The build up of parabens in our bodies and environment has become concerning, even if controversial. While some European governments have sought to ban parabens in skin products, others say there is little risk. What everyone agrees on is that we are accumulating parabens.
We are also infecting our fellow mammals with parabens. A 2015 study from Oregon State University and the University of New York found that parabens are accumulating significantly among bottlenose dolphins. They also found paraben metabolites even among polar bears.
Parabens building up in pregnant women
A new study from researchers at Arizona State University have discovered the world’s greatest levels of parabens among women in Brooklyn. The researchers studied 181 urine and umbilical cord samples from 185 women from Brooklyn for two years. The researchers found levels of four parabens within the women’s urine:
• Methylparaben: 100% of urine samples; 279 micrograms per liter
• Ethylparaben: 73.5% of urine samples; 1.44 micrograms per liter
• Propylparaben: 100% of urine samples; .39 micrograms per liter
• Butylparaben: 66% of urine samples; .02 micrograms per liter
The researchers also found the following levels within the blood of the umbilical cords of the women:
• Methylparaben: 97% of cord blood samples; 25 micrograms per liter
• Ethylparaben: 95% of cord blood samples; .36 micrograms per liter
• Propylparaben: 47% of cord blood samples; .27 micrograms per liter
• Butylparaben: 47% of cord blood samples; .09 micrograms per liter
• Benzylparaben: 45% of cord blood samples; .10 micrograms per liter
Free levels of parabens were also found in cord blood samples of the women. These included methylparaben, ethylparaben and propylparaben, which ranged from 4 to 72 percent of the total levels found. Though all paraben levels can be serious, free parabens are particularly worrisome because they can bind to other radicals among numerous tissues in the newborn’s body.
Brooklyn levels worst in the world
The researchers then compared these levels found in the Brooklyn women to a various other studies of paraben accumulation. They concluded that the Brooklyn women – and their babies – contained the highest levels of parabens found in human umbilical cord blood around the world to date.
Paraben levels highest in women
Another 2015 study tested parabens among the German population between 1995 and 2012. In 660 24-hour urine studies, they found methyl- ethyl- and propylparaben levels in between 79 and 99% of urine samples.
Over the years, methylparaben levels increased, though the other parabens remained fairly constant. This would be consistent with continued exposure along with parabens’ accumulating among fat cells.
The scientists also found that paraben levels among the women were significantly higher than levels in men.
Sources of parabens
One of the greatest sources of long-term exposure environmental parabens is found from women’s make-up. However, many other types of deodorants, skin creams, shampoos, shaving gels and various pharmaceuticals will often contain parabens. The parabens are typically added to provide a preservative effect.
Furthermore, because of the widespread use of these products, parabens are increasingly being released into our environment. As a result, now much of our food is contaminated with trace levels of paraben chemicals.
What’s so bad about parabens?
Some Western scientists have scoffed at the notion that parabens present a danger to health.
All agree that parabens are hormone disruptors because they have weak estrogenic activity. However, their estrogenic activity – meaning they can bind with estrogen receptors – is much lower than many other chemical hormone disruptors.
But hormone disruption is not the only effect of parabens.
Two Japanese studies – one from Kyoto Prefectural University of Medicine and another from Meijo University – showed that in combination with sun exposure, methylparaben produced a significant increase in cell death. They also observed greater oxidative stress and lipid peroxidation among the cells. This means the paraben effectively damages exposed tissues, and therefore is not good for our health. The researchers concluded:
“These results indicate that methylparaben, which has been considered a safe preservative in cosmetics, may have harmful effects on human skin when exposed to sunlight.”
Others have stated that the risk of paraben exposure is minimal, based upon tests of single or short-term exposures. After an examination of the research in depth, scientists from Greece’s University of Georgia concluded that the risk is larger because of the long-term use of parabens:
“Consistent with this idea, a number of recent commission reports from different countries suggested that parabens pose a negligible endocrine-disrupting risk at the recommended doses. However, individuals are not routinely exposed to a single paraben, and most of the available paraben toxicity data, reviewed in these reports, are from single-exposure studies. Further, assessing the additive and cumulative risk of multiple paraben exposure from daily use of multiple cosmetic and/or personal care products is presently not possible based on current studies.”
Skin allergies and sensitivities have been linked to parabens in a number of studies. A 2015 study from Poland’s Nofer Institute of Occupational Medicine found that nearly 12 percent of 405 patients with dermatitis had skin contact allergies to parabens or one of 12 other preservatives in commercial make-ups or skin lotion products.
With regard to the potential of a link between parabens and breast cancer, this has not been fully verified. However, in a 2015 study, researchers from the University of California at Berkeley have found that parabens appear to increase the expression of a particular gene – cMyc. This gene expression is linked to breast cancer proliferation. The researchers found that butylparaben increased c-Myc, and this was further increased in conjunction with hergulin – a growth factor protein. The researchers concluded:
“Our studies demonstrate that hergulin ligands enhance the potency of butylparaben to stimulate oncogene expression and breast cancer cell proliferation in vitro via ERα, suggesting that parabens might be active at exposure levels not previously considered toxicologically relevant from studies testing their effects in isolation.”
This last point is critical. “In isolation” means that studies that have observed parabens without considering the multitude of metabolic activities in the body may have missed parabens real adverse effects. This study illustrates how parabens may in fact be linked with breast cancer after all.
Alternatives to paraben-containing products
I cannot personally comment or suggest any particular makeup product or brand, there are a number of brands that now specifically do not use parabens.
I can also suggest that most makeups aim to recreate the look of healthy skin. Why not create this look by having healthy skin? A healthy diet is the most important consideration. Learn about the world’s healthiest diet.
As far as skin products, there are some great natural skin products such as aloe vera, avocado, raw honey, wheat germ oil, coconut oil and others. These can be used as needed to cleanse, moisturize and produce healthy skin.
My general opinion is that if you wouldn’t eat it, you shouldn’t put it on your skin.
Most makeups are hardly edible, and thus have no business being put on the skin. Not only do many contain unhealthy ingredients: They cover the skin and clog the skin pores. This prevents the skin cells from eliminating toxins, and they increase the risk of skin infections and irritation.
As far as shaving, aloe vera gel makes for a great shaving cream as well as a relieving after-shave. Aloe is also easy to grow around the house.
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Case Adams is a California Naturopath and a Board Certified Alternative Medicine Practitioner with a PhD in Natural Health Sciences, and diplomas in Homeopathy, Aromatherapy, Bach Flower Remedies, Blood Chemistry, Clinical Nutritional Counseling and Colon Hydrotherapy. He has authored 26 books on natural healing strategies.