October 1, 2019Skincare

What’s the Real Deal with Parabens?

More and more companies are starting to promote the fact that their products are “paraben-free.” What’s the fuss and is this something you should be concerned about when choosing your favorite skincare options this fall?

What are parabens?

Parabens are a group of preservatives used in cosmetics to help keep those products from becoming contaminated with bad germs like harmful bacteria or yeast.  They extend the shelf life of a product.  If you make a DIY recipe and don’t use it right away, it could easily become contaminated with “bad bugs,” the kind that can cause infections.  That’s because you’re not adding preservatives to those concoctions.  Almost all products you see on the shelf in a store, or order online, contain some preservatives, to keep them free of germs that could hurt you.  Parabens are actually one of the most gentle preservatives found in skin care today.  They were named the “non-allergen” of the year in 2018!  This is because parabens are actually the least likely to cause a skin allergy, as compared to all the preservatives on the market today.  Parabens remain one of the least allergenic preservatives available to date!

So, why are so many products claiming to be “paraben-free?”  And why do I recommend avoiding parabens in skincare? 

Here’s the scoop:

A study done back in 2004 detected parabens in samples of breast tissue from breast cancer patients.  Parabens were actually found within the cancerous tissue samples collected.  Parabens are known to mimic estrogen, so the fear is that they are disrupting hormones and possibly increasing your risk of cancer.  Some scientists have even speculated that parabens might cause sterility in men. Basically, parabens bind to certain estrogen receptors, and turning on estrogen signals can theoretically contribute to a whole host of issues for men, women and children.  Butylparabens and propylparabens are the most likely to bind to estrogen receptors.  In fact, the EU has banned the use of these 2 preservatives in diaper creams, and reduced their allowed concentrations in a myriad of other cosmetic and personal care products.

We know that parabens are indeed absorbed by the body, mostly through our use of cosmetic or personal care products such as makeup, lotions, hair products and perfumes.  However, we still don’t fully know whether they truly pose any long-term health risks.  Concerns exist, but no clear link has been demonstrated.  The FDA believes that, so long as they are used in low concentrations (well under 25%), they are probably not doing any harm.  Even well known and respected skincare brands, like Cerave, continue to formulate using parabens in many of their most popular products.

Where I stand:

In the case of parabens, I don’t believe in innocent until proven guilty.  In my opinion, parabens are guilty until proven safe.  I want to see evidence proving that parabens are not causing any significant hormonal disruption before I feel confident recommending paraben-containing products to my patients!  I have too many patients struggling with fertility issues, and battling breast cancer.  I am not ready to take that risk!

Dr. Whitney

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