The Dangers of Parabens – Methyl, Butyl, Ethyl and Propyl

As one of the most commonly known toxins, parabens are found in many cosmetics and personal care items most people use every day.  Its intention as a preservative and antimicrobial agent is good, but its side-effects are anything but.

What are Parabens?

Parabens are chemical compounds frequently used in cosmetics, skincare and personal care items, as well as some foods and pharmaceuticals, to preserve their structure and discourage the growth of microbes that can be harmful to the body.  They are added to many products with a high water content to prevent yeasts, molds and bacteria from forming.  The most common parabens are methylparaben, propylparaben, butylparaben and ethylparaben.  Each of these is similar in structure and is used for the same purpose in consumer products.

From a chemical perspective, parabens are esters of p-hydroxybenzoic acid; they act as estrogen mimickers known as xenoestrogens.  Regardless of a person’s background, almost every adult in the U.S. has parabens in their urine stream.  Females tend to have higher levels of methylparaben and proplyparaben in their urine.

Parabens are found in a variety of common personal care and beauty products including: facial cleansers, shower gels, shaving creams, deodorants, antiperspirants, lotions, moisturizers, shampoos, conditioners and cosmetics.  There are currently no federal regulations limiting the use of parabens in consumer products; however ingredients must be disclosed on the packaging.

Why Are Parabens Dangerous?

Although originally deemed safe for limited use in cosmetics and personal care items, parabens have been correlated to cancer and hormone-related issues in both men and women.  The xenoestrogens found in parabens cause estrogen disruption, which has been linked to tumors, especially breast cancer.  As estrogen mimickers, some parabens can bind to the cellular estrogen receptor, which causes them to multiply and may lead to cancerous breast cells.

A British study dating back to 2004 found parabens in malignant breast tumors.  The concentration of parabens was almost exactly that found in most consumer products that contain them.  While these results are alarming, the study could not conclusively determine that parabens were the cause of the tumors.  A more recent study showed that parabens are most commonly found in the axilla quadrant of the breast, which is the area closest to the underarm and where most breast tumors occur. 

Additionally, the estrogen-like performance of parabens can cause hormone havoc for male and female reproductive systems.  When estrogen is off kilter, the endocrine system gets confused and does not produce other necessary hormones like progesterone and testosterone.  This causes a hormonal imbalance that can lead to infertility, irregular ovulation and other reproductive health issues.

The FDA acknowledges that estrogenic activity is responsible for reproductive abnormalities and some forms of cancer including breast cancer.  However, they view the estrogen-like behavior of parabens to be far less than estrogen itself.  They have put no restrictions on use of parabens.  Unfortunately, as with many toxins, if a person uses many products simultaneously that contain parabens, they may be absorbing an unsafe level through their skin.  Moreover, parabens remain in the body for a long time and can have a damaging cumulative effect. 

The case against parabens is not conclusive enough for federal regulations but it is conclusive enough for us.  Between genetics, the sun, pollution and other unavoidable toxins, we have enough potential health threats to manage in our lives.  We’ll skip the parabens please.  Instead, we will stick to nature’s way of making wholesome, all-natural, safe skincare products.