Parabens are a class of chemicals and have attracted a lot of attention as they are a common ingredient in cosmetic and skin care products. There is a lot of debate over their usage, effects, side effects, etc. Research is also being carried out to gauge their long-term effects, with some studies trying to find its link to cancer.

Chemistry of It

Parabens are essentially esters of a hydrocarbon, p-hydroxybenzoic acid. They are produced by a process called esterification of the para – benzoic acid with the suitable alcohol such as ethanol, methanol, etc. Its natural occurrences include some plant sources such as blueberries, which contain methylparaben.

The following three parabens count as the most commonly occurring parabens – butylparaben, propylparaben and methylparaben. One or a combination of two or more of these parabens may be used in skin care products as preservatives. In some cases, they might also be used in conjunction with other preservatives. This enables preservation against a number of microbes. Also, using a combination allows one to use lesser amounts of parabens and yet attain the same or even higher levels of preservation. Such preservation is needed to protect both the customers and the product as microbial growth can cause unwanted reactions between the chemicals in the product.

Problems with Paraben Use

Parabens have been used in cosmetic products for quite some time now. However, it was in 1990s that they came into negative limelight for the first time. They were proved to mimic estrogen, a naturally occurring hormone, in the body. This led to a sort of ‘estrogenic disruption’, which has been linked to various forms of cancer. In 2004, Dr. Philippa Darbre, involved in cancer research, found that malignant breast tumors contain parabens. Since then quite a few studies have proven the occurrence of these chemicals in cancerous tissues.

Its presence in cosmetic products and almost proven link to breast cancer has many women worrying about its usage in cosmetic products. More and more women are reading about parabens and their harmful effects and are taking conscious steps to remove containing items from their skin care and beauty regimes. There has been a steep rise in demand for ‘paraben free’ products. This has lead to many companies making a conscious effort to release such products and market them to a more aware customer base.

Till now, studies on parabens side effects have mainly focused on women. But, few recent studies proved that men may be equally susceptible. Parabens get absorbed via the epidermis layer of the skin. Many researchers are of the view that such absorption may interfere with healthy functioning of the endocrine system. So, anyone using such products stands an equal chance of facing a side effect. It is better to be adequately equipped with such knowledge so that you can make a more informed decision. Also, there are more paraben free products available on the market. So choosing one of your choice might be a lot easier now.

Common Products Containing Parabens

On an average, three out of four beauty or skin care products that you are likely to pick up in the beauty store contains parabens. In fact, they are so common that instead of listing it as an ingredient, products not containing are marked as ‘paraben free’. So while shopping, it would be more prudent to search for that product, rather than going through the list of ingredients.

One such item of daily use is the toothpaste. In order to maintain that freshness and minty feeling for a longer duration, toothpaste is treated with parabens before being packaged. But this treatment almost ensures that these harmful chemicals enter the human body in substantial quantities. Other common use items include shampoos, sunscreens, conditioners, moisturizers, hair products, mascaras, etc. If you want to check for such compounds in the products they generally use, you may want to look for propylparaben, methylparaben, butylparaben, ethylparaben, isobutylparaben and polyparaben.

It might prove to be difficult on your monthly budget, if you are planning to opt for an entirely paraben – free lifestyle. Also, it becomes all the more tough if you have to ditch most of the products you currently have and have to start from the basics. But if you have a family history of cancer or are otherwise susceptible to breast cancer, such an investment is more prudent in the long run. Also, those who have problems with endocrine system should be extra careful about the products they are using and the ingredients they contain.

Parabens may also be found in some pharmaceutical products. Just to be on the safer side, it might be an intelligent step to look for the ingredients of the medicines you are taking. Just in case any of them have parabens, you should talk to you medical care providers and discuss the alternatives.