Choose your personal care products wisely as some chemicals commonly used as preservatives in them can be dangerous to your health. Parabens, a group of preservative ingredients widely used in cosmetic, personal hygiene products, food products and pharmaceuticals, may lead to cancers, cause infertility and hormonal imbalance. The compounds, usually found in commercial shampoos, are also associated with allergies and dermatitis. Some studies suggested that parabens can suppress the immune system. Parabens can also be present in commercial moisturizers, shaving gels, personal lubricants, topical/parenteral pharmaceuticals, toothpaste, feminine care products and cleansers.
Before buying hair products or cosmetic products, look at the labels. Avoid products that contain compounds like Methylparabens, Ethylparabens, Propylparabens, and Butylparabens.
Why are parabens used in hair and cosmetic products?
Parabens are commercially produced by the esterification of para-hydroxybenzoic acid (PHBA) with the appropriate alcohol, such as methanol, ethanol, or n-propanol. PHBA is also found in many fruits and vegetables, such as cucumbers, cherries, carrots, blueberries and onions. But for commercial use, PHBA is industrially produced from potassium phenoxide and carbon dioxide by two step Kolbe–Schmitt reaction, that is carboxylation of phenol. Because parabens have anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties, they are highly effective in preventing the growth of fungi, bacteria and yeast that can cause products to spoil. Thus, they are used in cosmetic and personal hygiene products to extend their shelf life. According to the American Chemical Society estimates, parabens are in about 85 per cent of personal care products.
Our body can quickly convert parabens used in cosmetics into natural PHBA and eliminate them. But as products containing these chemicals are so widely used today, we are continually exposed to them, always leaving traces some in our bodies.
Parabens and Breast Cancer
Studies have shown that parabens can penetrate the skin and mimic estrogen’s activity in the body. Exposure to this female hormone over long periods of time, has been linked to increased risk of breast cancer as it can stimulate breast cell growth. But parabens are less potent than the natural hormone.
Can parabens cause breast cancer? A 2015 lab study indicated that parabens could spur the growth of certain types of breast cancer cells, even in tiny amounts, around 5 to 10 nanograms. Another study published in the January-February 2004 issue of the Journal of Applied Toxicology, had found traces of parabens in breast cancer tissue of mastectomy patients. But that they were not sure if parabens cause breast cancer as they did not look for the presence of the compounds in any other tissues in the body. Other studies suggested that women tend to have higher levels of parabens in their body than men, probably because they use more personal care products.
Parabens and Infertility
Research has also suggested that exposure to parabens can lower testosterone levels in men and affect their sperm, which may contribute to infertility. A 2017 study published in Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine found that men with high concentrations of parabens in their urine had a larger proportion of sperm with abnormal morphology, or unusual size or shape, which is associated with infertility, compared to men who had low concentrations of the chemicals in their urine. Men with higher levels of parabens in the urine also had more sperm with decreased motility, or slower moving sperm that may contribute to infertility as they are unable to travel far enough to reach an egg. This indicated that exposure to parabens may be associated with DNA damage in the sperm.
Parabens and immune system dysfunction
Widespread use of chemicals, toxins, pesticides and heavy metals are suspected to partly responsible for the rise in the number autoimmune diseases globally. Our bodies are constantly bombarded with so many man-made compounds that can wreak havoc on our immune system. For example, parabens that are widely used in cosmetic industries are associated with immune system dysfunction and reproductive disorders.
Maternal paraben exposure linked to childhood overweight
A study published in Nature Communications last year indicated that maternal paraben exposure may trigger development of childhood overweight. According to the authors, mothers who reported the use of paraben-containing cosmetic products had elevated paraben concentrations in their urine samples. In particular, they found higher concentration of butylparaben (BuP) in mothers associated with higher risk of children being overweight within the first eight years of life, with a stronger trend in girls. In mice, they found maternal BuP exposure inducing a higher food intake and weight gain in female offspring.
Paraben and allergy
Parabens may not cause a problem on normal skin, but it can cause skin irritation and contact dermatitis in allergic persons or when used on active skin disease, such as wounds or eczema. This is the reason why parabens are not usually used in topical hydrocortisone creams or antibiotic ointments. However, cases of paraben allergy are rare in relation to the widespread use of the chemicals. A report recently published by the American Contact Dermatitis Society also concluded that parabens are one of the least allergenic preservatives available today.
The other concerns associated with parabens include endocrine disruption, emotional disorders, and environmental impact. However, the causal link between these chemicals and most of these issues have not been conclusively proven.
Read the product ingredient list carefully
Parabens are widespread today and so it is difficult to avoid getting exposed to the chemicals completely. But we can try to minimize the exposure by choosing personal care products that are free of parabens. Today, more and more cosmetics and personal care product manufacturers are avoiding use of paraben in their products following consumer pressure. Even if the products contain the chemicals, they are being listed on their labels. Therefore, one should read the ingredient list on cosmetics and hair care products to check if a product contains parabens. Common parabens used in cosmetics are methylparaben, propylparaben and butylparaben. In a study, butylparaben was found associated with an increase number of sperm with an abnormal size and shape as well as decrease in sperm motility. So, always read the label information to see if the product you want to buy has these ingredients in it.
Published : April 8, 2021 8:42 pm