Parabens are synthetic chemicals used as antimicrobial preservatives. Found in the majority of beauty products, there ain’t nothing pretty about them. Chances are they’re already present in your body. In fact, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has detected parabens in over 90% of Americans tested.
While they do a fine job at extending the shelf life of cosmetic products by preventing mold, fungus, and bacteria from growing, parabens are linked to fertility issues; early puberty in children; birth defects; organ toxicity; certain types of cancer and can disrupt functions of the endocrine system. In other words, they wreak havoc on your hormonal system.
If you’re sensitive like me, then you’ll notice physical effects when you use products containing thee manmade preservatives. You’ll find parabens on the ingredients list of your personal care products, fragrances, hair products – even food, beverages and pharmaceuticals – under the guise of the sinful six (making them easy to detect on the label since each type ends in ‘paraben’).
Check Your Symptoms
I used to experience symptoms of estrogen dominance prior to cleaning up my personal care act (by choosing organic products, free of parabens). Symptoms of too much estrogen can include: PMS, insomnia, puffiness and bloating, foggy thinking and mood swings, to name a few. Estrogen dominance is caused when your body lacks enough progesterone to balance the effects of estrogen.
Therefore, you can have low estrogen but if you have even lower progesterone, you can have symptoms of estrogen dominance – and it’s no fun! But, hormone imbalances in general are no fiesta for anyone who’s experienced them (yes, even men). These imbalances can range from progesterone/estrogen deficiency and excess estrogen/estrogen dominance to excess androgens and cortisol deficiency. It’s really important to test your own levels via a blood test ordered from your physician, or through a DIY saliva test. You can take a FREE online hormone symptom checker test from Dr. John R. Lee HERE (let me know your results in the comment section below). If you fall into one of the categories, taking either of the aforementioned tests is a great place to start on your journey towards optimal health.
Health Risks from Parabens
Parabens are absorbed into the skin, blood or digestive system and fall into a category called xenoestrogens – chemicals that mimic estrogen in your body by binding to estrogen receptors on cells. According to the American Cancer Society, prolonged exposure to estrogen and progesterone over the course of a person’s life could increase the risk of breast cancer. Even the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) admits that estrogenic activity in the body is associated with certain forms of breast cancer.
Additionally, a study by the University of Reading in the UK found that nearly every woman with breast cancer tested, had one or more paraben chemicals in her breast tissue. 99 percent of the breast tissue samples contained at least one type of paraben, and 60 percent contained at least five. These results suggest a link between the chemical and the breast cancer[i] (read: 10 Steps to Breast Cancer-Proof Your Home). Parabens have also been known to decrease sperm counts in males and have been loosely associated with the increase in infertility as well.
How to Avoid Parabens
- Choose anhydrous (without water) products to reduce the need for chemical antimicrobial preservatives. For example, bar soaps typically do not require an antimicrobial.
- Avoid aqueous liquids (ie: products that contain water, milk, hydrosols) which require a preservative since they are susceptible to spoilage.
- Avoid Japanese Honeysuckle Extract; a form of parabens which behaves in a similar way to synthetic parabens.
- Look for products made in small batches. Products which are preservative-free will spoil quickly so use them prior to expiration and keep hands clean/sanitized.
- Look for natural alternatives to chemical preservatives like grapefruit-seed extract, honey, jojoba and vitamins A, C (ascorbic acid) and E (tocopheryl acetate), which inhibit micro-bacterial growth.
- Choose USDA certified organic personal care products that are free of parabens and chemical preservatives (read: OMG, Organic Personal Care Products! What Does It Mean?).
- Look for products labeled “paraben-free” and read ingredient lists on labels to avoid parabens.
Finally, let me know your favorite parabens-free brand(s). Or, check the Paraben-Free Cosmetics List from the Brest Cancer Action® HERE and slather, squirt and spray safely!
[i] Darbre PD, Aljarrah A, Miller WR, Coldham NG, Sauer MJ, Pope GS (2004). Concentrations of parabens in human breast tumors. Journal of Applied Toxicology 24:5-13.
Feature image courtesy of m B