What Are Parabens & Why Should You Avoid Them?
By: Jacquetta Szathmari
A PRIMER ON PARABEN FREE
Everyone is talking about parabens these days. And while many folks aren't sure what they are, they sure as sugar don't want them in their health and beauty routine. Ongoing research is reviewing connections between chronic paraben exposure and negative health outcomes, but before you start emptying out your medicine cabinet, let's get a few things straight, shall we?
What are parabens?
The word paraben describes a diverse group of synthetic chemical preservatives added to cosmetics, pharmaceuticals and processed foods, to inhibit bacterial growth and improve stability. Parabens keep the ingredients in some of your favorite health, beauty and food products from separating and they also extend shelf life. Typically, the longer a product lasts, the more preservatives and antimicrobials it is likely to contain. These may be natural in the case of essential oils and organic extracts, or they can be made in the lab, such as formaldehyde, acids, ethanols, and our friend, the paraben.
How do parabens enter the body?
Parabens enter the body through the skin, where they can accumulate and circulate through the endocrine system. The absorption rate is affected by both the condition of the skin and the application process. Parabens enter more easily where the skin is most delicate, such as around the eyes, underarms, breasts, and other more intimate areas. Dermal absorption is aided by cleansers and lotions which are formulated to soften skin, thereby opening the door for parabens to waltz right in. Massage products can provide easy access as well, since warmth generated by the massage increases the rate at which the skin can absorb and retain parabens. Parabens can also slip in with the help of abrasive products such as scrubs, waxes and depilatory creams.
Are parabens harmful?
It depends on whom you ask. The word on the scientific street is that daily exposure to small doses of parabens poses no significant health threat. However, daily exposure can become chronic quite easily! It's really a question of how many paraben-containing products you use and how often you use them.
Studies show that the average cosmetic user has nine products in his/her daily regimen, with many of them containing parabens. But since most folks aren't educated on the ins and outs of parabens, they are unable to limit themselves to the recommended dosage. And to complicate matters, there are no long-term comprehensive studies on the effects of chronic paraben exposure, or generally accepted metrics for assessing how much exposure is harmful. But since we're talking about cosmetic products, many consider that it is better to err on the side of caution and eliminate paraben exposure where possible.
What are the effects of parabens in the body?
Again, the science is still coming in, but research papers published on the effects of paraben exposure suggest that parabens can disrupt endocrine functions and may have estrogenic effects. We're talking about your largest organ and some other very important organs - so why take chances?
More specifically, research proposes links between excessive quantities of parabens absorbed through the skin and breast cancer, tumor development, obesity, and gestational diabetes. Parabens may also weaken the skin's ability to shield UVB radiation and may decrease collagen production thus reducing moisture retention and promoting aging.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Jacquetta Szathmari is a New York based writer and the founder of Dernier Mile, a boutique consultancy providing last minute and last mile solutions for your content-intensive, logistically complex, and totally unique creative projects.
Review of the safety of application of cosmetic products containing parabens. Matwiejczuk, Natalia; Galicka, Anna; Brzoska, Malgorzata; Journal of Applied Toxicology, January 2020, Vol 40(1), pp 176-210.
Phthalates, bisphenols, parabens, and triclocarban in feminine hygiene products from the United States and their implications for human exposure.Gao, Chong-Jin; Kannan, Kurunthachalam. Environment International, March 2020, Vol. 136.
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