Most cosmetic and skincare products charge a premium for a “paraben-free” label these days. Consumers sift through products at supermarket shelves to ensure that the cosmetics that they are using don’t contain the chemical. Parabens are preservatives that are added to cosmetic products to prevent bacteria and other pathogens from growing in them. Around 85 percent of products such as shampoos, creams and lotions contain these chemicals. But why fear parabens so much? Panic spread after a 2004 research unearthed a connection between parabens and cancer after they were detected in breast tissues. But the cosmetic industry is adamant that parabens are safe. So do parabens actually cause cancer? During the on-going Breast Cancer Awareness Month 2019, let's uncover the truth.
Parabens and Oestrogen
Breast cancer is an oestrogen-dependent disease. Around 70 percent of them are sensitive to the hormone oestrogen. Parabens such as methylparaben, propylparaben and butylparaben are known to have “oestrogenic activity”, which means they behave like oestrogens in the human body.
Exposure to parabens can, therefore, contribute to breast cancer risk worry scientists who say that the chemicals alter gene expression and accelerate breast cancer cells.
After the 2004 study in the Journal of Applied Toxicology, which found parabens in 18-20 tumour samples, major cosmetic companies decided to ban parabens from their cosmetic products.
Do Parabens Cause Breast Cancer?
Although the 2004 study is telling, the cosmetic industry argues that parabens are completely safe for usage. Also, the presence of parabens in the breast tissue in the study doesn’t necessarily say that they cause breast cancer. The Nation Cancer Institute stated that the authors of the study didn’t go looking for parabens in other tissues in the body. It’s also important to note that the scientists couldn’t find where the parabens came from.
While they penetrate the skin, less than one percent of unmetabolised parabens is available for absorption. And while they mimic oestrogen, parabens are 10,000-100,000 times less potent than human oestrogen, according to CDC.
So the jury is still out on whether they actually cause breast cancer or not. Studies are mostly conflicting, but, if you want to stay on the safer side, avoiding parabens, would be your best bet. But paraben-free products won't necessarily protect you from other health problems. Companies may opt for paraben substitutes whose health hazards may not be documented yet.