If you pay attention to health news, you’ve probably heard the word “parabens” thrown around. But what are they really? And do they pose a risk to you and your family?
Since the 1950s, parabens have been used as a synthetic preservative to prevent various types of microbial growth. They’re found in a wide variety of personal care products including shampoos, conditioners, skin care products, and deodorants—in fact, an estimated 85 percent of cosmetics contain them.
What’s the Problem With Parabens?
Parabens have been linked to a number of health problems in recent decades. In the 1990s, they were tied to estrogen disruption, which has been linked to breast cancer and reproductive issues.
The Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep database, which compares cosmetic ingredients to over 50 international toxicity databases, indicates that parabens are linked to cancer, endocrine disruption, reproductive toxicity, immunotoxicity, neurotoxicity and skin irritation.
A 2004 study found parabens present in malignant breast tumors. As a result, experts in many countries are recommending limits on paraben levels in cosmetic products.
But it’s not so easy to eliminate them completely. Levels of the chemical are found inside almost all of our bodies: The CDC has detected parabens in virtually all Americans surveyed.
How to Minimize Parabens
Be a diligent label-reader. There are many different types of parabens: look for ingredients that contain the suffix “paraben” such as ethylparaben, butylparaben, or propylparaben. And to steer clear of products that contain parabens, look for those that are certified organic and minimally processed, which generally don’t contain synthetic preservatives.
But even if something is labeled as “natural,” you should still read the label carefully. (California Baby products are proudly all paraben-free!).