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What are Parabens? Are They Safe?

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Cosmetics related image Fai Wong/PhotoSpin

Part 1 of a 2-part series looking at environmental exposure to everyday chemicals and your health.

You may have heard quite a lot about parabens lately. Parabens are chemicals found in everyday products like cosmetics, soaps and toothpaste that some studies show may put you at increased risk of breast cancer, male and female infertility, skin damage and premature aging.

Parabens are added by manufacturers to cosmetics and personal care products, such as soaps, moisturizers, shaving cream and underarm deodorant, toothpaste, spray tanning solutions, personal lubricants and some food and beverages to extend the products’ shelf life.

Parabens have been routinely used in everyday products since the early 1950s. They are absorbed into the body by touching, swallowing, or eating products containing parabens.

Until recently, parabens have been thought to be generally safe since they are quickly excreted in urine. However, some recent research suggests there may be cause for concern.

The National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) is one famous study which was conducted by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in 2005-2006. The survey looked at how widespread environmental paraben exposure is, and just how much of the chemical has entered people’s bodies.

Scientists measured parabens in the urine of more than 2,548 people 6 years of age and older. They found two parabens -- methylparaben and propylparaben -- in the urine of most of the people tested, indicating widespread exposure to these parabens in the U.S. population.

The highest concentrations were found in people younger than age 60, non-Hispanic blacks and females. In fact, females had several-fold higher concentrations of methylparabens and propylparabens than males, probably because of greater use of beauty products containing parabens.

So why should you care?

A 2004 study by Dr. Philippa Darbre published in the Journal of Applied Toxicology found parabens in some breast tumors.

Add a Comment1 Comments

Parabens are a class of chemicals widely used as preservatives by cosmetic and pharmaceutical industries. Parabens are effective preservatives in many types of formulas. These compounds, and their salts, are used primarily for their bactericidal and fungicidal properties.
In individuals with normal skin, parabens are, for the most part, non-irritating and non-sensitizing. Parabens can, however, cause skin irritation and contact dermatitis and rosacea in individuals with paraben allergies, a small percentage of the general population.

November 12, 2013 - 1:16am
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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.


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