Parabens are a chemical compound found in a slew of products like hairspray, foundations, moisturizers, concealers, and more. They’re great as preservatives to keep things from spoiling, but they haven’t been thoroughly studied. For this reason–and because they’re polluting our waterways–many people choose to avoid them.
In 2004, a study found paraben metabolites, forms of the compound that arise once they start to react with other things, in cancerous breast tissue. From these data, many assumed that parabens must cause breast cancer–though the study never directly stated as such, as noted in the rebuttal published later that year.
Parabens are also phytoestrogens. This means they mimic the effect of estrogen, which means an interruption in hormonal functions like menstruation and oil production in the skin (causing acne). When these substances flow down the drain and into our waterways, the ecosystems that soak up tainted water are then effected as well, showing affects in reproductions as well as minor genetic alterations. Parabens are not only found in beauty products, the phytoestrogens naturally occur in foods like oats, yams, and sesame seeds as well.
That being said, the lack of scientific studies on parabens and how they affect humans and ecosystems around the globe[see other blog here], people choose to avoid them. The USDA, who doesn’t regulate the use of parabens in cosmetics, agrees more work needs to be done. They note that if any health hazard arises from these compounds, they’ll advise the industry and the public, though let it be known that Europe banned the use of five parabens in their cosmetic products in 2014.
Scientific American leaves us on a hopeful note: “Many natural and organic cosmetics manufacturers have found effective alternatives to parabens to prevent microbial growth in personal care products,” reports CSC. “Some companies have created preservative-free products that have shorter shelf lives than conventional products (six months to a year), but if used daily are likely to be used up before they expire.” Readers can check out Breast Cancer Action’s list of over 100 cosmetics and personal care product makers committed to avoiding parabens in their products. Also, see if your favorite products contain parabens or other risky ingredients via Environmental Working Group’s free online “Skin Deep” database.