Parabens – Who Started The Preservative Paranoia?
ANSWER: Almost 14 years ago, a group of fear-mongering environmental activist groups intentionally misinterpreted a flawed study and the media sensationalized the inaccurate information.
FIRST THE FACTS: Preservatives are necessary to maintain the safety of a variety of different products – food, pharmaceuticals, cosmetics. Any product that contains water is susceptible to the growth of harmful pathogens (fungal and bacterial) which could lead to mold, the breakdown of the product and more.
Without preservatives, cosmetics would have a very short shelf life and would need to be stored under refrigeration.
One of the most tested preservative systems on the market is known as Parabens. Compounds known as short-chain parabens are the most widely used group of preservatives in cosmetic manufacturing. Propylparaben, Butylparaben, Methylparaben, and Ethylparaben, are safe, gentle, and efficient preservatives. This FACT is repeatedly confirmed by the EU’s Scientific Committee on Consumer Safety (SCCS).
THE FEAR BEGINS…
A few non-clinical studies (repeat after me; NON-clinical) suggested that parabens might cause endocrine disruption by stimulating very weak estrogenic activity.
Then, the actual clinical research concluded that parabens DO NOT act like estrogen in the body. Parabens are 10,000 to 100,000 times less active than estrogens produced in the human body. It also concluded that topically applied short-chain parabens were poorly absorbed by the skin, and excreted (flushed out) by the epidermis quickly – never making it to the dermis layer.
INTERESTING SIDE NOTE: Plant estrogens (phytoestrogens) found in dozens of foods such as broccoli, grapes, blueberries, carrots, strawberries, oats, coffee, and potatoes stimulate 1,000 to 10,000 times more estrogenic activity than the parabens in cosmetics, and these foods (which are directly ingested) have not been determined endocrine disruptors.
And then the wheels came off the bus thanks to…
THE INFAMOUS DARBRE STUDY
In 2004, Dr. Philippa Darbre at the University of Reading published a study in the Journal of Applied Toxicology. The study said her group performed testing on 20 different human breast tumors and found parabens in all of them. No one involved in the study could explain how the parabens got there. This raised the question of whether the parabens could have something to do with the cancerous tissue…but this theory was never actualized with a controlled clinical study.
The GLARING FLAW in the Darbre study is that they never tested the healthy, non-diseased tissue surrounding the tumors for the presence of parabens.
Why is this so important?
If clinical testing finds the presence of parabens in both healthy AND diseased tissue, parabens cannot be the reason for the disease (cancer).
Environmental activist groups neglected to report this extremely important flaw in the study (on purpose) and chose to sensationalize only the information that suited their agenda. They reported a cleverly worded half-truth, saying parabens were found in diseased tissue (fact) and responsible for causing breast cancer (fiction).
Once this fabricated story snowballed into mass hysteria over parabens, the author of the study (Dr. Darbre) was compelled to officially refute what was being reported (in reply to Robert Golden and Jay Gandy – Journal of Applied Toxicology, 2004);
The resounding consensus: Toxicologists blame unverified or misrepresented data for the bulk of hysteria surrounding “allegedly” harmful chemical ingredients in food and cosmetics.
97% of the scientists surveyed said media (print, web) did a very poor job in distinguishing good studies from bad, and that the public was not receiving a full and balanced picture of chemical risk. Ultimately, the media is responsible for how chemical risks are portrayed to the public, yet they habitually misinterpreted correlation from causation (ie; if a disease and a chemical are present in a tissue sample, this does not automatically indicate one is caused by the other).
The scientists agreed that the media gives too much attention to hysterical reports by environmental activist groups (because fear sells), but neglect to expose the lack of clinical data backing up the claims and rarely cite new studies that question or debunk the original misinformation.
96% of the toxicology scientists surveyed say Greenpeace overstates the health risks of chemicals.
80% of the toxicology scientists surveyed say the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) overstates chemical risks.
79% of the toxicology scientists surveyed say EWG, as well as the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) overstate or flat out fabricate the health risks of chemicals.
Organizations like EWG (Environmental Working Group) and their Campaign for Safe Cosmetics use an authoritative sounding name to peddle scientific half-truths and outright fabrications, but rarely provide clinical data to back up their outrageous claims. Along with Greenpeace and Environmental Defense Fund, these groups are beloved by activists…and detested by scientists.
CLICK HERE for the article that uncovers the EWG political agenda, which has nothing to do with your health or safety.
The activist groups (mentioned above) relentlessly fuel the paranoia and have elevated the concept of parabens = cancer to urban legend status.
Their paranoid narratives are believed because they’ve constructed and reinforced convincing, although fictitious, explanations of complex scientific concepts.
But there is hope…
Discussing, tracking, and analyzing urban legends is the topic of several websites, most notably snopes.com.
The sad fact is, many cosmetics companies have surrendered to the public hysteria created by all of this misinformation, and opt to avoid parabens because their erroneous reputation as a health hazard could impact sales.
Cosmetics chemists scramble daily to find effective “natural” options, even though they acknowledge that parabens are safer, more effective and far more reliable.
Parabens are used in minute amounts (sometimes less than 1%) to create a very stable preservative level, which does not alter formulation or performance.
Natural alternatives to parabens must be used in much higher percentages for similar effectiveness and often trigger a domino effect of destabilization and performance issues that require reformulation.
Natural preservatives have a shorter shelf life and a higher risk of failure that could cause REAL health issues.
The first high profile case of a natural preservative failing was in 2013, by a leading maker of natural and organic sunscreens.
W.S. Badger Co. Inc. voluntarily recalled over 30,000 tubes of sunscreen for babies and children. Testing of two products, SPF 30 Baby Sunscreen Lotion and SPF 30 Kids Sunscreen Lotion, revealed “preservative instability,” making them highly susceptible to contamination from bacteria and fungi. The high level of the sodium based natural preservative also caused skin irritation.
(Disturbing) REALITY CHECK
Because they caved to misguided consumers, who have been programmed to fear safe, gentle and highly effective preservatives (parabens). Preservatives which have never been clinically proven to be dangerous or the cause of disease.
The mountains of propaganda these groups have churned out, unjustly turned parabens into the boogyman. Isn’t it time we held these organizations accountable for their lies?
Paula Begoun, world-renowned Cosmetic Cop, had this to say about the reports that parabens cause cancer, “these claims are rubbish.”
THE MILLION DOLLAR QUESTION
FACT: The European Commision and Japan’s Pharmaceuticals and Medical Devices Agency are RIGID watchdog organizations for ingestable and topical ingredient safety. Japan’s standards for ingredient safety are the most stringent in the world.
These organizations would never allow the use of dangerous chemical ingredients.
Many companies have not crumbled under the public hysteria and continue to preserve their products with parabens – because cosmetics preserved with parabens are STILL among the safest products consumers can buy.
JUST THE FACTS PLEASE…
Instead of blindly believing special interest groups that manipulate scientific information to fit their agenda, read the information compiled by scientists who did the lab work.
There’s an incredible amount of verified data and documented studies available – if you take the time to research.
MY RESEARCH SAYS…
There is no clinical scientific data that verifies a correlation between the use of parabens and cancer.
SO, until someone provides verified information that proves otherwise, I will continue to dispute the damnation of parabens and trust their inclusion in the cosmetics products I use.
The information presented in this article was compiled from ingredient Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS), and four international government regulatory offices – the US FDA, the Canadian Food & Drug Act, the Japanese Pharmaceuticals & Medical Devices Agency and the European Commission on Cosmetics Ingredients and Substances (CosIng).
I do not provide links to my research data because, as an educator, I would rather YOU (the reader) research and discover this information on your own.
I’ve provided the breadcrumbs, now it’s up to you to follow the trail.
This post is informational only and not a substitute for professional advice.