arabens. What are they? Do they work? Are they dangerous? These are just a few of the questions I get at least a few times a day, every day. Hopefully, this post clears up some of the paraben puzzlement. Parabens are esters of para-hydroxibenzoic acid that have been used as preservatives in cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, and foods for many years. The most common parabens are: Methylparaben, Propylparabens, Ethylparaben, Benzylparaben, Isobutylparaben and Butylparaben.
They are commonly used in bundles that include two or more parabens and/or other preservatives. Two good examples of paraben bundled preservatives include: LiquaPar containing; Phenoxyethanol, Methylparaben, Isopropylparaben, Isobutylparaben, Butylparaben; and Germaben II containing; Propylene Glycol, Diazolidinyl Urea, Methylparaben, Propylparaben.
Are Parabens Dangerous?: One Study Says “Maybe,” But …
A study in the UK found the presence of intact parabens in 20 samples of human breast tumors. However, this research was not scientifically balanced. It is unclear if the parabens arrived in the tumors via food, cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, deodorants or from the solutions used to preserve and process the tumors. It is unknown if parabens caused the tumors or if parabens appear in healthy breast tissue. It is also unknown whether or not the parabens would have been sweated out of the body without the use of antiperspirants and naturally flushed out of the system. Sweating is one of the natural mechanisms of elimination for our body. When we use antiperspirants one has to wonder if we are allowing our waste to pool up in our bodies.
One other question that was not addressed in the issue was whether or not the patients had received chemotherapy or other drug therapies which contain parabens themselves. All the unanswered questions make it difficult to assess whether the cosmetic industry had anything to do with the results of this study. A great deal of research still needs to go into the paraben question.
In the meantime, the cosmetic industry has responded and many companies have reformulated their products. It is wise to learn about the other preservatives that have taken their place.
Parabens Are All Around Us
Parabens are well hidden in many ingredients and even those who are attempting to avoid them with more “natural” choices are finding them hidden in their ingredients. For instance, many version of hyaluronic acid in solution on the market today are preserved with Phenonip, which contains Phenoxyethanol, Methylparaben, Butylparaben, Ethylparaben, Propylparaben. We make our own hyaluronic acid in solution in order to avoid stow-away ingredients. We also make our own aloe juice and extracts because they are commonly filled with unwanted ingredients as well.
Another ingredient that many people use in pursuit of a natural product is Grapefruit Seed Extract (GSE). However, this natural preservative is commonly adulterated with synthetic preservatives. A study by the Institute of Pharmacy, Ernst Moritz Arndt University, Greifswald, Germany stated, “The antimicrobial efficacy as well as the content of preservative agents of six commercially grapefruit seed extracts were examined. Five of the six extracts showed a high growth-inhibiting activity against the test germs. In all of the antimicrobial active grapefruit seed extracts, the preservative benzethonium chloride was detected by thin layer chromatography.
Additionally, three extracts contained the preserving substances triclosan and methyl paraben. In only one of the grapefruit seed extracts tested no preservative agent was found. However, with this extract as well as with several self-made extracts from seed and juiceless pulp of grapefruits (Citrus paradisi), no antimicrobial activity could be detected. Thus, it is concluded that the potent as well as nearly universal antimicrobial activity being attributed to grapefruit seed extract is merely due to the synthetic preservative agents contained within. Natural products with antimicrobial activity do not appear to be present.”
Concerning GSE the USDA said, “Confirming an earlier study by researchers in Germany we found that some commercial grapefruit seed extracts contain benzethonium chloride, a synthetic antimicrobial agent commonly used in cosmetics and only approved for topical use, at relatively high levels of 8%.” And according to the Swiss Toxicological Information Center, “Grapefruit seed extracts containing benzethonium chloride in concentrations of 7-11% represent a major health risk if larger amounts of a concentrated solution are ingested (i.e. by mouth). Exposure of the skin or the eye may cause toxic symptoms. The Swiss Toxicological Information Center discourages consumers from administration of these extracts unless it is known which of them are containing benzethonium chloride and what the concentrations are.”
The Discussion Continues
The debate regarding parabens and preservatives in general is certainly not finished. It is important that we continue to do research and learn more about the safety of the ingredients that we are exposed to everyday. I believe it is critical that all research be scientifically sound with all areas addressed. The cosmetic industry may have ‘thrown the baby out with the bath water’ in the case of parabens. It is vital that we not replace parabens with chemicals that are more dangerous or that do not practice full disclosure in the pursuit of being “paraben-free”.