Ursula Johnson is a nurse, mother, and owner of Love This Hair. She sheds light on the safety of commercial product preservatives and gives readers her honest opinion on paraben usage.
For years there has been controversy regarding the use of parabens in cosmetic products. Many natural and organic cosmetic product companies taut health benefits from eliminating these preservatives. However, is the elimination of parabens really necessary or simply another marketing ploy designed to scare people into buying one product over another with no real health gains? Let’s examine.
To start, cosmetic preservatives are necessary in order to extend a commercial product’s shelf life and prevent bacterial and fungal growth. Paraben preservatives, such as methylparaben, propylparaben, or butylparaben have been used since the 1950’s in shampoo, conditioner, lotions, toothpaste, and more. Many cosmetic chemists who favor the use of parabens argue that these compounds have been used safely for decades, cause few skin sensitivity reactions, and unlike other preservatives which require high dosages, are highly effective in very small quantities.
On the flipside, consumers and public health advocates worry less about individual products containing parabens, but rather the cumulative exposure to these chemicals on a daily basis. Quite honestly, it’s nearly impossible to get away from these chemicals in the U.S. because they are present in a myriad of products including personal care items, packaged grocery foods (read your Weight Watchers and Sara Lee labels), epoxy resins used to coat food and beverage containers, and in thermal paper (like receipts).
One study in 1998 showed that parabens exhibited estrogen-like properties in lab rats but further studies have shown that parabens do not affect adult humans in the same way they do laboratory animals. However that does not account for children and unborn babies. It is unethical to conduct experiments on this vulnerable population and the affects of parabens on children remain unknown. In light of this, the Danish government banned parabens from products for children under 3 years of age. The European Union followed suit and banned paraben use in diaper cream for babies and in certain food products.
I advise expecting women and moms with small children to avoid paraben-containing products because it isn’t clear what the risks are. We do know that parabens enter our bodies because they have been found in cancerous tumors and urine. What this means is not entirely clear, but why risk it? Personally, I avoid products with parabens. No doubt additional research must be done to determine long-term deleterious effects on the human body from daily exposure to these substances. However, being careful and mindful with what we ingest or use on our bodies is always a good thing.
A great resource for checking a chemical’s safety can be found here.