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Parabens, Carcinogens and Certified Organic Ingredients

By: Rebecca James Gadberry
Posted: June 25, 2008, from the January 2006 issue of Skin Inc. magazine.

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Although parabens are 1,000–1,000,000 times weaker than natural estrogenic compounds, with methylparaben being the weakest of the group, phytoestrogens are approximately 400 times weaker than human estrogen. But, due to the fact that parabens appear to be used more commonly in cosmetics and foods, and because they are produced synthetically from petroleum, some researchers are more worried about their estrogenic effects but show little alarm about the natural phytoestrogens found in cosmetics and foods.

Because parabens are known to penetrate the skin, concern has been voiced by some researchers and consumer watchdog organizations that those that are included in cosmetics might act as EDs when applied to the skin. Cosmetic chemists who are familiar with the skin-penetration activity of parabens maintain that this is not possible because, once they enter the skin, they form metabolites that are incapable of mimicking estrogen.

At the beginning of 2004, a study was published by an English toxicologist that seems to put this accepted scientific knowledge into doubt1. Phillipa Darbe, PhD, a senior cancer researcher at the University of Reading in the United Kingdom, reportedly stopped using antiperspirants in the mid-1990s, due to a gut feeling that they were connected to breast cancer. Seven years later, she looked for the presence of parabens—ingredients she believed were usedin deodorants and antiperspirants—in 20 breast tumors and found them in 18. Although stopping short of stating that the parabens came from underarm products, she did claim that the chemical form of those she discovered indicated that they had been applied to the skin, rather than consumed. She advised that further research be completed in order to determine their source.

Unfortunately, Darbe’s findings have been misreported widely by news agencies, cosmetic companies and others as proving that parabens cause breast cancer, with the likely contributors being antiperspirants and deodorants. Some reports even state that the Darbe study shows a clear connection between these products and breast cancer.

In January 2005, the European Union’s Scientific Committee on Consumer Products (SCCP) published an opinion paper that evaluated paraben safety in relation to breast cancer2. Shortcomings in the Darbe study are among its findings. These include the following.