Parabens & Skincare

Parabens are established preservatives that are commonly used in personal care products and are naturally produced by vegetables and fruits.¹ Concern has been raised in the media recently around their safety in personal care products which has no proven research to substantiate claims about any adverse health side effects.

Parabens are preservatives which prevent bacteria from growing in personal care products. Parabens have been used in the pharmaceutical industry since the 1920’s for their antimicrobial effects. There are four commonly used parabens; methyl paraben, propyl paraben, ethyl paraben and butyl paraben, however methyl and propyl paraben are the most commonly used parabens in the cosmetic industry.In the food industry, parabens are known to be naturally produced by vegetables and fruits and have been added to food for more than 50 years and their usage steadily increased to include more food categories, like soft drinks and frozen dairy products. Methyl and propyl parabens are the most extensively used in foods and are legislated under the codes from E 214 to E 219. The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have listed parabens under the “Generally Recognised as Safe” (GRAS) status.

Parabens can penetrate the stratum corneum which is the very top layer of the skin; however research has shown they are broken down by enzymes (carboxylesterases) in the skin.² Only 1% of the parabens applied to the skin are available for absorption into the body. Once absorbed by the body they are rapidly broken down and excreted in the urine.³ Neither methyl nor propyl paraben accumulate in the body.

Can parabens cause breast cancer? There are no studies to date that have been able to prove that parabens or the use of personal care products containing parabens directly cause or increase the risk of breast cancer.

Previously, two small studies found traces of parabens in some breast tumourshowever the study was unable to prove that parabens were in any way a contributor to breast cancer. 4, 5 The research undertaken in both studies was not extensive enough to examine the levels of parabens found in healthy cells or compare them to the levels of parabens in breast cancer cells nor did they determine where the parabens in the breast cancer cells came from.

In fact, breast tumours have a large blood supply and are likely to contain traces of anything that finds its way into the bloodstream. Neither study proved that parabens came from using personal care products, intake from food or any other source. In Australia, personal care products are regulated as cosmetics by the National Industrial

Chemicals Notification and Assessment Scheme (NICNAS) within the Office of Chemical Safety. This regulatory approach is similar to that in Canada and the USA.

Following the analysis of all available data, NICNAS believes that further research is required before a link between parabens in cosmetic products and breast cancer can be established.

• Parabens have a long history of safe use in the food, pharmaceutical and cosmetic industries.
• Ego Pharmaceuticals researches and develops products based on science. Research has shown that parabens in low levels are safe for use in topical products and exhibit low toxicity.
• There is no evidence to prove parabens used in personal care products directly cause or increase the risk of breast cancer.

1.Viitanen PV, Devine AL, Khan MS, Deuel DL, Van Dyk DE, Daniell H. Metabolic engineering of the chloroplast genome using the Echerichia coli ubiC gene reveals that chorismate is a readily abundant plant precursor for p-hydroxybenzoic acid biosynthesis. Plant Physiol. 2004; 136(4):4048-60.
2. Final amended report on the safety assessment of methylparaben, ethylparaben, propylparaben, isopropylparaben, butylparaben ,isobutylparaben and benzylparaben as used in cosmetic products. Int J Toxicol 2008; 27 Supp 4: 1-82.
3. Final report on the safety assessment of methyl paraben, ethylparaben, propyl paraben and butylparaben. J Am CollToxicol 1984; 3(5): 147-197.
4. Darbre PD, Aljarrah A, Miller WR, Coldham NG, Sauer MJ and Pop GS. Concentrations of Parabens in Human Breast Tumours. Journal of Applied Toxicology 2004; 24(5): 5-13.
5. Barr, Metaxas, Harbach et al. Measurement of Paraben Concentration in Human Breast Tissue at Serial Locations Across the Breast from Axilla to Sternum. J App Toxic 2012; 32(3): 219-32.