In simple terms parabens are preservatives which prevent your beauty products from turning bad. They have the power to kill bacteria and fungi. They've been used for years, and there's no hard evidence that they've ever caused any problems before.
What Are They Found In?
Well quite a lot, from your standard cosmetics including lipsticks, your moisturisers, make up removers, sunscreen and shampoo. Without knowing it, you're probably eating parabens too they're in soft drinks, baked goods and salad dressings.
Parabens also occur naturally, one of the main players - methylparaben, can be found in the humble blueberry. I was surprised that this contains parabens, considering it's a superfruit, which is meant to be amazing for the skin due to its high levels of antioxidants.
Why All The Fuss?
There was a recent study by PhD student Phillipa Darbre, who looked at paraben content in breast cancer tumours. She found 18 out of 20 tumours contained parabens, at an average level of 20 nanograms per gram of tissue. So parabens = cancer, right?
Well, not necessarily so, this is a very small study, only twenty tumours, out of the thousands of people that get breast cancer in the UK every year. It is true that the rates of breast cancer have increased over the past hundred years, but more likely due to an ageing population and not due to the introduction of parabens, although we can't rule this out just yet. In reality hundreds and thousands of tissue samples need to be obtained, from all over the world, and not just one hospital, for this study to carry more weight.
Neither did this study show, whether cancer free women had parabens in their breast tissue. To prove a link between parabens and cancer, healthy tissue should have been compared, and it wasn't in this study.
The reason, the paraben breast cancer link was made in the first place was due to the fact that parabens slightly mimic oestrogen, and greater exposure to oestrogen has been proven by various studies to increase the risk of breast cancer. However, the effect that parabens have is so small, it is not likely to increase your risk in breast cancer.
A systematic review has been performed, this means a person or group of people looked at a lot of studies about the same thing, and tried to see if there was a link and if so how strong. This was done relating to parabens and cancer, and no direct link could be found.
Are There Alternatives?
Many brands are paraben free, so there must be an alternative right? Either we face a shorter shelf life on our products, or we could try a natural alternative. One of these natural preservative alternatives is grapefruit seed extract does itself contain methylparaben!
As I see no link between parabens and cancer, I'm happy to carry on using products that contain parabens. I do agree there is no harm in showing a little caution to what the study found above, that is why all of my product reviews that are paraben free will be tagged as that, you can make an informed decision about what you choose to put on your body.
I hope this was useful to some of you, who were possibly curious about the fuss about parabens.
In the coming days I will also be releasing a list of companies that are paraben-free to help with your purchases.