What are parabens - and why are they bad?


Parabens are the most widely used preservatives in cosmetics - preventing fungus, bacteria and other microbes growing in the moist, warm environment of a bathroom.

Over 75% of skincare products contain parabens. But they can be found under a variety of names - methylparaben, ethylparaben, propylparaben, butylparaben and isobutylparaben.

For almost two decades there have been questions over whether these chemicals are harmful to health. The industry is responding by producing paraben-free products. Manufacturers are creating new and effective preservatives all the time so there is a greater choice currently available. Denmark has banned two types of parabens from being used on products for young children, because of their concerns.

At Integrative Beauty, all of our products are 100% free from parabens. Parabens mimic oestrogen. Too much oestrogen can trigger an increase in breast cell division and growth of tumours. Which is why paraben use has been linked not just to breast cancer but also to reproductive issues.

In 2004, a team from the University of Reading published a game-changing study which detected parabens in 18 out of 20 samples of tissue from breast tumour biopsies.

The team was led by Philippa Darbre, a researcher in biomolecular sciences who specialises in the impact of oestrogen on breast cancer. She was particularly concerned with lotions that might be applied under the arms or near the breast. Around 55% of all breast cancer tumours appear in the upper outside portion of the breast, closest to the underarm.

While the study doesn’t prove parabens cause cancer – they were easily detected among cancerous cells. The Cosmetics, Toiletries and Perfumery Association released a statement following the study which declared: “Parabens are officially approved for use under the Cosmetics Directive (76/768/EEC), the European legislation that regulates all cosmetics and toiletries. We can reassure the public that all cosmetic and toiletry products containing parabens may continue to be used safely.”

The US National Cancer Institute has stated there is no decisive evidence at present to conclude parabens in personal care products are linked to breast cancer.

But many consumers are asking: “Why to take the risk?”

For more than 25 years it has been known that oestrogen exposure is linked to breast cancer development and progression. It is the reason Tamoxifen is commonly prescribed to women with breast cancer - to disrupt oestrogen receptors.

So it is perhaps not a step too far to be concerned that chemicals which mimic oestrogen might be harmful.

Parabens are known to impact the environment too.

Researchers believe it is likely the chemicals in products we use are washed into the sewage system and released into the environment, since a scientific study has found parabens in the bodies of marine mammals for the first time.