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Parabens

Abstract

This review article talks about what a paraben is, the structure of a paraben, different types of parabens, where we would find them and the health implications of using products containing it. The author also analyses the arguments for and against using parabens containing products collected from various secondary sources by backing it up with scientific statements of whether the conclusions are right or wrong. The field it relates to is the review of use of parabens in the cosmetic industry.

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What is a Paraben? Introduction

The purpose of this report is to give a review on what a paraben is and whether it is carcinogenic. The author finds research and studies conducted on whether it has cancer causing properties and backs it up using scientific opinions and conclusions made from reliable sources such as the FDA and World Health Organisation. Alternatives used are named and the conclusions that have been made by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) from research carried out. Also what would happen if further studies do show health implications.

A paraben is a commonly used cosmetic ingredient and the object of much controversy. There are many ‘paraben free’ labels now appearing on beauty products. Some reports tell us they are harmful but others say different. What should you believe?

Background

PARABENS are a group of commonly used ingredients that act as a preservative in cosmetics and personal care products1)“Paraben Information” written by cosmeticsinfo.org: 20th June 2014 http://www.cosmeticsinfo.org/paraben-information.

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Parabens are esters of para-hydroxybenzoic acid. Parabens and para-hydroxybenzoic acid do naturally occur in fruit and vegetables such as carrots and cucumbers2)“Paraben Information” written by cosmeticsinfo.org: 20th June 2014 http://www.cosmeticsinfo.org/paraben-information. Many assume ‘Paraben’ is one ingredient; however there are many different types of paraben. The most commonly found ones in cosmetics are methylparabens and propylparabens3)“A Note on Parabens” written by Into The Gloss: 19th February 2015 https://intothegloss.com/2015/02/are-parabens-safe/. Some others include: isobutylparaben, ethylparaben and polyparaben.

It may be found in shampoos, commercial moisturizers, shaving gels, spray tanning solution, makeup and even toothpaste. They are also used as food additives4)“Paraben” written by Omics International: December 2014 http://research.omicsgroup.org/index.php/Paraben. It is a very popular ingredient to include, because they stop fungus, bacteria and other microbes from growing in makeup and creams therefore extending the shelf life and improving the safety of the products. This is because without paraben preservatives, products could spoil, oxidise and chemically change the properties leading to possible harm5)“Paraben Information” written by cosmeticsinfo.org: 20th June 2014 http://www.cosmeticsinfo.org/paraben-information.

 

Structure of Parabens

They are part of the alkyl esters family of para-hydroxybenzoic acid. The R group differs and symbolizes an alkyl group such as methylethylpropyl or butyl. This change in the R group can happen through chemical substitutions. The chemical substitutions make the paraben ester have different solubility and antimicrobial activity. The greater the paraben’s lipid solubility, the greater the penetration through the epidermis6)Parabens: A Review of Epidemiology, Structure, Allergenicity, and Hormonal Properties by Allison L. Cashman; Erin M. Warshaw: 18th July 2005 http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/508430_2. Parabens can therefore penetrate the skin, and turn on the growth of hormone-receptor-positive breast cancers therefore acting like a weak estragon as stated by breastcancer.org 7)“Exposure to Chemicals in Cosmetics” : 22nd January 2011 http://www.breastcancer.org/risk/factors/cosmetics. Hormone- receptor-positive mean the cancer cells grow in response to the hormone estrogen.

So what’s The Problem?

Some have questioned whether there is a connection between parabens and cancer, with some suggesting that parabens can cause cancer8)“Paraben Information” written by cosmeticsinfo.org: 20th June 2014 http://www.cosmeticsinfo.org/paraben-information. Studies have shown that parabens have weak estrogen-like properties which could cause cancer through a process called endocrine disruption9)“Parabens: What are they, and are they really that bad?” Featured in Best Health Magazine Summer 2008 by Best Health pg 55: 15th December 2008 http://www.besthealthmag.ca/best-looks/beauty/parabens-what-are-they-and-are-they-really-that-bad/.

ESTROGEN is a female hormone known to cause breast cells (normal and cancerous) to grow and divide10)“Parabens: What are they, and are they really that bad?” Featured in Best Health Magazine Summer 2008 by Best Health pg 55: 15th December 2008 http://www.besthealthmag.ca/best-looks/beauty/parabens-what-are-they-and-are-they-really-that-bad/.

Scientific studies have shown this link to be very weak. It is said to only occur with extremely high doses far greater than anyone would be exposed to in conditions we normally use the products in. As stated by cancer.org, in 2004, a study found traces of parabens in samples of breast cancer tumours11)Antiperspirants and Breast Cancer Risk written by The American Cancer Society medical and editorial content team: 14th October 2014  https://www.cancer.org/cancer/cancer-causes/antiperspirants-and-breast-cancer-risk.html.

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It showed that parabens were present, however there could have been other contributing factors that weren’t accounted for12)Antiperspirants and Breast Cancer Risk written by The American Cancer Society medical and editorial content team: 14th October 2014  https://www.cancer.org/cancer/cancer-causes/antiperspirants-and-breast-cancer-risk.html. Also, parabens have weak estrogen-like properties; however estrogens produced in the body are hundreds to many thousands of times stronger. So it showed it could have been caused by naturally produced estrogen13)Antiperspirants and Breast Cancer Risk written by The American Cancer Society medical and editorial content team: 14th October 2014  https://www.cancer.org/cancer/cancer-causes/antiperspirants-and-breast-cancer-risk.html. Parabens have been shown in vivo-testing to be 10,000 times weaker than naturally occurring phytoestrogens and 100,000 times less than estradiol which is the estrogen produced naturally by the body14)“Paraben” written by Omics International: December 2014 http://research.omicsgroup.org/index.php/Paraben. The majority of scientists agree with the statement that ‘there is no endocrine disrupting effect from the use of parabens in cosmetic and personal care products because it is so weak15)“Paraben Information” written by cosmeticsinfo.org: 20th June 2014 http://www.cosmeticsinfo.org/paraben-information.’ Furthermore, the source of the parabens found in the tissue was not made clear. It could have been from foods or other non-cosmetic paraben containing products16)Antiperspirants and Breast Cancer Risk written by The American Cancer Society medical and editorial content team: 14th October 2014  https://www.cancer.org/cancer/cancer-causes/antiperspirants-and-breast-cancer-risk.html.

A lot of naturally occurring materials found in plants used as food also have a weak estrogenic effect. This has been shown in various cellular studies17)“Paraben Information” written by cosmeticsinfo.org: 20th June 2014 http://www.cosmeticsinfo.org/paraben-information. These materials are called phytoestrogens and are found in soy and other fruits and vegetables. When tested, similar results occurred to parabens. It is good to note that the concentration of parabens in food is usually less than 1%18)Parabens: A Review of Epidemiology, Structure, Allergenicity, and Hormonal Properties by Allison L. Cashman; Erin M. Warshaw: 18th July 2005 http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/508430_2.

Dr. Fran Cook-Bolden, a top-ranked, board-certified dermatologist dedicated to providing high-quality care to patients throughout New York City, tells her patients that ‘so far there’s no scientific evidence to support any link with any form of cancer19)“What are Parabens- and Do I Need To Worry About Them?” 24th January 2010 http://www.realsimple.com/beauty-fashion/skincare/worry-about-parabens.

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The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the World Health Organisation consider the chemicals safe at low levels. The most commonly used variations (methylparaben and propylparaben) have no restrictions on them at the moment and are deemed as safe for use in ingredients up to 25% however concentrations are recorded to be as low as 0.01-0.3%20)“A Note on Parabens” written by Into The Gloss: 19th February 2015 https://intothegloss.com/2015/02/are-parabens-safe/

A 2005 review of a 2004 study at Northwestern University led by immunologist Dr. Kris McGrath, concluded “it is biologically implausible that parabens could increase the risk of any estrogen-mediated endpoint, including effects on the male reproductive tract or breast cancer21)“Paraben” written by Omics International: December 2014 http://research.omicsgroup.org/index.php/Paraben

‘Parabens Free’ Products

‘The reason parabens are used so widely is that they are cheap and effective,’ says Menard, from the Green Beaver Company which provide certified organic products. He noted that parabens largely replaced FORMALDEHYDE (a naturally occurring organic compound, CH₂O) as a preservative many decades ago. ‘Parabens are often used because it’s a challenge to formulate products without parabens’ preservative talents’ he goes on to say22)“Parabens: What are they, and are they really that bad?” Featured in Best Health Magazine Summer 2008 by Best Health pg 55: 15th December 2008 http://www.besthealthmag.ca/best-looks/beauty/parabens-what-are-they-and-are-they-really-that-bad/.

Although they are thought safe, there is no harm in going for parabens-free products. Examples of alternatives that companies are using include phenoxyethanol, sodium benzoate, potassium sorbate, Glycacil and benzethonium chloride23)“Formaldehyde and Paraben Free Preservatives” written by Salicylates and Chemicals Private Limited company in Mumbai: 24th March 2014 http://preservativesindia.com/formaldehyde-paraben-free-preservatives.htm.

Conclusion- What Next?

In the future, more information may be revealed on the role parabens has in developments of cancers and endocrine-based health problems. The FDA scientists are continuously reviewing published studies on the safety of parabens. They have said they do not have information showing that parabens used in cosmetics have any negative effects on human health. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration have released a statement saying they are evaluating new data on parabens and have stated if they do determine that a health hazard exists, they will ‘advise the industry and the public, and will consider the agency’s legal options under the authority of the FD&C Act’24)“Parabens in Cosmetics” written by FDA Last Updated: 10th May 2016 http://www.fda.gov/cosmetics/productsingredients/ingredients/ucm128042.htm. In 2016 the FDA classified methyl and propylparaben as ‘GRAS’, which means they are ‘Generally Regarded As Safe’ by medical and toxicological experts for use in preserving food25)“Paraben Information” written by cosmeticsinfo.org: 20th June 2014 http://www.cosmeticsinfo.org/paraben-information In contrast to the FDA, the EU banned 5 parabens in 2014 due to the concern for human use, one being isobutylparaben26)EU bans five parabens, restricts triclosan in cosmetics”: 10th April 2014 https://chemicalwatch.com/19141/eu-bans-five-parabens-restricts-triclosan-in-cosmetics.

Research on parabens is usually carried out in cell cultures and in animals, so data on the impact of these chemicals on human health is limited27)“Naturally: Are parabens harmful?”: 9th May 2015 http://www.irishtimes.com/life-and-style/fashion/naturally-are-parabens-harmful-1.2203797. Parabens could be tested on lab grown skin cultures, however this could be considered unreliable as you cannot record the effects on specific organs. Furthermore, to study parabens effectively, multiple paraben exposures over a long period of time is needed, which is challenging to replicate in lab conditions.

Featured Image: https://www.colourbox.com/image/crushed-eyeshadow-on-white-background-image-2869486

References   [ + ]

1, 5, 8, 15, 17, 25. “Paraben Information” written by cosmeticsinfo.org: 20th June 2014 http://www.cosmeticsinfo.org/paraben-information
2. “Paraben Information” written by cosmeticsinfo.org: 20th June 2014 http://www.cosmeticsinfo.org/paraben-information
3, 20. “A Note on Parabens” written by Into The Gloss: 19th February 2015 https://intothegloss.com/2015/02/are-parabens-safe/
4, 14, 21. “Paraben” written by Omics International: December 2014 http://research.omicsgroup.org/index.php/Paraben
6, 18. Parabens: A Review of Epidemiology, Structure, Allergenicity, and Hormonal Properties by Allison L. Cashman; Erin M. Warshaw: 18th July 2005 http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/508430_2
7. “Exposure to Chemicals in Cosmetics” : 22nd January 2011 http://www.breastcancer.org/risk/factors/cosmetics
9, 10, 22. “Parabens: What are they, and are they really that bad?” Featured in Best Health Magazine Summer 2008 by Best Health pg 55: 15th December 2008 http://www.besthealthmag.ca/best-looks/beauty/parabens-what-are-they-and-are-they-really-that-bad/
11, 12, 13, 16. Antiperspirants and Breast Cancer Risk written by The American Cancer Society medical and editorial content team: 14th October 2014  https://www.cancer.org/cancer/cancer-causes/antiperspirants-and-breast-cancer-risk.html
19. “What are Parabens- and Do I Need To Worry About Them?” 24th January 2010 http://www.realsimple.com/beauty-fashion/skincare/worry-about-parabens
23. “Formaldehyde and Paraben Free Preservatives” written by Salicylates and Chemicals Private Limited company in Mumbai: 24th March 2014 http://preservativesindia.com/formaldehyde-paraben-free-preservatives.htm
24. “Parabens in Cosmetics” written by FDA Last Updated: 10th May 2016 http://www.fda.gov/cosmetics/productsingredients/ingredients/ucm128042.htm
26. EU bans five parabens, restricts triclosan in cosmetics”: 10th April 2014 https://chemicalwatch.com/19141/eu-bans-five-parabens-restricts-triclosan-in-cosmetics
27. “Naturally: Are parabens harmful?”: 9th May 2015 http://www.irishtimes.com/life-and-style/fashion/naturally-are-parabens-harmful-1.2203797

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