Icky Ingredients – Parabens

Posted on September 17, 2007 by Allie

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Take a look at the ingredients in your favorite hand lotion, conditioner, soap, cosmetics and mouthwash. Do the ingredients list methylparaben, ethylparaben, propylparaben, or butylparaben? You may also see isobutyl-, isopropyl-, or benzylparaben on the list, but those are less commonly used ingredients.

Parabens are used as preservatives to inhibit mold and bacteria growth. This may sound like good thing, but there’s a lot of controversy about the use of parabens in personal care products. Here’s why.


Parabens fall into the xenoestrogen catagory. Xenoestrogens are synthetic substances that mimic or enhance natural estrogens. While the amount of methylparaben in your favorite hand lotion is probably miniscule, there is a cumulative exposure to parabens and other xenoestrogens when you consider the broad spectrum of products you use on a daily basis.

Some studies show that conditions increasing the amount of natural estrogen in the body, like obesity, late menopause, and not having children, also increases the risk of getting breast cancer. While xenoestrogens have not yet been connected to breast cancer directly, there may still be cause for concern.

According to the Breast Cancer Fund:

A 2004 UK study detected traces of five parabens in the breast cancer tumors of 19 out of 20 women studied (4). This small study does not prove a causal relationship between parabens and breast cancer, but it is important because it detected the presence of intact parabens — unaltered by the body’s metabolism — an indication of the chemicals’ ability to penetrate skin and remain in breast tissue.

Even though parabens were found in breast cancer tumors, since there is no proof that parabens cause breast cancer tumors, many companies, and even the FDA do not believe that the use of parabens in personal care products is an issue at this point.

The FDA’s official statement on the use of parabens is as follows:

FDA believes that at the present time there is no reason for consumers to be concerned about the use of cosmetics containing parabens. However, the agency will continue to evaluate new data in this area. If FDA determines that a health hazard exists, the agency will advise the industry and the public, and will consider its legal options under the authority of the FD&C Act in protecting the health and welfare of consumers.

The American Cancer Society believes that further testing is needed to determine if there is a link between breast cancer and parabens. The Breast Cancer Fund calls for an individual and collective “precautionary” approach to paraben use.

Even though the cancer link has yet to be proven, parabens can also be a skin irritant. Cumulative use of parabens may also contribute to weight gain.

There are a lot of wonderful paraben-free products on the market. Personally, I feel that no hand lotion is so great that I’m willing to risk my health with exposure to substances that need further testing before they can be considered 100% safe.

Ultimately, it’s important to be informed about your purchases and feel comfortable with the products you use on a daily basis. Read articles about parabens from many sources. Look at the labels of the products you use. See how many contain parabens, and think about whether you’re comfortable with that level of exposure.

5 Comments +

  1. [...] talked about parabens before.  They scare me.  In the past year, I’ve made an effort to abolish them from my [...]

    April 11th, 2008 at 5:27 pm
    Pingback by Allie’s Answers » Blog Archive » Please Stop Using Parbens. I Like You.
  2. [...] introduce you to icky toxins, like the paraben family (good info from Allie’s (Green) Answers here and here). So in an effort to reduce my plastic waste and toxin-absorption, I’ve cut them out [...]

    May 19th, 2008 at 6:27 am
    Pingback by getting off the bottle « notes of a twenty-something
  3. Consumers are wise to avoid potentially hazardous ingredients such as parabens. But they also want skin care that nourishes their skin to
    keep it soft, healthy and radiant. I found a product that gives you all
    of that and more at http://GoodSugars.net/SkinCare

    May 28th, 2008 at 8:15 pm
    Comment by Brad Diggs
  4. [...] of using a face cleanser with ocean polluting plastic exfoliating “microbeads,” and parabens (that wash down the drain spreading their gender-bending xenoestrogens into rivers and streams, [...]

    February 2nd, 2009 at 3:32 pm
    Pingback by Baking Soda Week
  5. Parabens are used to inhibit the growth of mold and yeast in products. I think mold is pretty icky. What are the alternatives to parabens – formaldehyde releasers or ‘natural’ ingredients that are not as effective and cause irritation?

    April 27th, 2009 at 11:26 am
    Comment by Annie

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If It Doesn’t Smell, Don’t Wash It

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According to Real Simple, if every American made an effort to launder less — cutting out just one load of laundry a week per household — we’d save enough water to fill seven million swimming pools each year.

So if it looks clean, and it smells clean, call it clean and wear it again. Consider hanging worn clothes out on your clothesline to freshen them up between wearings.


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