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Parabens in Cosmetics

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Overview of Recent Research Concerning the Effects o Exposure to Parabens (preservatives) Found in Deodorants and Other Cosmetics


Parabens are used as preservatives in many deodorants on the market as well as in soaps, creams, and other cosmetics.This family of preservatives includes methyl-, ethyl-, and propylparaben.

Application of such materials on the body, especially through daily use of deodorants poses possible dangers. Awareness among scientists of those dangers is growing (1).

It is important to begin and say that parabens as preservatives are found in almost every cosmetic product, including most of the "natural" products. These substances are good at killing bacteria and are therefore used in any product containing water and oils- preventing bacteria growth and keeping the product from spoiling. All the creams on the market that contain water must contain preservatives in order to prevent them from going bad.

These materials from the paraben family are easily absorbed through the skin into the body. The body has the ability to decompose them and secrete them through the urine (2,3).

These substances have been found connected, in a large number of cases, to skin irritation and allergies. It is possible to detect this sensitivity in an allergy patch test only in high concentrations between 5% - 15% (2).

Over the last years, the incidence of breast cancer among women in the western world has been rising (4,5). Clinical research points to a disproportionate relation between cases of breast cancer that develop in the upper-outer quadrant of the breast (nearest the armpit) and between breast cancer that develops in other areas of the breast.Research has also found DNA instability in this area.

These findings support the idea of a connection between local daily use of cosmetics (especially deodorants) and the development of breast cancer (6).
A 2003 research by McGrath (4) found, in women who were diagnosed with breast cancer (437 women participated in the research), a clear connection between earlier and more frequent use of deodorants and antiperspirants together with underarm shaving and between a younger age of diagnosis of the disease.

There is scientific agreement that Estrogen, and substances similar to it in their function, have an influence on the development of breast cancer (5), for instance menopausal estrogen treatments (7).

Parabens have been found to function similarly to Estrogen (13) and from tests on cancerous breast cells there was found an accumulation of these substances (12,13). One of the probable ways for these substances to enter the breast is through use of cosmetics that contain parabens (5).

There are researchers that claim that due to their low concentration and to the fact that parabens‘ function is lesser than that of estrogen, they are not to be connected with breast cancer (8).

Newer research (9) shows that not only are parabens similar in function to estrogen, they interfere with the functioning of the estrogen sulfotransferase enzyme responsible for the decomposition of estrogen in the body. Thus, a raise in normal estrogen levels ensues.

This discovery led the researchers to believe that it is possible that the initial, temporary, beneficial effect of part of the cosmetic products is actually related to this elevation of estrogen levels in the skin.

Another research has found that methyl paraben can cause damage to the skin including cancerous changes while acting in combination with sunlight radiation and different enzymes in the skin (10).

It is important to point out that as opposed to all of the above research, and despite it, the FDA rejects any problematic results of daily use of deodorants (11).

Summary - paraben influence

Over the past years, a steep rise in breast cancer incidence in western countries is being observed, as well as a disproportionate relation between the incidence of breast cancer in the upper and outer quadrant of the breast as opposed to other areas of the breast.

This might point to a connection to western lifestyle.

The paraben family is a family of chemicals that is used in most cosmetic products as well as deodorants and antiperspirants which are in daily use by most of the western world.

Parabens have been found to penetrate into the body and are found in high concentration in cancerous breast tissue.

Parabens damage enzymatic activity in the skin and thus cause a rise in the self-produced levels of estrogen in the skin area. High levels of estrogen have been clearly connected to higher risk of breast cancer.

In light of this knowledge, the daily use of paraben containing deodorants together with substances that prevent perspiration and pollutant withdrawal, might be discovered, in the next few years, as a possible factor raising the risk of breast cancer.

Lavender‘s natural deodorants are manufactured without water and without preservatives. For further reading - Lavender‘s Natural Deodorant.


Written by Ido Mashal (BA biology, B.Sc. chemical engineering, M.Sc. material engineering (Technion, Haifa, Israel)
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1. El Hussein S, et. al., Assessment of principal parabens used in cosmetics after their passage through human epidermis-dermis layers (ex-vivo study)., Exp Dermatol. 2008 Aug;17(8):700-1; author reply 702.
2. Soni MG, et al., Safety assessment of propyl paraben: a review of the published literature, Food Chem Toxicol. 2001 Jun;39(6):513-32
3. Soni MG, Evaluation of the health aspects of methyl paraben: a review of the published literature, Food Chem Toxicol. 2002 Oct;40(10):1335-73
4. McGrath KG, An earlier age of breast cancer diagnosis related to more frequent use of antiperspirants/deodorants and underarm shaving., Eur J Cancer Prev. 2003 Dec;12(6):479-85
5. Darbre PD, Environmental oestrogens, cosmetics and breast cancer, Best Pract Res Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2006 Mar;20(1):121-43
6. Darbre PD, Aluminium, antiperspirants and breast cancer., J Inorg Biochem. 2005 Sep;99(9):1912-9
7. Kortenkamp A., Breast cancer, oestrogens and environmental pollutants: a re-evaluation from a mixture perspective, Int J Androl. 2006 Feb;29(1):193-8.
8. Golden R, et. al. A review of the endocrine activity of parabens and implications for potential risks to human health., Crit Rev Toxicol. 2005 Jun;35(5):435-58
9. Prusakiewicz JJ, Parabens inhibit human skin estrogen sulfotransferase activity: possible link to paraben estrogenic effects., Toxicology. 2007 Apr 11;232(3):248-56. Epub 2007 Jan 19
10. Okamoto Y, Combined activation of methyl paraben by light irradiation and esterase metabolism toward oxidative DNA damage., Chem Res Toxicol. 2008 Aug;21(8):1594-9. Epub 2008 Jul 26
11. Antiperspirant Awareness: It‘s Mostly No Sweatl
12. Darbre PD, Harvey PW, Paraben esters: review of recent studies of endocrine toxicity, absorption, esterase and human exposure, and discussion of potential human health risks., J Appl Toxicol. 2008 Jul;28(5):561-78
13. Harvey PW, Darbre P., Endocrine disrupters and human health: could oestrogenic chemicals in body care cosmetics adversely affect breast cancer incidence in women?, J Appl Toxicol. 2004 May-Jun;24(3):167-76

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