Many consumers have long known their favorite lotions and sunscreens contained parabens, or synthetic chemicals used as preservatives. But with more and more products being touted as “paraben-free," many are now wondering, "What, exactly, are parabens, and are they dangerous?"
Parabens, which inhibit the growth of bacteria, yeast, and molds, have been used in personal-care products like shampoos, conditioners, deodorants, and sunscreens for years, allowing these products to survive for months, or years, during shipping and on store shelves.
Studies have now shown that parabens mimic the activity of the hormone estrogen, which is associated with certain forms of breast cancer.
Parabens are one of the most commonly used ingredients in personal care products. The only ingredient used more frequently is water. You can find them in:
- Creams and lotions
But, did you know they are also present in many prepared foods, like mayonnaise, mustard, salad dressings, and candy?
You can identify them on the label, where they may be listed as:
- methyl paraben
- ethyl paraben
- propyl paraben
- butyl paraben
- isobutyl paraben
Studies have shown that parabens can affect your body much like estrogens, which can lead to diminished muscle mass, extra fat storage, and male gynecomastia (breast growth). Other studies have also linked parabens to breast cancer, as researchers found traces of parabens in every sample of tissue taken from 20 different breast tumors.
The EPA has linked methyl parabens in particular to metabolic, developmental, hormonal, and neurological disorders, as well as various cancers.
Would it surprise you to find out that more than a third of personal care products contain ingredients linked to cancer?
Cancer rates continue to rise, yet of the nearly 4,000,000 synthetic chemicals in your environment, less than one percent of these are known well enough to be able to ascertain their safety. This is a major concern. For example, the Environmental Working Group found that only 28 common cosmetics and toiletries out of 7,500 had all of their ingredients fully tested for safety.
It's important to recognize that whatever you put on your skin is readily absorbed into your bloodstream where it can potentially cause some serious damage to your body. If you want to learn more about the potential toxicity of your cosmetics, I urge you to review the EWG's extensive "Skin Deep Report."
To keep yourself safe, switch over to natural cleaning products and natural brands of toiletries, including shampoo, toothpaste, antiperspirants, and cosmetics.
Some suggestions for healthier, natural alternatives include:
- Deodorant -- A pinch of baking soda mixed into water is an effective all-day deodorant. Common soap and water work just fine too.
- Shampoo and Soaps -- You can find clean, non-chemical soaps at many health food stores. To make better shampoos, you can add a little rosemary oil.
- Skin softener -- A bit of coconut oil works great as an all-over moisturizer.
Beware, however, that there are no federal certifications or official guidelines for beauty products, so anyone can claim their product is natural or organic. Some "organic" beauty products actually contain only a single-digit percentage of organic ingredients!
Truly organic personal care products do not contain preservatives, however they may contain natural antimicrobial and antifungal ingredients like grapefruit seed extract, or antioxidant vitamins (A, C and E), which come with all the benefits of a preservative, but none of the dangerous side effects.
There is no question that the beauty products you use on a daily basis can harm you, and the adverse effects of toxins are compounded over decades, so choose wisely, and read the labels.