Parabens have been a hot topic lately, as more and more brands announce that their products are paraben-free.
Why are parabens such a touchy subject? Well, there was a study (Darbre, in the Journal of Applied Toxicology, 2004) that looked at breast cancer tissue and found parabens there, leading some to conclude that parabens caused cancer. The FDA did not support that assertion, however.
The study didn’t show that parabens caused cancer, it merely said where there is cancer, there are also parabens (post hoc ergo propter hoc). The study also didn’t measure the level of parabens in normal tissue (maybe you have the same quantities of parabens in all your tissues, cancerous and noncancerous).
There have been other studies, which demonstrate that the degree to which parabens emulate estrogen is small. The most potent paraben is still 10,000 to 100,000 times weaker than the estrogen a woman’s body produces naturally. The FDA determined that parabens are safe in concentrations up to 25% — in cosmetics they’re typically found at .01% to .3%.
But, as LeVar Burton used to say, you don’t have to take my word for it (link to the FDA’s report).
Marketing in the cosmetics industry has really run away with science lately. Chemicals aren’t “bad,” and “natural” doesn’t mean good. I’m not looking for a paraben-free label when I shop — for cosmetics, moisturizer, hair care, shaving products, etc. Whether or not you decide it’s something that worries you, I wanted to make sure you had all the facts on which to base your decision.