• Parabens; Breast Cancer or Infertility?

Parabens; Breast Cancer or Infertility?

Parabens are deemed to be safe, found in food and cause very few allergic reactions. This all sounds very positive so far, so why the controversy? You only have to surf the internet to see the negative comments about parabens. Paraben free products are also on the increase. So why is this?

Investigation into tumour tissue and the link with parabens

It all began in 2004 when a study was published (Darbre, in the Journal of Applied Toxicology – pdf). I suspect that the researcher had no idea beforehand that her article would make such an impact. Darbre wrote that the results of an investigation into parabens revealed that out of 20 women with tumour tissue, 18 were found to contain concentrations of parabens. She suggested that parabens, which are known to have weak oestrogen properties, may have an influence on the formation of tumours. Given that they are sometimes used in deodorants, such use of deodorants can in theory have an effect on the growth of breast tumours. A typical example of ‘jumping to conclusions’.

It is indeed the case that certain cosmetic substances can attach themselves to oestrogen receptors and can mildly imitate the functioning of oestrogen (female hormones). Oestrogens (and the copycat oestrogens) can, in this way, have an influence on the growth of tumours that are sensitive to exposure to these hormones. This is also the reason why women with breast cancer must stop using the Contraceptive Pill.

Observations from this investigation

However scary this all sounds, there are some points to be addressed about the investigation by Darbre. Firstly, the study did not state that parabens cause cancer or that they are in any way harmful. In addition there were no tests carried out to see if these were present in healthy breast tissue. It also revealed that the control test slides (without tumour tissue) contained parabens. The author of the article admitted herself that these may have come from the laboratory technician’s own skincare products or the cleaning products used to clean the test slides.

Public opinion…

Nevertheless public opinion concluded that the use of deodorants containing parabens were responsible for breast cancer. Although a publication in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute (abstract) showed that, from a group of 810 women with breast cancer and 793 without breast cancer, there was no relationship found between the use of deodorant and breast cancer, the damage had already been done. A large French investigation also concluded, after analysis of 59 studies in this subject, that there was absolutely no proof that there was a connection between the use of deodorant and breast cancer. It is also interesting that in their article they also indicated that (unlike skincare products) there are very few deodorants that actually contain parabens (abstract).

Even the very fact that it stated in the article that given the maximum daily exposure to parabens it was not possible that these could cause breast tumours (abstract),nothing has changed about the bad name given to them. The results of different experimental investigations, which revealed that parabens were neither toxic nor carcinogenic, haven’t helped. Although they can indeed behave like oestrogen their effect is much weaker. An investigation in 1998 (abstract) demonstrated that the most powerful paraben (butylparaben) was 10,000-100,000 times less powerful actively in comparison to estradiol (a form of oestrogen). Furthermore, very low concentrations of parabens are used in cosmetic products.

Parabens and fertility

But there is more literature about parabens; it was revealed in various studies that different parabens when added to male laboratory animals diets could reduce their fertility (abstract). Not really something to be cheerful about. What you need to realise is that these laboratory animals were exposed to much higher concentrations of parabens than is possible through the use of cosmetic products. It is therefore very improbable that this, as the only factor, can have an influence on fertility.

As I said before if you want to be absolutely certain then you should avoid them. But be aware that paraben free products are not always the answer. A product must always contain preservatives, and it would even be dangerous if this is not done. Even “preservative free” products contain “preservatives”. It is just that they are not listed as such. These are always substances that are used to kill fungi and bacteria. In many cases paraben free products contain conventional preservatives that have a poorer safety recommendation than parabens but which have not been brought to the attention of the public. Preservatives are almost always listed at the end of an ingredients list, so please check the packaging to see what is in your product! Shortly I’ll give a summary. There’s still so much to do…..

Regards Jetske.

(Dr. Jetske Ultee-Research Physician Cosmetic Dermatology)

See also my earlier blog about parabens,
The list with ‘Ingredients to Avoid’,
Advice about ‘A Good Sun Cream’,
The blog ‘ Burning Skin Sensation’ or
Natural Cosmetics, Safe or Not?

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