What are Parabens?



Alright guys, nerd glasses on, I’m going to get a little scientific today. If you’re at all involved in the world of cosmetics, you’re bound to have heard of parabens and the many “dangers” associated with them:

“They’re bad!!!! They cause cancer!!! Stay away!!! Ahhhh!!”

Nobody can say the hype has been good, and while I’m all about calling people out for using potentially dangerous ingredients, I wanted to make sure all of the hype was merited. Are they really that dangerous? Do they actually cause cancer? What the heck are they in the first place? I’ve compiled the following list to help you educate yourself on an ingredient that you likely encounter multiple times during your daily routine:

1. What are they?

Parabens are a class of chemicals widely used in beauty and self care products. From the chemical side, they are short alkyl chain esters of para-hydroxybenzoic acid. It sounds scarier than it is but it’s good to know what the big name looks like because some companies will use it to avoid their customers realizing they’re using parabens.

2. Where can I find them?

Parabens can be found in a myriad of personal care products including toothpaste, lotions, and all different kinds of makeup. They are also sometimes added in certain food packaging and even in some edible products like jams and baked goods.

3. How are they produced?

Parabens occur naturally in many foods such as wine and some fruit juices. Any parabens used in personal care products or for other commercial purposes are synthesized in a lab, though their structure mimics parabens found in nature.

4. Why are they used?

Parabens are an excellent antibacterial and anti fungal agent so they’ve been used as widely effective preservatives since the 1950’s. If you’ve ever had a cosmetic product turn bad, you’ll be more than familiar with the rancid smell that accompanies. This smell is a direct result of bacterial or fungal growth in the product. Since parabens prevent this growth, they help the product stay fresh for a longer period of time. They’re also cheap to produce and work as an effective pH stabilizer.

5. Are they bad for me?

As of now, the FDA states that there is not enough evidence to support the idea that parabens cause any significant health problems in humans. That being said, there are several studies that show parabens to have both estrogenic and androgenic (think testosterone) properties which means they have the ability to disrupt our body’s receptors for estrogen and testosterone - not good.

6. Do they cause cancer?

Unfortunately, the jury is out on this one. As of now, there are no studies proving that parabens cause cancer in humans. However, a new study was recently released showing that parabens can accelerate the growth of pre-existing breast cancer cells. The idea that they cause cancer is supported mainly by the fact that parabens have the ability to disrupt the endocrine system and other endocrine disrupting chemicals have actually been linked to cancer. Since the 1950’s hormone related cancers have increased, but there’s no saying it’s solely due to our use of synthetic chemicals. Better safe than sorry, I guess?

7. Do they build up in my body over time?

No, they don’t. Luckily parabens are classified as non-persistent which means that your body can get rid of them! If you stopped your exposure to parabens, your body would be clear within a matter of days.

If you want to learn more about parabens, check out the awesome sources I used for this article:

-Human Exposures to Parabens in Cosmetics

-CDC Biomonitoring Study

-Parabens and Human Epidermal Growth Factor Receptor Ligand Cross-Talk in Breast Cancer Cells

Thanks for Reading!

#parabens #science #beauty #makeup #health #chemical #chemistry #toxicology

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