Whether it’s avoiding meat and plastics to be more socially responsible or using chemical-free cleaning products at home, Americans continue to be more aware of what they’re putting in and around their bodies. But have you thought about what you’re putting on your body?
When shopping for cosmetics and other beauty products, we tend to forget that even some of the so-called health-conscious brands can be riddled with chemicals in an effort to make them last longer–both in the packaging and once applied.
One of the most prevalent chemicals is paraben, and educated and aware consumers are taking notice and opting for paraben free products.
“Paraben free” is a term you see more and more every day, but do you know what it means? Parabens are preservatives widely used in cosmetics, hygiene products and even in some of your store-bought foods. They’re designed to extend the shelf life of products and prevent bacterial growth.
Sounds reasonable, right? I mean, who doesn’t want their make-up to last and avoid having bacteria grow in it? The problem is that parabens have been linked to things like breast cancer, fertility issues, neurological disease, skin irritations and immunological problems.
Studies on Paraben
Because of an ongoing tug-of-war between the Food and Drug Administration and the scientists concerned about continual long-term use of paraben-containing products, there’s little agreement about the harm the additive may cause.
According to an LA Times article, Dr. Philippa Darbre published a 2004 study in the Journal of Applied Toxicology, finding parabens in breast tumors. “However, the FDA states in its official post on parabens that “the study did not show that parabens cause cancer… The FDA believes that at the present time there is no reason for consumers to be concerned about the use of cosmetics containing parabens.”
Also citing the 2004 study, the website Scientific American went into more detail about the results and their impact. The study performed concluded that 19 of 20 British women had 5 different types of detectable parabens in their breast tumors.
The study made sure to note that this wasn’t a positive and undeniable correlation between cancer and parabens but that it was solely an important discovery between the relation of paraben exposure and humans. While that study occurred more than a decade ago the European Union banned parabens in 2012 and all products on the market had to comply with the new standards set by the EU no later than the 30th of July 2015. The 2004 study of those 20 women is claimed to the reason that the UK made a push to ban parabens.
Impact on the U.S.
The same protective measurements can’t be claimed for the U.S. market and even the American Cancer Society doesn’t believe that parabens are a real cancer threat. According to the University of Medicine and Health Sciences, the American Cancer Society’s website boldly refuted the claims of that 2004 study. While some countries believe that parabens are cause for concern and have taken steps to have them actively removed from their shelves, the U.S. hasn’t put much worry into the matter and it’s left to the consumer to educate themself and make appropriate choices.
It’s important to note that the FDA doesn’t have as much control over the safety of cosmetics as consumers might think. A 2016 letter to Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D) of California state, “Under current law, FDA has much less legal authority to protect consumers from unsafe cosmetics than it does for other products the Agency regulates. Even though Congress has updated FDA’s enforcement authorities over other products, it has not done so for cosmetics. As a result, FDA’s oversight of cosmetics is limited.” This letter also notes that the FDA’s regulatory authority hasn’t been updated since 1938.
Cosmopolitan Magazine has even released an article about the 10 american beauty ingredients that have been banned in other countries. One of these is paraben.
The question remains, Are parabens something to avoid? With other countries having jumping the paraben ship and making way for new alternatives (like short shelf life and small amounts of product that can be used before a spoilage date), the answer is really up to you. It’s fair to say that it’s best to avoid things that might do you hard in the long run.