Parabens: My Better-Late-Than-Never Personal Investigation

I decided to finally look into what parabens are and if they're really worth worrying about.
Publish date:
August 15, 2013
science, ingredients, parabens, antiperspirants

As you might imagine, I have a bunch of bottles of cleansers, shampoos, hair products, etc. in my bathroom. Right now I don’t even have as many as I usually do since I’ve been really good about taking out recycling, but you get the idea.

Some of these products say “paraben-free” on the labels while others will have ingredients like methylparaben listed on the back. Right now, I use my paraben-free/paraben-inclusive products indiscriminately, to be honest--whatever works! But after staring a scrub in my shower long enough, in contrast with my paraben-free sunless tanner, I started getting curious.

What are parabens, and should I care if they lurk in the ingredients?

I’m no scientist by any means, but I had to look into it. This is what I found out.

The red flag about parabens is that they have the ability to be absorbed into the body, namely the skin, blood and digestive system. According to the Breast Cancer Society, parabens are found in nearly all urine samples in the U.S. The Breast Cancer Society actually has lots of information on parabens because paraben particles have been found in breast cancer tumors. So already, this seems ominous.

Normally, parabens are supposed to be absorbed through the skin and into the bloodstream, and from what I’ve read, parabens are supposed to be excreted. But at certain levels, parabens can remain inside the body. One of the scariest things about parabens is that they are considered “endocrine disrupters,” which means at certain levels, they are believed to disrupt your body’s reproductive hormones.

However, most of us probably own some product containing parabens because they are still largely considered nontoxic.

Are you baffled? I am.

So why are parabens in so many products we use?

Parabens keep the water and other ingredients in products from going bad. Parabens are defined as antimicrobial preservatives that are used in food, pharmaceutical, and personal-care and beauty products. They keep the product fresh and consistent, which is why they are used in so many things.

But since some studies have shown that parabens may be harmful to your health, I’m starting to appreciate products that boast “paraben-free” right on the label.

If the idea of parabens added to your cosmetics and personal care products freaks you out, all you need to do is read labels closely. Ethylparaben, butuylparaben, methlyparaben, and propylparaben are the most common parabens you’ll see in lotions and beauty potions. Parabens are considered safe in relatively low concentrations, but companies don’t take into consideration the fact that a consumer could be using multiple products containing parabens, possibly increasing your risk for potential health problems.

Studies have shown a correlation with breast cancer with antiperspirant use due to parabens. (I always thought it was the aluminum in it?) But apparently parabens could be related to breast cancer that occurs on the outer quadrant of the breast, where you normally would apply antiperspirant.

I’m not going to throw away all my products with parabens just yet, but in the future, I think I’m going to make an effort to stay away from parabens as much as possible.

Do any of you guys look for paraben-free cosmetics and personal-care products? Am I totally late on this? What are some of your favorite paraben-free products?