Within recent years, you may have noticed new labels on products touting their “natural” ingredients, including one in particular: paraben free. But, what are parabens, and what do they mean for your health, and that of your family?
In short, parabens are chemical compounds used as preservatives in a number of cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, foods, and other products. Their purpose is to reduce bacterial and fungal growth. Although some parabens are found in nature, those used commercially are produced synthetically. Parabens are Generally Recognized As Safe (GRAS) for use as a food additive, but due to the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FD&C Act), the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) doesn’t have the authority to approve preservatives for use in cosmetics, so there is no “official” designation in this case.
What Are the Risk of Parabens?
Recent studies have shown that parabens may have estrogenic properties in the human body, meaning they mimic the effect of the estrogen hormone. Because this hormone is involved in the development of breast cancer, some concerns have been raised that parabens may increase a person’s risk for this cancer. Other studies have found parabens located within breast cancer tumors, further increasing worries. Some people also think that parabens and their estrogenic effects may play a part in the growing incidence of early puberty in girls. In all of these cases, however, there is not enough data to draw definitive relationships.
Where to Watch for Parabens
Although they’re best known for their use in cosmetics, parabens can be found in a variety of products, including:
- Certain foods like dried meat products, liquid dietary food supplements, cereal-based snacks, coated nuts, and others
- Shaving gels
- Personal lubricants
- Underarm deodorants
- Topical pharmaceuticals
- Spray tanning solution
How to Find Paraben-Free Products
If you decide to go paraben-free, you can choose from a number of brands, many of which can be found in your local grocery store or pharmacy. Some names to look for include:
- Dr. Bronner’s Magic and Sundog
- Pangea Organics
- Origins Organics
- Whole Foods Market Premium Body Care
- Burt’s Bees
- Yes To
- Physicians Formula Organic wear® line
- Sula Natural Makeup Collection
- Josie Maran
- Some Tarte Cosmetics products (Go here for a complete list)
There are doubtless many more brands that offer paraben-free product lines, and the best way to check is to look at the label. Many products will clearly state “paraben-free,” but you can also look on the ingredient list. The four most common parabens are: methylparaben, propylparaben, butylparaben, and benzylparaben. Parabens are also sometimes present if “fragrance” is listed in the ingredients.
Is It Worth It?
In some cases, paraben-free products can be more expensive, and they can also be more difficult to find in stores, although the selection is increasing as awareness grows. Each person must decide for themselves if they believe the possible risks associated with parabens outweigh the benefits. However, as it becomes easier and less expensive to buy paraben-free products, the choice may become an easy one.