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Ingredient: Parabens

What are parabens?

Parabens are the most commonly used preservative in the world of cosmetics and personal care products, as well as in the food and drug categories. Paraben is an inexpensive mix of acid and alcohol of p-hydroxybenzoic acid that effectively extends the shelf life of a product by preventing harmful bacteria and mold growth. You can find them everywhere in your daily life; soap, face and body moisturizers, deodorant, hair styling products, and even shaving cream all are known to contain parabens. The parabens found most commonly in cosmetics are methylparaben, propylparaben, butylparaben, and ethylparaben.

Are parabens safe?

Parabens were mistakenly linked to breast cancer when their metabolites (not parabens themselves) were detected in breast cancer tissue samples. The American Cancer Society has concluded, based on its research findings, that the scientific and medical research does not support a claim that the use of parabens in cosmetics can increase an individual's risk of developing breast cancer.

Another cause for suspicion? Parabens are phytoestrogens (meaning not naturally occurring estrogen), that produce an estrogenic effect on the body. Evaluating this scientifically however, the question is "How do tiny levels of parabens in skincare compare to other phytoestrogens that occur naturally in food or the estrogenic effects of commonly consumed medicines?" In-vivo testing demonstrated parabens in cosmetics were 10,000 times weaker than naturally occurring phytoestrogens, such as those found in the foods and medicines we consume every day. Foods such as soy, beans, flax, cherries, blueberries, carrots, and cucumbers produce parabens and other chemicals that mimic estrogen to a much greater degree than the minuscule amounts of parabens used in skincare, haircare, and makeup.

The bottom line.

Is it safer to use a cosmetic with a preservative to prevent bacteria, or to use one without the paraben and risk infection from these bacteria or molds? The FDA still approves the use of parabens (with an advisory note to use as small a quantity as possible). Many beauty product companies are now using the extracts and oils of select plants and flowers known to have anti-bacterial properties as an alternative.

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