Whether perusing the beauty and personal care products at Target or Whole Foods or shopping online at Sephora, consumers are increasingly encountering the phrase "paraben-free."
Parabens are the most widely used preservatives in cosmetics and personal care products such as soap, moisturizers, shaving cream and underarm deodorant, according to the FDA. Parabens are esters of p-hydroxybenzoic acid. The FDA says the most common are methylparaben, propylparaben, and butylparaben.
Companies use parabens to extend the shelf life of products and prevent growth of bacteria and fungi in, for instance, face cream. And that’s good, right? Mold is essential to blue cheese, but who wants to smear her face with it?
But some think that parabens may be linked to breast cancer and fertility issues.
Are parabens dangerous?
A 2004 study by Dr Philippa Darbre published in the Journal of Applied Toxicology found parabens in breast tumors. However, the FDA states in its official post on parabens that "the study did not show that parabens cause cancer." The "FDA believes that at the present time there is no reason for consumers to be concerned about the use of cosmetics containing parabens," the post says.
A 2008 opinion on parabens from the European Commission’s Scientific Committee on Consumer Products states that "methyl paraben and ethyl paraben are not subjects of concern," but that "the safety assessment of propyl and butyl paraben cannot be finalized yet."
Rebecca Sutton, a scientist at the Environmental Working Group, a nonprofit advocacy organization, says her group is most concerned about propyl and butyl paraben too. But even though she says that parabens may disrupt hormones or mimic estrogen (which is thought to promote breast cancer in some women), "You certainly don’t want parabens to be pulled out and a more dangerous preservative to be put in," such as one that releases formaldehyde. "Sometimes cosmetic companies might jump on the paraben-free bandwagon without really doing a proper assessment of … the safer preservatives that they ought to be adding."
In fact, she says, "It’s difficult to declare a preservative ‘safe.’ … We have limited data to evaluate. We’ve been unable to create a list of safer preservatives at this time based on existing publicly available scientific literature."
So, there isn’t a consensus on whether parabens are safe. Dr. Wilma Bergfeld, chairwoman of the Cosmetic Ingredient Review panel, an independent body established by the industry that shares findings with the FDA, says the panel is monitoring the scientific literature and will review the safety of parabens again as new studies become available.
[Source: Los Angeles Times]