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Health risks: Parabens in beauty products

What’s in your make-up kit? And how many of those beauty products do you use in a day? Give or…

By Jenna Owsianik , in Facing Facts: A closer look at eco-beauty products , on March 17, 2010 Tags: , , , , , ,

Picture from flickr user ***claire***

What’s in your make-up kit? And how many of those beauty products do you use in a day? Give or take a few products, my usual morning regime involves body lotion, tinted moisturizer, mascara, hair mold, and sometimes bronzer or eyeliner if I’m feeling so inclined. I wouldn’t be surprised if a lot of other women, particularly young women, also reach my daily average.

What concerns me is that most beauty products contain parabens, a type of preservative used to extend the shelf life of cosmetics and prevent them from developing mold. But, what concerns me more are recent studies suggesting parabens may pose human health risks.

There are a variety of personal care products being sold as paraben-free, and ones consisting of only natural preservatives claimed to be safe alternatives to those used in traditional cosmetic brands.

However, so-called natural preservatives, such as grapefruit seed extract and honeysuckle extract, have also been called out for having potentially damaging health effects — meaning just because it’s natural doesn’t mean it’s not harmful.

Without a science background to make sense of parabens and to evaluate the validity and potential seriousness of information on them, I tried to chase down experts in the relevant fields who could help me out. Unfortunately, all my leads up to this point have come up dry. I’ll keep trying.

I did find a series of blog posts on The Huffington Post written by Dr. Samuel S. Epstein, a professor emeritus of Environmental and Occupational Medicine at the University of Illinois at Chicago School of Public Health. He’s also an author of Toxic Beauty, a book that analyzes the ingredients used in prevalent cosmetic and personal care products for their toxic effects.

In a blog post, Dr. Epstein states that “it has been estimated that women are exposed to high levels, as much as 50 milligrams of parabens daily, from cosmetics and personal care products.”

This exposure is noteworthy as he explains:

“Parabens have shown to be readily absorbed through the skin of immature female rodents, and to stimulate premature uterine growth. Parabens have also been shown to stimulate the growth of breast cancer cells in laboratory tests, and incriminated as possible causes of breast cancer.”

Dr. Epstein’s conclusions are somewhat frightening when I consider how many products containing parabens I use a day. We’re all in charge of looking after our own health, and the next time I buy something that will be applied to my skin I’m going to pay more attention to what’s on the label.


  • As this article points out parabens in beauty products are still misunderstood. Since the release of parabens harmful effects some mindful companies have moved away from using parabens as a perspective agent. Grapefruit extract is an antioxidant for the skin and should not be used as preserve the shelf life of cosmetics and skincare products.

  • Parabens occur naturally in plants such as soybeans, carrots, and blueberries. You’ve most likely ingested more parabens in your life by eating food than any amount that could make it’s way past your epidermis and into your bloodstream transdermaly from cosmetics. If you’ve eaten an apple today, you’ve consumed a paraben. An apple a day keeps the doctor away!

    ONE single report showed parabens in breast tumours, and there has yet to be any other report to back it up. That doesn’t mean they cause or contribute to cancer, there’s also a WHOLE LOT of other things found in tumours as well, such as anti-perspirant deodorants (which use chemicals to stop a naturally occurring body function: to sweat).

    They are excellent, natural anti-microbials that plants themselves have used for millenia to protect their fruit. Synthetics such as methyl and propyl parabens are identical to the molecular structure that the parabens found in nature have. The only reason why companies do not derive them straight from carrots, blueberries, ect., is because it wouldn’t be cost-effective, and it would diminish the amount of carrots and blueberries for sale on the food market. For an already starving world, that’s not awesome.

    Methyl and propyl parabens also have a very safe track record, having the most research done on them and their notoriety of being safe to use in cosmetics and in food preservation for over 70 years.

    I agree that the overuse of synthetics isn’t the way to go, but to use them to the lowest level in as little products as possible.. I think you’re safe. The only way you’d really suffer from parabens is if you’d fill up your bathtub to the brim with the stuff, sat in it for years and years, and started spooning it into your body and ingesting it.

    In fact, you should all be more concerned about mineral oil. It’s derived from toxic oil fields. 🙂 Fancy putting that on your face? It’s also the number one ingredient in the cosmetics industry that is tested on animals, and that causes allergic reactions, from acne, all the way to eczema.


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