The Problem With Parabens

bottles of toiletries

Parabens are some of the infamous ingredients in beauty products today. Why, what really are parabens? And more importantly, what’s wrong with parabens?

Why are parabens sneaked into personal care products?
Any skin care product which contains water can easily go bad because of bacteria, molds and yeasts. Oils also go rancid without antibiotics. To solve this problem, manufacturers of beauty products would include parabens in their formulations. Parabens are synthetic chemicals which act as antibiotics which kill off bacteria, molds and yeasts. By killing microorganisms which cause spoilage, parabens preserve products and extend shelf life.

According to the Environmental Working Group, parabens are used in a total of 25,000 skin care products. So extensively used are parabens in personal care products that when the Center for Disease Control randomly tested urine samples of 100 adults, all samples were found to be positive for parabens. Parabens are found in facial washes, soaps, shampoos, conditioners, body lotions, facial creams, shaving gels, anti-perspirants and many other personal care products.

Are all parabens harmful?
There are many forms of parabens that are being used in skin care products. Methyl parabens , ethylparabens, butylparabens, isoparabens and propylparabens are some of the commonly used. Because a particular paraben is effective for only a few bacteria, manufacturers would use a blend of different parabens in order to protect the products from a wider range of microorganisms.

There are actually naturally-occurring parabens. Mother’s milk, for instance, contains sodium methylparaben and sodium propylparaben. Strawberries also contain natural parabens. These natural parabens are not harmful since they are recognized by the body and are promptly metabolized or broken down in much the same way that food is broken down. However, manufacturers do not use natural parabens since these are expensive. Instead, they use cheaper but harmful synthetic parabens.

What are the harmful effects of parabens?
Parabens have been found in breast cancer tissue in a study conducted in 2004. Although this does not conclusively make parabens a carcinogen, the issue nonetheless brought the chemical to a bad light. The fact that parabens were found in breast tissue means three things. Firstly, it means that parabens are absorbed into the body tissues. Secondly, it implies that parabens stay unmetaboliized in the tissues. Thirdly, it also implies that accumulation of undigested parabens is possible.

Another cause of concern regarding parabens is that these chemicals mimic the functions of estrogen. As such, they have the potential to upset normal reproductive, fertility and hormonal functions in the body. The European Commission on Endocrine Disruption says there is strong evidence for parabens being human endocrine disruptors.

Aside from the grave concern on its being carcinogenic, parabens have also been found to react with ultraviolet radiation in such a way as to speed up cell death and aging. As such, the presence of parabens may cancel out the anti-aging effects of the other ingredients in the beauty product.

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