• SumoMe

Are Parabens bad for you?I’ve noticed a trend over the past few years where grooming companies advertise their products as “paraben-free.” The first few times I saw this, I honestly didn’t care. I didn’t know what parabens were, so the fact that something was paraben-free didn’t seem too compelling. However, as I saw more grooming companies following this trend, I decided that it’s time to do do some research and ask the question: are parabens bad for you?

What are parabens?

Parabens are a family of chemicals which is commonly used in cosmetics as a preservative. Pretty much everything we buy has parabens in them: toothpaste, shaving cream, shampoos, makeup, self-tanners, and so on. Seriously pretty much everything. The reason parabens are everywhere is due to their low cost and high efficiency. There are some all-natural preservatives made from grapefruit, but many people in the cosmetics industry believe they are not as effective.

Why are parabens controversial?

In 2004, a study by Philip Harvey and D. J. Everett for the 24th Volume of the Journal of Applied Toxicology found parabens in breast cancer tissue at a rate of 20 nanograms per gram of tissue in 18 of 20 breast cancer tissue samples. This peer-reviewed article sent the cosmetics and toxicology worlds into a firestorm. While this was not the first study on parabens, it had a great deal of influence, and after the Harvey-Everett article more toxicologists began conducting their own studies on parabens.

A 2006 study found that parabens, when mixed with sunlight, increase the speed at which skin ages. Another study in 2008 concluded that parabens cause DNA damage and carcinogenesis (creation of cancer).

However, the reason controversy exists is there are two sides to this coin. After the Harvey-Everett article, some toxicologists came up with inconsistent conclusions. A 2005 study attacked the Harvey-Everett article, and concluded “the possible estrogenic hazard of parabens on the basis of the available studies is equivocal, and fails to consider the metabolism and elimination rates of parabens.” In other words, as best as I can re-word it, the possible effect of parabens releasing unhealthy amounts of estrogen fails to take into account the low rate in which parabens are absorbed into the skin, and the almost negligible amounts used in products.

In addition, prior to the Harvey-Everett article, the FDA found that parabens are safe up to 25% of the total chemical makeup of products. Currently, parabens usually consist of anywhere between 0.01% to 0.3%. In other words, let’s suppose we have a cosmetic product that has 100,000 “parts.” The FDA finding says there’s no health risk, so long as parabens consist of 25,000 parts or fewer. Assuming this hypothetical product is on par with the average cosmetic product, you could expect parabens to account for 10 to 300 parts out of the total 100,000.

What’s my conclusion?

Have you ever taken a peek at the FDA-prescribed allowable defect levels of prepackaged food? Here’s some interesting ones: 11 rodent hairs per 50 grams of cinnamon, 60 insect fragments per 100 grams of chocolate, and 50 thrips per 100 grams of sauerkraut. You get the idea.

Just because I can eat 40 small, winged insects in my .22 pounds of sauerkraut and technically still have no health issues doesn’t necessarily mean I want to.

I have a similar attitude towards parabens. From the studies and articles I’ve examined, I feel confident in saying that the jury is still out on whether parabens are bad for you. Am I going to continue to use products with parabens in them? Probably. Am I going to buy something just because it’s paraben-free? Probably not. I recognize the small chance of health issues with parabens, just like I recognize when I eat sauerkraut I’m also probably eating tiny bugs. Frankly, I don’t see the cause for alarm with parabens.

However, for those guys out there who prefer to go totally natural, I understand the attitude. Why eat bugs if you don’t have to, and why take a chance at increasing your odds for cancer? These are valid rhetorical concerns.

Personally, I’m not going to stop eating sauerkraut for the negligible fear of bugs, and I’m not going to stop using grooming products I enjoy for the unfounded fear of parabens. What you choose to do is totally up to you, and I can understand and support either path. For now, I’m going to stick with the “no evidence of cancer” side.

So, what’s your conclusion? Are parabens bad for you? Is it worth the seemingly-insignificant risk?