Thursday, June 6, 2013

What Are Parabens: The Highly Controversial Substance

Parabens are compounds commonly used as preservatives in skin care products. They are important because they prevent bacteria and fungi from contaminating the products. Since the report of EWG about it's possible carcinogenicity, parabens have become widely controversial. Despite this, the scientific community concluded that it is generally safe to use.

Why do the scientists, in the midst of this hype, approve the use of parabens in cosmetics? 

For one, parabens have weak potency and are only used in little concentrations in products. Some studies have found that parabens can mimic estrogen (a sex endocrine hormone), disrupt our body and promote cancer growth. Yet, endocrine disruption has only been found by injecting an extremely high amount of parabens in cell cultures and female mice - an amount far greater than what is actually used in our skin care products (.02-.03%). In addition, scientists found that parabens' potency are 100,000 times weaker than the estrogen produced naturally by the body, thereby suggesting the safety of parabens.

Second, there is no direct link found between parabens and cancer. Studies that suggest parabens to be dangerous came about from analysis of breast tissues with tumors where parabens were found to be present. However, the presence of these compounds is not conclusive. More so, parabens aren't only found in breast tissues but also in other healthy parts of the body. 

Without the use of some form of preservative, microorganisms will grow in our skin care products and can become harmful to use. Yet because of the high demand for paraben-free products, many manufacturers have found some alternatives to parabens. 

Resorting to paraben-free products can sometimes become even more costly (some manufacturers take advantage of this frenzy to promote their expensive paraben-free products). Switching to alternative preservatives does not guarantee safety as well. Take for example, during my product search in a store, I have found a paraben-free moisturizer, yet I've also found that it contains a preservative called DMDM Hydantoin - a substance that may produce formaldehyde (another carcinogen) as a by-product.

What should we do then?

Upon learning the possible dangers of parabens for the first time, like most people, I got paranoid of buying paraben-containing products. Thinking about slathering my skin with paraben-containing sunscreens and applying layers and layers of skin care products made me worry that the parabens in them might accumulate over time and produce the unwanted effect on my health (this was only my baseless assumption, parabens do get flushed out by our body - though to what extent is unknown to me - as seen in urine samples). However, was my fear based on fact? Why was I afraid of parabens? In fact, they are naturally occurring substances found in many foods, including blueberries. To make a substance toxic is a matter of concentration levels.

(Read: Understanding Sunscreen Labels)

After digging further, I learned that parabens aren't as dangerous as they were known to be. Yet, admittedly, the uneasiness is still there, instilled so well into my mind by the media. But personally, I am not into an all-out-anti-paraben campaign. Parabens have already been used in decades and using a newer form of preservative might be risky. Avoiding parabens altogether is impossible. I still find them in my current shampoo and facial cleanser. But as much as I can, I look for moisturizers, sunscreens, body lotions - products that stay on my skin for a long time - that do not contain parabens.

So, to avoid or not to avoid, it is a matter of your preference. If you don't feel safe with parabens, then it is your choice not to use them. For the meantime, keep an open eye on all the rest of the substances in your skin care products. People tend to avoid one or two unwanted ingredients, while neglecting the rest of the ingredient list. Going for the certain-substance-free products does not guarantee that their formula is any safer. Read the labels carefully. Stay updated on further skin care studies. Don't jump to conclusions if a source says something is dangerous without checking the source's credibility. 

For more information, here are some of the interesting materials I've found about parabens (with differing viewpoints):
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...

Want to get the latest update on Serious Skin Care Blog? Subscribe by Email.