What Are Parabens?
Parabens are synthetic chemicals that are used as preservatives in a variety of products, including cosmetics, pharmaceuticals and food. As preservatives, parabens give products a longer shelf-life and prevent harmful bacteria and mold from growing in the products, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Many products that contain parabens also contain one or two other types of parabens in their ingredients. And the most common types of parabens are methylparaben.
Researchers are beginning to study whether the use of methylparabens, ethylparaben, propylparaben, butylparaben, isopropylparaben, isobutylparaben and parabens is safe.
What Are The Uses?
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Methylparabens are used in a wide variety of cosmetic products. This includes:
- shaving products
- hair care products
- some deodorants.
“Parabens are widely used because they are extremely effective [and] hypoallergenic and cost very little to produce,” said Sandra Arévalo, director of nutrition services and community outreach at Community Pediatrics at Montefiore Medical Center in New York.
If you’re curious about whether a product contains methylparabens, all you need to do is check the ingredient list. The FDA requires all personal care products to be labeled with a list of ingredients so consumers can see what’s in the product and decide if they wish to use it. Cosmetic manufacturers aren’t required to obtain FDA approval for developing, marketing or selling products to consumers. However, if a cosmetic or personal care product is found to be dangerous when used according to the product’s directions, the FDA will take action and could remove the product from the market.
Parabens: Dangerous Or Not?
Methylparaben doesn’t accumulate in the body. In fact, the body flushes the chemical out pretty quickly. Despite this, many consumers are concerned about the safety of methylparaben. These concerns have increased in light of a claimed link to cancer risk.
“Since 90 percent of common items found in grocery stores contain parabens, the concentration in our bloodstream adds up,” said Dr. Chesahna Kindred, a dermatologist at Howard University in Washington, D.C. And because most people regularly come into contact with parabens, consumers want to know if there are any health risks involved with using products that contain these chemicals.
But the answer is unclear and contentious, Kindred said. “Herein lies the controversy — do parabens cause cancer or not? If so, what amounts of parabens lead to cancer?”
The FDA and different specialists are directing examinations to research the wellbeing of methylparaben. So far there hasn’t been any decisive proof, however there have been instances of people who have had antagonistic responses. While the FDA is reviewing these studies, they haven’t yet come across anything to show that parabens are unsafe for use in cosmetics, foods, or drugs. [What Is Virotherapy? ]
A scientific review of cosmetics and their cancer risks published in 2018 in the JNCI Cancer Spectrum journal concluded that there is no evidence to suggest that using paraben-containing products leads to an increased risk of cancer. The authors noted that a large number of untested chemicals are available in a variety of products in the U.S. and that more cost-effective and high-throughput screening methods are needed for testing potentially carcinogenic ingredients, such as parabens.
Studies with rats have demonstrated that parabens are endocrine-disrupting chemicals, which means parabens could cause breast cancer. However, the endocrine disruption seen in rats occurred only after the animals were dosed with much higher levels of parabens than what humans typically encounter, said St. John. And so far, human clinical trials have failed to show a connection between parabens and increased cancer risk.
However, some individuals may be more sensitive to parabens than others. “As with many potentially hazardous chemicals, different people will have different susceptibilities and sensitivities based on their own genetic backgrounds,” said Gretchen Edwalds-Gilbert, a professor of biology at Scripps College in California.
,Additional resources for further studies on Parabens:
- Review the thorough Safety Assessment of Parabens as Used in Cosmetics from the Cosmetic Ingredient Review.
- Read a Q&A about parabens in food with two food science experts from Best Food Facts.
- Here is the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s Paraben Factsheet.