By: Penny Roberts, Arbonne International
Animal studies have shown that exposure to xeno-estrogens, an endocrine disruptor that mimics estrogen, can cause bodies to mature early. Early maturity has been linked to breast cancer.
Parabens are a class of endocrine disruptors that exhibit mild estrogenic activity, and are the most widely used preservative in cosmetics and other personal care products. They are also used as a preservative in food and medicines. As of October of 2007, the FDA determined the levels of parabens found in cosmetics to be safe.
Parabens have been considered a cheap way to inhibit the growth of bacteria, yeasts and molds in personal-care products. They are used in shampoos, conditioners, deodorants, face cream, cosmetics, body lotions, cleansers and sunscreens. Parabens are why products can sit on store or warehouse shelves for years or be exposed to extreme temperatures.
Early studies found some form of parabens in the urine in up to 99% of people in the U.S.
In 2004 Dr. Darbre released a study which indicated parabens were in malignant breast tumors. Because the study did not indicate a direct cause and effect between parabens and breast cancer, nor did it test the levels of parabens in healthy breast tissue, the FDA did not change its guidelines.
More recently, Dr. Darbre released a new study replicating the 2004 study with a much larger sample size. The results of her study indicated that parabens were getting into the breast and in significant amounts. Further, because the parabens found were primarily intact it meant they were bypassing the liver and most likely being absorbed through the skin.
However, the American Cancer Society website states that there are “no clear health risks from parabens.” To date, there have been no studies of parabens which might show a direct link between parabens and cancer.
Proponents for the safety of parabens argue that many natural compounds have a stronger estrogenic effect on the body. This same argument, though, raises concerns for Dr. William H. Goodson III, a breast researcher and director of the California Pacific Medical Center. He writes, “the counter argument is that we are not exposed to one chemical at a time. Instead, we are constantly exposed to mixtures of chemicals. Each chemical by itself might not cause harm but the overall effect of the chemical mixture comes from the combination of individual chemicals acting together. Human breast tissue is exposed to chemical mixtures all the time. To determine what effects chemicals might have, it is necessary to test chemical mixtures. This is rarely done.”
Clearly, more studies are needed. Meanwhile this author chooses to avoid parabens – not only because of the sheer volume of exposure – but also because of the uncertainty of long term effects. Parabens are listed on labels. You may find many products indicating they are paraben-free at Whole Foods, Fresh Market, Trader Joe’s and other “natural” markets.
Penny Roberts, Arbonne International