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Controversial Ingredients: Setting the Record Straight

By: Ada Polla and Anne Pouillot
Posted: January 30, 2012, from the February 2012 issue of Skin Inc. magazine.
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The control samples were contaminated by parabens of an unknown source; the parabens discovered in the tumor samples could, thus, also come from an external contamination rather than from the breast tumor tissue. Despite these inconclusive results, the media widely diffused the inaccurate news that parabens used in cosmetics, most notably in deodorants, could cause breast cancer.

The fear of parabens propagated quickly, leading consumers to ask for paraben-free products and manufacturers to embrace that demand. It should be noted, however, that regulatory bodies—both European and American—overall continue to support the use of parabens, and have recently reiterated that there is no epidemiological evidence linking parabens to breast cancer.5, 6

Should they be replaced? Probably, although essentially for reasons linked to consumers’ fears and preferences. At this point, the controversy is primarily consumer-based; there is no scientific data to conclusively prove the nefarious effects of parabens. However, there are alternatives that are as safe while enabling the industry to avoid the continued debate with consumers about parabens.

The regulatory framework may also be changing, which is another reason to replace parabens. Indeed, in France on May 3, 2011, the proposition of a law requiring a ban of parabens in all industries was submitted to the French National Assembly and was adopted. Although at the time of this article’s printing this is just a proposition of law, it may be an indication of the changing regulatory environment.

Finally, another concern with parabens has recently been discovered, unrelated to the consumers’ misplaced fears about these ingredients. As parabens have a low aqueous solubility, they will dissolve in most systems at temperatures above 70°C. However, as parabens are slightly soluble in cold water, they tend to clump together in cold water and form crystals. Such crystals pose a challenge to formulators and may present one more reason to replace these ingredients.

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