Parabens: What You Need to Know

Benzyl-parahydroxybenzoic acid, Parahydroxybenzoate… these terms probably don’t mean much to you at first glance, but you may have heard of their other name: Parabens.

Parabens have been a major topic of discussion within the health and beauty communities lately, and are getting increasing media buzz due to their widespread use and potentially harmful effects.

The jury is still out on whether or not parabens are actually dangerous, but we want to make sure you know that we do not use them in any Clarisonic products. We also want to share our insights on how to identify these chemicals and give you the tools to decide for yourself whether or not you want to avoid them.

What are parabens?

Parabens are a group of chemical compounds commonly used as synthetic preservatives designed to prevent the growth of microbes in food, pharmaceuticals, cosmetics and personal care products. They are widely available and cheap to produce, so companies all over the world use them to extend the shelf life of their products.

Causes for concern

Parabens can be absorbed through the skin, blood and digestive system, and can disrupt the endocrine system by mimicking the hormone estrogen. Estrogen is the hormone associated with breast cancer, so some scientists worry that parabens increase the risk of certain cancers and reproductive health concerns.

While certain studies have found that the amount of parabens absorbed by the skin is very low and can be metabolized by skin cells without producing estrogenic activity, other studies revealed a correlation between parabens and incidence of breast cancer. Dr. Philippa Darbre, who led a 2004 study on parabens at the School of Biological Sciences at the University of Reading, found that 18 out of the 20 tested breast tumor samples contained parabens, indicating that the chemicals stay intact within the breast tissue instead of leaving the body.

Further testing continues, but as a result of this study, experts all over the world are recommending limits on paraben levels in cosmetic products. Currently, the permitted paraben concentration in food is up to .01% in food, and 1% in cosmetics.

What to look for on product labels

Parabens can be found in everyday items like shampoo, moisturizer, shaving gel, topical pharmaceuticals, and even toothpaste, so it can be difficult to avoid them altogether. The items listed below are all parabens, so check your product labels for these terms:

  • Methylparaben
  • Ethylparaben
  • Propylparaben
  • Butylparaben
  • Benzyl-parahydroxybenzoic acid
  • Methyl-parahydroxybenzoic acid
  • Ethyl-parahydroxybenzoic acid
  • Propyl-parahydroxybenzoic acid
  • Butyl-parahydroxybenzoic acid
  • Parahydroxybenzoic acid
  • Parahydroxybenzoate

It’s important to know your body, what goes into it and on it, and how that affects your health.  Keep an eye on the ingredients in the cosmetic products you use, and do your research before trying a new product. We will continue to update this post as we learn more about parabens, and would love to hear your thoughts on the debate. Do you think there is cause for concern?