Lately, parabens (especially parabens in cosmetics) have been receiving a lot of attention, which is leaving the general public confused about parabens’ health risks or benefits.  To further confuse the general public, many shampoo bottles and cosmetics are boasting of containing “no parabens”, but what does this really mean?  As of today, the FDA has ruled parabens safe in cosmetics, lotions, deodorants, shampoos etc., but why are their continuing studies being conducted and should we be concerned?

Lets first start by defining what a paraben is.  According to the online dictionary, Wikipedia, a parabens are “a class of chemicals widely used as preservatives in the cosmetic and pharmaceutical industries.”  So, what does this tell us? 

Basically, parabens help our daily beauty products like cosmetics last longer than otherwise would.  In theory, preservatives are great!  They help us get more use out of a product or even a food by preserving the cosmetic or food’s natural makeup longer than nature otherwise would allow.  Preservatives are found in many things and parabens are not the only preservative on the market.  There are naturally occurring preservatives and then there are artificial or chemical created preservatives. 

Now that we have defined what a paraben is and why they are used, lets investigate why parabens are grabbing headlines.  Parabens can and have been found in medical studies to imitate estrogen.  Estrogen is a sex hormone found in both males and females, however females should contain more estrogen.  Like all hormones, estrogen can affect many aspects of the body including reproduction, thyroid, and metabolism.   Like anything too much estrogen can also be a bad thing.  It can increase the development of breast cancer, affect mental health, and prostate cancer.  In order to optimize your health, it is critical to keep a well-balanced body.  Adding hormones or any other bodily chemicals like steroids beyond what naturally occurs is dangerous.  Unless your doctor tells you otherwise, you should not seek out additional naturally occurring bodily phenomena. 

If parabens have been found to imitate estrogen, why and how can the FDA approve it? 

The FDA can approve it based on levels.  Estrogen is not bad, but in mass quantities is not good.  The human body can accept small levels of many things and chemicals before it becomes harmful.  Therefore, if the parabens that are used in cosmetics are trace amounts that do not cause harm, then the FDA cannot rule otherwise. 

Why are there continuing studies being conducted on the safety of parabens in cosmetics? 

Right now, there is inconclusive data on whether or not parabens in cosmetics cause harm to the human body.  When there is inconclusive data on any chemical, it is important to continue the research until a firm decision has been made.  There are many chemicals that we deemed safe and then determined later on otherwise, for example BPA.  BPA was widely used as a plastic in food storage items and bottles.  Until the last 10 years (thanks to continuing research), BPA was considered safe.  It is now outlawed in many states and deemed unhealthy for children and adults.  This is not to speculate that parabens will follow a similar path, it just proves the importance of continued research.