There is an overwhelming amount of information that counters the war cry against Parabens, but once that bell was rung there is no silencing the ripple effect that was caused by the scare. If you did a google search on parabens you would think that they cause cancer but there are two sides to every story. Many manufacturer’s removed Parabens from their products in response to the fear cause by the early paraben reports. The American Cancer Society, The National Cancer Institute and the FDA have all come out to say that there is no proof that parabens cause cancer.
The American Cancer Society
“The researchers looked only for the presence of parabens in breast cancer samples. The study did not show that parabens caused or contributed to breast cancer development in these cases — it only showed that they were there. What this means is not yet clear.
Although parabens have weak estrogen-like properties, the estrogens that are made in the body are hundreds to many thousands of times stronger. So, natural estrogens (or those taken as hormone replacement) are much more likely to play a role in breast cancer development.
Parabens are widely used as preservatives in shampoo, lotions, other cosmetics, and even foods. This study did not contain any information to help find the source of the parabens found in breast tissue.
So far, studies have not shown any direct link between parabens and any health problems, including breast cancer. What has been found is that there are many other compounds in the environment that also mimic naturally produced estrogen.
The bottom line is that larger studies are needed to find out what effect, if any, parabens might have on breast cancer risk.” (Source: American Cancer Society)
The National Cancer Institute
“Some research has focused on parabens, which are preservatives used in some deodorants and antiperspirants that have been shown to mimic the activity of estrogen in the body’s cells (4). Although parabens are used in many cosmetic, food, and pharmaceutical products, according to the FDA, most major brands of deodorants and antiperspirants in the United States do not currently contain parabens. Consumers can look at the ingredient label to determine if a deodorant or antiperspirant contains parabens. Parabens are usually easy to identify by name, such as methylparaben, propylparaben, butylparaben, or benzylparaben. The National Library of Medicine’s Household Products Database also has information about the ingredients used in most major brands of deodorants and antiperspirants.
The belief that parabens build up in breast tissue was supported by a 2004 study, which found parabens in 18 of 20 samples of tissue from human breast tumors. However, this study did not prove that parabens cause breast tumors. The authors of this study did not analyze healthy breast tissue or tissues from other areas of the body and did not demonstrate that parabens are found only in cancerous breast tissue. Furthermore, this research did not identify the source of the parabens and cannot establish that the buildup of parabens is due to the use of deodorants or antiperspirants.
In 2002, the results of a study looking for a relationship between breast cancer and underarm antiperspirants/deodorants were reported (6). This study did not show any increased risk for breast cancer in women who reported using an underarm antiperspirant or deodorant. The results also showed no increased breast cancer risk for women who reported using a blade (nonelectric) razor and an underarm antiperspirant or deodorant, or for women who reported using an underarm antiperspirant or deodorant within 1 hour of shaving with a blade razor. These conclusions were based on interviews with 813 women with breast cancer and 793 women with no history of breast cancer.
Findings from a different study examining the frequency of underarm shaving and antiperspirant/deodorant use among 437 breast cancer survivors were released in 2003 (7). This study found that the age of breast cancer diagnosis was significantly earlier in women who used these products and shaved their underarms more frequently. Furthermore, women who began both of these underarm hygiene habits before 16 years of age were diagnosed with breast cancer at an earlier age than those who began these habits later. While these results suggest that underarm shaving with the use of antiperspirants/deodorants may be related to breast cancer, it does not demonstrate a conclusive link between these underarm hygiene habits and breast cancer.
In 2006, researchers examined antiperspirant use and other factors among 54 women with breast cancer and 50 women without breast cancer. The study found no association between antiperspirant use and the risk of breast cancer; however, family history and the use of oral contraceptives were associated with an increased risk of breast cancer.” (Source: National Cancer Institute)
The FDA has a page dedicated to parabens. Some of the important information contained on that page I have quoted below.
“The Cosmetic Ingredient Review (CIR) reviewed the safety of methylparaben, propylparaben, and butylparaben in 1984 and concluded they were safe for use in cosmetic products at levels up to 25%. Typically parabens are used at levels ranging from 0.01 to 0.3%.”
“A study published in 2004 (Darbre, in the Journal of Applied Toxicology) detected parabens in breast tumors. The study also discussed this information in the context of the weak estrogen-like properties of parabens and the influence of estrogen on breast cancer. However, the study left several questions unanswered. For example, the study did not show that parabens cause cancer, or that they are harmful in any way, and the study did not look at possible paraben levels in normal tissue.”
“FDA is aware that estrogenic activity in the body is associated with certain forms of breast cancer. Although parabens can act similarly to estrogen, they have been shown to have much less estrogenic activity than the body’s naturally occurring estrogen. For example, a 1998 study (Routledge et al., in Toxicology and Applied Pharmacology) found that the most potent paraben tested in the study, butylparaben, showed from 10,000- to 100,000-fold less activity than naturally occurring estradiol (a form of estrogen). Further, parabens are used at very low levels in cosmetics. In a review of the estrogenic activity of parabens, (Golden et al., in Critical Reviews in Toxicology, 2005) the author concluded that based on maximum daily exposure estimates, it was implausible that parabens could increase the risk associated with exposure to estrogenic chemicals.”
This powerpoint presentation by S Black Innovative Ingredients is an interesting read. In it the author says regarding the test methods, “Controls gave positive results – attributed to contamination! Basic science – if controls produce a positive result, something is WRONG! If controls were contaminated, why not the samples? The Darbre study contains too many flaws to be considered scientifically valid, and does not provide a causal link between parabens and breast cancer as some commentators have claimed”
Katherine Corkill wrote a great blog post called ‘Debate Over Parabens – Truth and Research that I highly recommend. In her article Katherine Corkill says, “I hope this will finally remove the undue paranoia that has run rampant throughout the internet causing us to double-check our labels and throw out a lot of otherwise great products based on unsubstantiated theory and narrow testing.”
I won’t spend too much time going over what the industry says because critics will say that the industry is tainted. Most companies have moved away from parabens but many refuse to because putting out a “paraben-free” product means that they agree with the bad science. We chose to go paraben free because our customers asked us to provide paraben free products. You asked, we listened, but knowing both sides of the story is still worthwhile.