Are parabens harmful?

Posted 18 May 2015 12:00 AM by Nurture team

Information questioning the safety of chemicals used in skincare can be confusing, especially as it is hard to distinguish between one person’s opinion compared to the actual scientific findings. One such ingredient that has been the topic of many debates is parabens. Here we present you with the facts so that you can make up your own opinion on their safety.

What are parabens and what do they do?

Parabens are chemical preservatives added to products in order to prolong their shelf life, keep them stable and free from harmful bacteria. They are present in foods and pharmaceuticals as well as skincare. There are four main types of parabens: methylparaben, ethylparaben, propylparaben and butylparaben. Despite the scientific sounding names, some are actually found naturally, for example methylparaben is found in the blueberry shrub where its function is to inhibit the growth of bacteria, fungi and viruses.

Are parabens harmful?

Despite being classified as safe under EU regulation there is still confusion. Dene Godfrey, our expert, says “The main reason that some people have questioned the safety of parabens is due to a scientific paper that discovered that some parabens have an extremely weak potential to mimic the human hormone, oestrogen. Oestrogen has been linked to cancer in some studies but the link was made without any fact or evidence whatsoever. Several studies have observed no such effect from methylparaben but an effect was seen with butylparaben. However, the effect was so much weaker than human oestrogen, and the concentration of butylparaben required to produce that effect in the study was so much higher than people could ever come into contact with. In normal daily use of cosmetics any hormonal effect from butylparaben is more than two billion times weaker than oestrogen. To draw parallels between the two is like claiming that a fly is as dangerous as a military tank!”

What’s changed for parabens?

Dene Godfrey tells us “More recent investigations have been carried out on parabens at the request of the EU’s independent scientific advisory body, the Scientific Committee for Consumer Safety (SCCS), and they have further reviewed various aspects of the parabens toxicological data three times and continue to assess the safety of parabens as acceptable. Several parabens have now been removed due to insufficient data available, and a reduction in the maximum permitted concentrations of two others (propylparaben and butylparaben). Most of the parabens that were removed from the approved list have never been used in cosmetics, and the remainder were only ever used in very tiny quantities. The reduction in the maximum permitted concentrations of these two parabens did not reduce them below the levels at which they are typically used, so there need be no ‘retrospective concerns’!”

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