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Preserving with Parabens – why the controversy?

I’ve got to say, sometimes the quest for clean products can seem like a hysterical witch hunt. People demonize ingredients without researching what they are. You hear things like, “if your can’t pronounce it, you shouldn’t use it”. One thing we have to make clear is that skin care products are generally the product of chemistry. Those beautiful thick creams that glide onto your skin had to be emulsified (water and oil mixed and stabilized) and preserved. If you don’t like that, here’s a bottle of olive oil, it works too. Personally I prefer creams and lotions to oils because the addition of water hydrates the skin while the oil protects and nourishes (contrary to popular opinion, drinking water doesn’t contribute much to your skin).

Lotions and creams can be complicated. They require a few elements in order to be a sophisticated formula. One of them is a reliable preservative. The WORST thing that can happen to a product is growth of bacteria – it is extremely dangerous as it can cause cellulitis among other things. All emulsions (water and oil) require a good full-spectrum preservative that will inhibit the growth bacteria and fungus. The most popular, cheap and reliable ingredient that has been used for years for this purpose is the notorious paraben. Do you cringe when you hear that word? I wouldn’t be surprised because it is definitely public enemy number one in the skin care industry these days. So many companies have had to scramble to come up with other options so they can proudly state ‘no parabens’. Is it really that bad?

Here’s where the controversy began. In 2004, parabens were found in 20 breast cancer tumors (Harvey PW, Everett DJ (Jan 2004). “Significance of the detection of esters of p-hydroxybenzoic acid (parabens) in human breast tumours”. Journal of Applied Toxicology 24 (1): 1–4) . In another study, it was found that 60% of all breast tumors are found in just one-fifth of the breast – the upper-outer quadrant, nearest the underarm which led some researchers to suspect that antiperspirants could be to blame (there are parabens contained in most of these products). Also, parabens are known to have mild estrogen-mimicking effects which is believed to have an effect on the development of breast cancer.

I also just read that studies have shown that methylparaben combined with UVB exposure can increase skin aging and DNA damage. This obviously makes no sense when skin care products are meant to do the opposite.

Despite this research, parabens are still considered safe by the powers that be because there is no conclusive evidence, the concentration are so small yadda, yadda, yadda the same stuff you always hear. The fact of the matter is that the rates of breast cancer in young women continues to climb and we still have NO ANSWERS. If we’re not going to be given any causes, then that leaves everything suspect and we need to proceed with caution. Companies should omit this ingredient in favour of something safe (lots of choices out there) and if you are a company that continues to use parabens, don’t have the audacity to have a pink ribbon campaign!!!!

Look for the following on labels – Butylparaben, Ethylparaben, Heptylparaben, Methylparaben and Propylparaben.