Parabens: Easy Greening

Have you noticed an increasing number of labels on personal care products with the words “paraben-free”? Parabens are synthetic chemicals used as an antimicrobial preservative and are found in a staggering array of products, from hand soap to toothpaste. They are known hormone disruptors (more about this below) and have been found in the tissue of breast cancer tumors, but the FDA and mainstream cosmetics industry maintain that they are safe. What?! We set out to get a handle on the paraben puzzle—here’s what we found.

What are parabens?
Parabens, short for “para-hydroxybenzoate,” are a class of preservatives widely used in cosmetics and personal care products (as well as pharmaceuticals and food)—they are used to prevent bacteria, yeast and mold. There are six types of parabens most commonly used in personal care products: methylparaben, ethylparaben, propylparaben, isobutylparaben, butylparaben and benzylparaben. Unlike some dizzyingly complicated chemical names, parabens are easy to spot on product labels because they end in “paraben.”

What are hormone disruptors?
In the 1990s the scientific community became increasingly aware that some synthetic chemicals are able to interfere with the function of our hormones—these chemicals are called hormone disruptors (also called endocrine disruptors). With this discovery, many ingredients previously considered safe, such as parabens, were now being considered for their hormone disrupting potential. Hormone disruptors act by mimicking our natural hormones. Our bodies are “fooled” by these imitation hormones, which results in the corruption of our natural hormonal processes. Within the category of hormone disruptors are xenoestrogens, synthetic chemicals that mimic estrogen. A number of studies have shown that parabens fall into the xenoestrogens’ group; xenoestrogens may be linked to high rates of breast cancer, and reproductive problems in women and decreased sperm counts, prostate and testicular cancer in men. The FDA acknowledges that estrogenic activity in the body is associated with certain forms of breast cancer.

Parabens and breast cancer
Which brings us to a study published in 2004 in the Journal of Applied Toxicology that detected five types of intact parabens in 18 of 20 samples of breast tumors. The study discusses this finding in the context of the estrogen-like properties of parabens and the influence of estrogen on breast cancer. According to the lead researcher, Philippa Darbre, the chemical form of the parabens had been absorbed through the skin (via deodorants, lotion, and other personal care products). The presence of intact parabens in tumor tissue shows not only that these chemicals are absorbed through the skin, but that they also persist and accumulate in breast cancer tissue without degradation. This is the study that most likely started the “deodorants cause breast cancer” scare—and while we take that risk very seriously, the study didn’t draw a firm connection between breast cancer and personal care products.

Safe or scary?
Both the FDA and the European Union have revisited the safety issue of parabens and have deemed them safe for consumers, but many people agree that more research needs to be conducted. Many people believe that there is enough evidence to warrant caution in the use of products containing parabens. Here’s our take. The level of parabens in one lotion may (or may not) be okay—but consider this: Parabens are found in shampoos, moisturizers, shaving gels, cleansing gels, sunscreens, topical pharmaceuticals, toothpaste, and many more personal care items. In fact, parabens are found in tens of thousands of personal care products. Parabens are just one type of xenoestrogen to which women are exposed, so we can only imagine both the cumulative effect and the interaction of parabens with other xenoestrogens, and with the body’s own estrogens – all of which affect endocrine function. Yipes.

Because of this, many companies have adopted a “precautionary principal” and have removed parabens from their products. With so many questions about parabens left unanswered, why not compare labels next time you’re shopping for personal care products? The paraben names are easy to spot, and a good ingredient to avoid. True parabens do extend the shelf life of a product. But, personally, my hormones are quite content as they are—they don’t need a flood of estrogen-costumed synthetic chemicals coming in to crash the party. Paraben-free is sounding better and better.

By Melissa Breyer, Producer, Care2 Green Living.


Jo S.
Jo S.about a year ago

Thank you Melissa.

Cecilia Durham
Past Member about a year ago

gud share

Jo Recovering
Jo S.about a year ago

Thank you Melissa.

Karen C.
Karen C.2 years ago


I just recently started caring about what I put in/on my body. And was blown away by Arbonne. If you are interested in botanically-based skin care/cosmetics, that are free of: talc, PARABENS, phthalates, formaldehyde, animal by-products/fillers, mineral oils and petroleum, I highly recommend Arbonne. They are certified vegan and gluten-free, dermatologist tested, hypoallergenic and NOT tested on animals! Yay!

It's a 38-year old Swiss company (Europe has a MUCH higher standard for what ingredients are allowed in their products). 500 ingredients that are banned in Switzerland, are used in our products here in the U.S.! Scary!

Anyway, you need a consultant to purchase their products, in order to get any type of discount. I have to mention that I am an Indpendent Consultant for Arbonne, but I am not in it for the money. I absolutely LOVE these products because of how they make my face glow. (My co-worker mentioned this morning how she's noticed my face is glowing lately. Once I told her why, she was very excited to try the products!).

Anyway, I would be happy to answer any questions, send out samples, or help you place an order, if you are interested.

We have to be so careful of what we are putting in and on our bodies in this day and age. Our government doesn't seem to care that we are all getting sick from the foods we eat and the products they allow to be produced.

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Ganaisha Calvin
Ganaisha Calvin2 years ago

thanks for sharing

LMj Sunshine

Interesting info, thank you.

LMj Sunshine

Interesting info, thank you.

Beauty India
Beauty India4 years ago

i like this one...

Dene G.
Dene G.4 years ago

@Elaine - well said - it's a refreshing change to see someone actually thinking for themselves on here, instead of the usual blind acceptance of anything that's written, without a moment's critical thinking!

Elaine A.
Elaine Al Meqdad4 years ago

These are the same scare tactics used against Dow corning, who was unjustly sued for the use of silicone breast implants (Which BTW are still the preferred medically used form of reconstructive surgery due to a radical mastectomy) This kind of malicious attack on a corporation (Quite possible and unsurprising at best, brought forth by a rival competitor, to cause a great deal of revenue damage to a corporation as this tie a corporation up by the hands as it waits the endless and cost absorbency of the judicial system due law suits that have proceeded actual testing to determine the existence of such a danger. A sort of guilty before the verdict is rendered if you will, which is utterly disgusting and causes excellent companies to spent their proceeds and more importantly the growth margins into a gutted out building (Loss of company) what never was taken into account was the sheer intellect involved that any good medical or scientific personnel, worth their salt failed to do was to investigate the individuals propensity/Disposition towards these certain claimed diseases, i.e. Lupus ET AL. Familial histories of such diseases! What happened to Dow chemical was an atrocity of the highest acclaim and almost eradicated a company whose many venues of production were of an everyday presence and usefulness in most American homes. She, Dow corning is still in existence today but does not nor has she ever regained her empire status, which was a leader in the industry for goods via many