Parabens: A controversial topic

Parabens are a class of chemicals widely used as a preservative in both foodstuffs and cosmetic products. Common parabens include methylparaben, butylparaben, propylparaben and ethylparaben. They can be easily detected by scrutinizing the label of any product. The advantage of parabens is that they have bactericidal and fungicidal properties and so prevent the proliferation of microorganisms and resultant decay of the product. In short, they give a product a much longer shelf-life. They have been widely used since 1920. An interesting fact: they have direct correlates in nature. Plants like cucumbers carrots and olives synthesize parabens to defend against microorganisms. So they are not unknown to nature.

In individuals with normal skin, parabens are, for the most part, non-irritating. However they can cause contact dermatitis in individuals with paraben allergies, a small percentage of the general population. A more profound controversy has arisen since the detection of minute quantities of parabens in breast tumours. This has been linked to the ability of some parabens to mimic estrogen-like activity – the hormone known to play a role in breast cancers. Naturally this finding led to alarm bells ringing in many quarters, in spite of studies on rodents that have demonstrated that parabens are practically completely non-toxic as they are metabolised and excreted very easily. The FDA used the CIR (Cosmetic Ingredient Review) to review the safety profile of parabens in 1984. They concluded they were safe for use in cosmetic products at levels up to 25%. …In December 2005, …the Panel since more recently determined that there was no need to change its original conclusion that parabens are safe as used in cosmetics. But with new research a fresh debate has arisen.

When you apply a deodorant/antiperspirant, it stays on your skin throughout the day. Any harmful substance that can be absorbed through the skin, has ample time to get absorbed. Most of us apply deodorants / antiperspirants at least once per day. As a result, many of us are exposed to parabens continually, 24/7, every day. Parabens ingested through food have a limited effect on the human body partly due to the ingestion system. However, parabens absorbed through the skin are able to stay intact and accumulate in the body.

Some research has shown a correlation between the locality of tumours and the locality of underarm deodorant sprays. But yet there is no conclusive evidence to establish a causal link between cancer and parabens. Ongoing research is required.

Some argue that parabens are found in such minute amounts in tissues that it is hardly worth mentioning. Others will argue that it is the cumulative affect of these minute quantities over time that create the damage. 

In conclusion, the jury is still out. More conclusive evidence is needed to confirm the potential dangers or safety of parabens. But if there is potential for harm, perhaps its best to err on the side of caution, rather than waiting for scientific "proof." Selecting a paraben- free product is one way of doing this, even if this means compromising on shelf-life. reNu Organic skincare products are all paraben-free and formulated for optimal skin health. For those with paraben allergies, they are an excellent alternative.