Are Parabens Harmful?
Yes and No.The simple answer is that there are no studies that prove that parabens, as a topically applied ingredient and in the doses that they normally occur in cosmetics, have toxic or carcinogenic effects. For more on the paraben cancer scare, see Mythfoliation: Do Parabens Cause Cancer?.
Parabens, aluminum, lead in lipsticks, talc: there are many panic-inducing headlines about ingredients commonly found in cosmetics. While some are completely spurious, others are well-studied and others are somewhere in between—possibly based on scientifically-valid studies but with circumstances that may not directly applicable to cosmetics (such as for ingredients ingested by lab animals in high concentrations over a long period of time) or with key findings left out of reports that make it to public circulation (such as in the case of an ingredient being proven as cancerous in mice, but the findings being inconclusive in humans).
It may also help you to know that many ingredients used in cosmetics are present in minuscule concentrations that a) have molecules that are large enough to make them unlikely to penetrate the skin, b) even if they could, the concentration is so low and diluted that any impact on the blood or internal organs is still considered unlikely.
Evidence on parabens is still very inconclusive in terms of its link (if it has any at all) to cancer. VMV HYPOALLERGENICS® stopped using parabens because of their allergenicity, not because of their supposed toxicity or cancerous link, both of which have yet to be proven. We use only ingredients that are clinically proven, via published studies, in legitimate medical and pharmaceutical sources, to be safe for their intended use. For more about VMV HYPOALLERGENICS®, check out About VMV.
While the link between parabens and cancer is weak, the link between parabens and contact dermatitis is very strong. A 2001 review of the published literature on paraben safety states, “Propyl paraben is not carcinogenic, mutagenic or clastogenic … (but) parabens have been implicated in numerous cases of contact sensitivity associated with cutaneous exposure.” This is corroborated by extensive published medical articles and by their consistent inclusion in top allergen lists.
Clearly it works in our favor to have hordes of “parabenighted” folk flock to our paraben-free products. But it would not be right to promote something as serious as a (still unproven) cancer scare. So, by all means, try our paraben-free topical products. But do so to reduce the risk of irritations—not for fear for anything more sinister.
1 Soni MG, Burdock GA, Taylor SL, Greenberg NA. Safety assessment of propyl paraben: a review of the published literature. Food Chem Toxicol. 2001 Jun;39(6):513-32.
2 Just a few examples: Warshaw, E et al. Allergic patch test reactions associated with cosmetics: Contact Dermatitis Group, 2001-2004. J AmAcadDermatol 2009;60:23-38. Cashman AL, Warshaw EM. Parabens: a review of epidemiology, structure, allergenicity, and hormonal properties Dermatitis; Mowad CM. Allergic contact dermatitis caused by parabens: 2 case reports and a review. Am J Contact Dermat. 2000 Mar;11(1):53-6; Shaffer MP, Williford PM, Sherertz EF. An old reaction in a new setting: the paraben paradox. Am J Contact Dermat. 2000 Sep;11(3):189; Verhaeghe I, Dooms-Goossens A. Multiple sources of allergic contact dermatitis from parabens. Contact Dermatitis. 1997 May;36(5):269-70.
3 Zug KA, Warshaw EM, Fowler JF, Maibach HI, Belsito DL, Pratt MD, et al. Patch-test results of the North American Contact Dermatitis Group 2005-2006. Dermatitis. 2009;20(3):149-60 ; and Uter W, Ramsch C, Aberer W, Ayala F, Balato et al. The European baseline series in 10 European countries. 23005/2006 – Results of the European Surveillance System on Contact Allergies (ESSCA). Contact Dermatitis. 2009;62:31-38
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