look at the parameters of a study and whether they realistically apply to humans.
One of the studies I found used to implicate parabens was done in fish (yes, fish) using a dose of 100-300 mg/kg. In case you didn't know (I didn't, luckily FutureDerm's Nicki Zovolo did the math for us!) that's about 24 times higher than a reasonable estimate of human exposure. Oh, and the fish were injected with the parabens; not exactly the same as slathering night cream on their... scales. This and other such studies contain information that sounds alarming when taken out of context, but so far have failed to concern me. But you don't have to take my word for it- this study published in Critical Reviews in Toxicology states: "it is biologically implausible that parabens could increase the risk of any estrogen-mediated endpoint". Couldn't have said it better myself.
The most eye-catching headline of late concerning parabens has been the discovery of parabens in breast cancer tissue. While that certainly sounds like a cause for concern, it's important to note that the authors of the study don't conclude that parabens are harmful in any way, only that further research is warranted. To date, In fact, the current scientific consensus is that parabens are safe for use in cosmetics in concentrations up to 25%, though typically they're only used at levels of 0.01 to 0.3%.
Here is some more interesting information on parabens:
- Despite internet rumors to the contrary, parabens are used legally in cosmetics in the EU, though some types of parabens (those that were not used in cosmetics) have been banned. Methylparaben and Ethylparaben can be used at a maximum concentration of 0.4% Butylparaben and Propylparaben are allowed at a use level of 0.19%.
- Evidence has shown that parabens do not accumulate in the system beyond 36 hours, meaning there is no logical risk of "build up" for the life time user.
- Parabens are 10,000 to 100,000 times weaker than natural estrogen in the body.
- We eat 10 times the amount of parabens in our food than what we're exposed to in our cosmetics.
- Parabens occur naturally in many plants, such as honeysuckle and cocoa. They are also found in fruits and veggies like carrots, coconuts, blueberries, olives, raspberries, and strawberries. According to cosmetic chemist Dene Godfrey, "If natural substances are extracted from plants that contain parabens, it follows that parabens may be present in the final cosmetic product". Using that logic, popular "paraben-free" brands like Burt's Bees, Dr. Hauschka, Korres, and Yes To (among many, many others) may not be telling the whole truth with their paraben-free claims.
Of course, I don't mean this (or really any of my posts) to be taken as a compendium of all available data; I simply wanted to present you with information on why I personally am not concerned about parabens in my cosmetics. Take this post as a bit more insight into what has informed the opinion I expressed in my previous post- that many companies are perpetuating a perhaps un-earned negative perception for profit. Of course, science is constantly evolving, and since parabens are a hot-button issue right now, I have no doubt that study in the area will be ongoing. As always, I'll keep an ear to the ground, and you know I'll let you know if I hear any rumbles!