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PARABENS

WHAT ARE PARABENS?

Parabens are synthetic compounds that act as preservativeswithin cosmetic products, medicines and food products. Parabens work to preserve theingredients within various products by maintaining their stability within extensive ranges of pH, temperature, and chemical environments. The application of dermal products is the most common source of parabens in the body.Some examples found in beauty products are methylparaben, propylparaben, and butylparaben. Recently, parabens have received scrutiny for their potential long-term effects on health due to their long half-life in the body and ability to act as hormone disruptors[1].

ARE PARABENS HARMFUL?

Parabens have the ability to penetrate the skin, enter into the bloodstream, and bioaccumulate in body tissues[2,3]. They are used as preservatives because they are relatively stable. However, this means they are also stable once inside the body— a double edged sword. In vitro molecular research has demonstrated that methylparaben, the most commonly used paraben, has the ability to reduce collagen production, slow keratinocyte cell growth, and exacerbate damage from UVB radiation exposure[4–6]. 

In humans however, the findings are much less clear. Large scale meta-analyses have so far determined that at the approved concentrations, the most common parabens are not carcinogenic in the general population. Interestingly, a recent small study found elevated levels of parabens in cancerous endometrial tissues compared to non-diseased tissue. However, widespread claims that parabens alone are carcinogenic are still premature and more clinical research needs to be performed before drawing a firm conclusion[7–9]. 

TOWARDS SAFER ALTERNATIVES

Clean beauty was born out of this uncertainty over ingredients like parabens that have been demonstrated in relevant contexts to be harmful or at the very least, antagonistic to the goal of healthier skin. There are some clean alternatives like sodium benzoate or benzyl alcohol but these don’t protect against bacterial growth, only fungal growth in your products as they are exposed to air. Another option is to use airless pumps however this type of packing can drive up costs. 

The truth is, there is no perfect clean preservative that can replace multifaceted effects of parabens[10].The best strategy to minimize your exposure to parabens is to first, educate yourself on the brand and their stance on paraben use. Then, websites likewww.EWG.org can help you go through the ingredients list to determine if your product has any flagged ingredients. Educating yourself and shopping clean will encourage companies to commit resources towards research for both parabens and safer alternatives while maximizing your skin’s potential. 

References:

 1. Boberg J, Taxvig C, Christiansen S, Hass U (2010) Possible endocrine disrupting effects of parabens and their metabolites.Reproductive Toxicology 30, 301–312.

2. Matwiejczuk N, Galicka A, Brzóska MM (2020) Review of the safety of application of cosmetic products containing parabens.Journal of Applied Toxicology 40, 176–210.

3. Mehdi Amin M, Tabatabaeian M, Chavoshani A, Amjadi E, Hashemi M, Ebrahimpour K, Klishadi R, Khazaei S, Mansourian M (2019) Paraben Content in Adjacent Normal-malignant Breast Tissues from Women with Breast Cancer.Biomedical and Environmental Sciences 32, 893–904.

4. Ishiwatari S, Suzuki T, Hitomi T, Yoshino T, Matsukuma S, Tsuji T (2007) Effects of methyl paraben on skin keratinocytes.J Appl Toxicol 27, 1–9.

5. Majewska N, Zaręba I, Surażyński A, Galicka A (2017) Methylparaben-induced decrease in collagen production and viability of cultured human dermal fibroblasts.J Appl Toxicol 37, 1117–1124.

6. Handa O, Kokura S, Adachi S, Takagi T, Naito Y, Tanigawa T, Yoshida N, Yoshikawa T (2006) Methylparaben potentiates UV-induced damage of skin keratinocytes.Toxicology 227, 62–72.

7. Dogan S, Tongur T, Erkaymaz T, Erdogan G, Unal B, Sik B, Simsek T (2019) Traces of intact paraben molecules in endometrial carcinoma.Environ Sci Pollut Res 26, 31158–31165.

8. Fransway AF, Fransway PJ, Belsito DV, Yiannias JA (2019) Paraben Toxicology.Dermatitis 30, 32–45.

9. Barr L, Metaxas G, Harbach C a. J, Savoy LA, Darbre PD (2012) Measurement of paraben concentrations in human breast tissue at serial locations across the breast from axilla to sternum.J Appl Toxicol 32, 219–232.

10. Nowak K, Jabłońska E, Ratajczak-Wrona W (2020) Controversy around parabens: Alternative strategies for preservative use in cosmetics and personal care products.Environ Res 110488.

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