Danger or hysteria?
Dangerous chemicals are found in many of the products we use every day. And even though we may assume that these products have been tested, that may not be the case. In the EU alone over 100,000 chemicals are used, and most of them have not been tested.
Parabens are mentioned most often in debates about health and dangerous ingredients in creams and other personal skin-care products.
In the media, in organizations, in magazines, and on websites, parabens are generally described as hormone-disruptive.
But is that correct?
Have scientist come so far that they are able to prove that parabens can influence our internal system when we apply a cream to our skin?
There are pros and cons with regard to preservatives with parabens in skin-care products, but no matter your conviction, it is a legal requirement that skin-care products that contain water have to contain a preservative.
The story of parabens
Parabens first surfaced in the 1920s and were introduced to the beauty and food industries approximately 20 years later. So, parabens have been used in cosmetics for more than 70 years, which means they are among the most well-documented ingredients on the market.
The effect of parabens
Parabens is a common name for a group of preservatives that are typically used in skin creams, shampoo. and make-up to hinder degradation of the product.
Parabens protect some people from allergy, since they prevent the products from rotting and causing infections. In other words, parabens prevent deterioration of eczema, for example.
Liquid cosmetics have to contain a preservative to prevent the formation of harmful bacteria, yeast, and mold.
Parabens in our food
Parabens are often used as preservatives in our food and medicine.
They are esters (chemical compounds) of p-hydroxybenzoic acid, where the alcohol and the acid, along with most of their esters, are found as natural pigmentation in a lot of plants.
In other words, you may often eat something that some believe to be too dangerous to apply to your skin and hair.
Parabens as financial gain
The reason that the cosmetics industry has been so fond of parabens is because of the great preservative properties of parabens and that they seldom cause allergies, compared to many other preservatives.
Parabens are also inexpensive.
Parabens and allergy
According to past and recent research, parabens used as a preservative do not cause allergies. At the same time, products containg parabens are recommended by dermatologists, because allergy to parabens seldom occurs.
In Denmark, the content of parabens in cosmetic products is regulated under an announcement from the Ministry of Environment. There is a limit of no more than 0,4% of a single paraben and no more than 0,8% of a paraben mixture allowed in skin-care products. These are concentrations that very seldom can provoke allergy.
Parabens have great preservative properties and very few people develop allergies to them, compared to many other preservatives.
Cancer and parabens
That parabens can cause cancer is a statement derived from a survey made in 2004, when parabens were found in breast cancer tumors.
Further investigation proved that the liquid in which the tumor was stored contained parabens. Therefore, there was no connection between the discovery of parabens in the tumors and the development of cancer.
Furthermore, this has been confirmed by a survey made by the scientific committee in the EU in 2005, to prove that the use of parabens in consumer products does not cause cancer.
Butyl and isobutyl parabens are critical because they accumulate in animals, and because of that they can find their way onto the human system when those particular parabens are used in food or other products consumed by humans.
The eco secretariat Ecolabel.dk refers to the critique of these parabens, but stresses that the effect of both parabens is minimal, corresponding to 1/100.00 part of a birth control pill.
Parabens and birth-control pills
How many of the women who worry about parabens use birth control pills?
If you use products containing butyl and isobutyl parabens ten times a day for 30 years, that would be the equivalent of the effect of taking one birth control pill.
Green light for parabens
The scientific committee for consumer products of the EU SCCP (SCCP is a scientific committee that refers to the European Commission: Health and Consumer Protection DG) have considered the safety of using parabens in consumer products.
The committee’s conclusion is this: Methyl parabens and Ethyl parabens are completely safe to use. Propyl parabens, butyl parabens, isopropyl parabens, and isobutyl parabens have been given a yellow light, because the committee needs more information before they can make a decision. But isopropyl and isobutyl parabens are seldom used in cosmetics.
Every day our bodies are subjected to 50 mg of parabens by our regular use of moisturizers and shampoo. Animal testing has proven that it will take 1000 mg per kilo of body weight every day to register a negative effect.
That means that a person with a body weight of 60 kg has to be subjected to 60,000 mg propyl parabens. That is 1200 times more than the person is subjected to by the everyday use of moisturizer and shampoo.
WHO has recently examined all the knowledge obtained regarding hormone-disruptive ingredients. Their conclusion is that there is no proof of any danger for humans who are subjected to that amount of parabens in everyday life.
Alternatives to parabens
There are alternatives to parabens, but they are not nearly as good, since they can cause allergies and dry out the skin. And no one knows the long-term effect of those parabens alternatives on humans or the environment.