We use them every day – when we put on deodorant, when we wash our hair, when we cleanse our skin, and even when we eat. Parabens are everywhere. But as we become a more health conscious society, many people are starting to question whether they are actually safe. Today we’re going to take a deeper look into the realm of parabens to discover what they are and whether they are something we actually have to worry about.
What are parabens?
Parabens are synthetic preservatives – chemicals – that are commonly found in everyday cosmetic products such as shampoos, deodorants, moisturizers, and skin creams (to name just a few). What’s even scarier is that many manufacturers also put parabens in our food! But why? Since the 1950s, parabens have been used to prevent the growth of bacteria and act as preservatives. They are the main reason that you can keep your skincare products in your cabinet for months, or even years, without them going bad. Anytime we put these skin care products to use, our body absorbs the chemicals and parabens within them, and according to one source (mercola.com) the average body absorbs up to five pounds of chemicals each year from cosmetic products alone. This leads us to ask the question, is it safe for our bodies to absorb parabens?
There’s a good chance that the answer to this question is ‘no’. While there has not been enough research done to definitively link parabens to cancer, there have been some studies done that show parabens can mimic the activity of estrogen within the cells, and estrogenic activity has been linked to breast cancer. Science tells us that our bodies cannot easily break down synthetic estrogen, and when it accumulates in the cells it can lead to certain types of breast cancer. In fact, a 2004 study from the UK University of Reading studied human breast tumours and found concentrations of parabens within them. With that being said, the verdict is still in the air, because while they were found within the tumours, it doesn’t mean they actually caused them.
Parabens have also been linked to things like early puberty and lowered sperm counts. How? Estrogen is not the only hormone affected by parabens and when they mimic other hormones they act as endocrine disrupters. The endocrine system works by releasing hormones into the bloodstream, and these hormones are then used to regulate a number of functions including reproduction, digestion, metabolism, and waste elimination. When these hormones are disrupted, a wide range of problems can arise. In the past several decades, researchers have theorized that parabens may be playing a role in the decreasing age of puberty. And what’s even worse is that one study conducted by the Tokyo Metropolitan Research Lab showed that parabens were directly related to sperm count in rats. In other words, the more parabens the rats were given, the lower their sperm count was upon testing.
So, are parabens safe? There have not been enough studies to show that parabens are unsafe, but there has been enough research to make us skeptical. My advice? Take the ‘I’d rather be safe than sorry route’. There are plenty of all-natural products out there, and most salons and spas are now offering completely natural alternatives for facials and facial rejuvenation procedures. Be proactive and avoid the parabens – just in case!