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The Truth About Parabens

By: Carol and Rob Trow
Posted: June 30, 2010, from the July 2010 issue of Skin Inc. magazine.
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Darbre is currently more circumspect with the results of her small study and now says that there is a functional role for the combined interactions of cosmetic chemicals with environmental estrogens, pharmacological estrogens, physiological estrogens and phytoestrogen in the rising instance of breast cancer.4 Nowhere do the original researchers reach the conclusion or state that parabens in cosmetics are cancer-causing, but they do provide the warning that the issue needs additional study.

No one on either side of the paraben debate disagrees with that conclusion. The controversy about Darbre’s 2004 paper is in part based on a simple question: Can measurement of a compound in a tissue provide evidence of causality when it is not known how it got there or if it is present in healthy tissues because only 20 individuals with breast cancer were studied?

Malignant melanoma link? There is additional research that claims that there is an intact transmission of endocrine toxicity, absorption and potential health risks inherent in all natural and synthetic parabens. The Journal of Applied Toxicology, which has previously published articles on the safety of parabens, also published an article that states that parabens may influence the development of malignant melanoma, which can be shown to be influenced by estrogenic stimulation.5 How parabens affect this activity is yet to be definitively determined.

Parabens in antiperspirants? One small study found trace levels of parabens used as preservatives in antiperspirants and other products in a small sample of breast cancer tumors. However, the study did not look at whether parabens caused the tumors.6 This was a preliminary finding, and more research is needed to determine what effect—if any—parabens may have on breast-cancer risk. On the other hand, a large study of breast cancer cases found no increase in breast cancer in women who used underarm antiperspirants with parabens.7

Are parabens safe?

Parabens are found in greater concentrations than cosmetics in a myriad of consumables, including fruits, vegetables and drinks. Some everyday items replete with parabens and endocrine disruptors include soybeans, carrots, peanuts, corn, strawberries, blueberries, black tea and green tea, to list only a few. Many of the parabens found naturally in foods do have an estrogenic effect when tested. Yet, parabens found in cosmetics are 100,000 times weaker than estradiol, the estrogen naturally produced by the body.8