A Mother and her Two Daughters

06 September 2010

Learning about Paraben and its Possible Link to Breast Cancer

While I’ve promised to not consume my life with “googling” cancer, I have also made a commitment to myself to doing whatever it takes to make my body as strong as possible to avoid a cancer recurrence.  I’m committed to staying a PR chick, not trying to become a doctor or medical researcher.  Throughout this cancer journey, I’ve relied heavily on the recommendations of my UAMS team when dealing with my treatment plan.  However, my forever care plan will be up to me.  So it will be up to new knowledge and self-discipline to become more specialized about carcinogens and how to avoid them. 

In the past ten days I’ve had two breast cancer sisters ask me about my familiarity with a chemical called paraben, commonly used and found in personal care and cosmetic products.  I’d never heard of this chemical until they mentioned it. 

Here is what I now know: 
·      Paraben is a man-made chemical that is widely used as a preservative in the cosmetic and pharmaceutical industries. 
·      With the chemical name of Alkyl Hydroxy Benzoate Preservatives, parabens can be found in over 13,000 products, such as cosmetics, shampoos, moisturizers, shaving gels, deodorants, tanning products, and toothpaste.  It is also used as a food additive.  That means that most of us are exposed to numerous parabens on a daily basis. 
·      Read the labels on your own personal care products and look for ingredients such as ethylparaben, butylparaben, methylparaben, propylparaben, isopropyl and isobutylparaben, or parahydroxybenzoate. They all indicate the product contains this preservative.
·      Much of the controversy surrounding parabens stems from a 2003 study conducted at the University of Reading in the United Kingdom. The study found (1) parabens have the ability to mimic estrogen, a hormone known to play a role in the development of breast cancer, and (2) paraben was found in 18 out of 20 breast tumors.

While the UK study was not flawless, and certainly has its critics (especially from the cosmetics industry), many in the science community agree that the relationship between breast cancer and parabens sheds just enough suspicion to indicate that more research is needed. 

The "Cosmetic, Toiletry and Fragrance Association" maintains that parabens are safe. Scientists from the international community, however, are not so sure. Many experts believe the issue requires further study before such a declaration can be made.  In other words, for people like me wanting to eliminate any and all potential hazards, paraben raises a cautionary red flag in my book. 

For those in the healthcare community who are suspicious of paraben, they believe the greatest potential risk comes from so-called "leave on" products... ones that remain on your skin. These have more time to penetrate and enter the bloodstream. “Leave on” products include moisturizers, body lotions, skin creams, make-up, deodorant and sunscreen.  Products that are on your body for only a short time before being rinsed off – soaps, shower gels and cleansers, shampoos and conditioners – are less likely to be absorbed.

Again, the research poses many questions without any concrete answers – but that includes the fact that prolonged use of paraben is safe.  As for me, I will err on the side of caution and begin using personal care products that are paraben free.  Easier said than done.  Both the Burt’s Bees and the Yes To lines (Yes To Carrots, Yes To Blueberries, etc) are made without paraben so I’ll now use their moisturizing and skin care products.  But try finding a paraben-free cosmetic line at the department stores – well, good luck.  And so far I’ve only located one paraben-free deodorant, found at the Walgreen store.  I’m going to stay on my search.  If you are interested, let me know and I’ll keep you up-to-date on my hunt.

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