Wellness Well - Jan 10, 2022

Parabens: Why You and Your Baby May Want to Stay Away

Mave you noticed ‘parabens’ trending recently in the market? From shampoos and other cosmetics explicitly stating ‘paraben free’ to ensure the safety standard of the product, to make it more natural and safer. Why have we been witnessing this rising trend of ‘paraben-free’ products? How does a compound, so widely accepted until recent times, suddenly become an absolute no-no when it comes to you and your baby? We delve into these questions and more, further into this article. 

The 3 Ws

WHAT? Parabens are extracted from a chemical known as para-hydroxybenzoic acid (PHBA) that occurs naturally in many fruits and vegetables such as blueberries and carrots. You would think it's safe to use, since it is naturally occurring but the parabens used as preservatives in your everyday consumable and personal care products are synthetically produced in labs, trying to mimic the naturally occurring compound. That means the ones that reach you are not naturally produced and come with their own effects as studies have revealed to us over the years. 

WHERE? Parabens are used as preservatives in cosmetics, skin care products, medications, foods, and industrially in oils, fats, shoe polishes, textiles, and glues. You would probably read them as the mouthfuls they are at the back of the bottles: methylparaben, isobutyl paraben, butylparaben, propylparaben, isopropyl paraben, or pretty much anything suffixing with paraben. 

WHY? Parabens, as preservatives, are inexpensive and highly effective. They stop the growth of mold, fungus, and other microbes in your products. While being highly effective and marginally inexpensive, parabens are successful in cutting down the costs of production for companies while increasing revenue and extending the shelf life of the product. For a company, paraben as a compound is an absolute win-win, checking all the boxes to create a product that will have low cost production, high market value, long shelf life and negate liability for any side effects.

Why have parabens been used for so long?

The use of parabens initially began in the mid 1920s but it started gaining popularity around the 1950s with processed foods and beverages, and skin care products. When water is added to a product, it has high chances of growing bacteria, mould, or even yeast. The use of parabens in a product prevents this growth and helps preserve it for a long duration. It acts as an antibiotic and protects the formula from growing anything bacterial, viral, or fungal. Moreover, parabens seem to survive all climates including high humidity which is when products really start to decrease in shelf life. Parabens were seen as one of the best preservatives since they seemed to be extremely effective and were also found to be hypoallergenic in nature i.e., you run a very low risk of having an allergic reaction to a paraben.

Why are parabens bad for you and your baby?

Before the 1990s parabens were seen to be relatively safe chemicals, mostly because the technology to research them was not yet equipped. It was in 2000 did parabens really start appearing in the negative limelight when a group of scientists suggested that they might be endocrine disruptors. In other words, parabens, when absorbed by the body, can decrease or increase normal hormone levels, mimic the body’s natural hormones, or alter the natural production of hormones.

Once studies began, more evidence has been collected at how parabens cause hormonal imbalance in men and women.

This suggests that men using products containing parabens will start to experience hormonal imbalance and will witness a rise in their estrogen levels. It was also found that parabens are carcinogenic in nature; meaning they might have the potential to cause cancer, though to make an absolute claim on such a bold statement will require more evidence and proof. However, it can be said with certainty that parabens act like female hormone estrogen in your body, and high levels of estrogen can increase the risk of certain types of cancer such as breast cancer.

Astudy detected parabens in 18 out of 20 sample tissues of breast tumor biopsies. This didn’t prove that parabens cause cancer, but that they are easily detected amongst cancerous cells. The study was conducted by Dr. Phillippa Darbre, a senior lecturer in oncology and researcher in biomolecular sciences at the University of Reading, England who specialises in the impact of estrogen on breast cancer and has long been an advocate for the ban of parabens. She particularly negates the use of lotions and deodorants containing parabens since 55% of all breast cancer tumours occur in the upper outside portion of the breast, the area closest to the underarm. Paraben also affect every stage of your pregnancy i.e., from conception to birth. Studies show that the use of paraben while pregnant can affect your baby’s developmental tissues. Another study shows that mothers with high levels of paraben have a greater chance of premature labor and the babies conceived are born underweight with decreased body length.

(Darbre PD, Aljarrah A, Miller WR, Coldham NG, Sauer MJ, Pope GS. Concentrations of parabens in human breast tumours. J Appl Toxicol. 2004 Jan-Feb;24(1):5-13. doi: 10.100)

What about my baby?

IWhen it comes to babies, their skins are extra-sensitive, thinner and more prone to reactions than adults’ skin. This means when you use products containing parabens, your baby’s skin is likely to absorb it almost immediately, thereby making them extremely susceptible to the effects of the chemical. At a young age, while they are still in early stages of development, you run a risk of disrupting their endocrine system with exposure to parabens which can harm their growth and development.

From affecting ovulation (egg supply) and the ability to become pregnant to potentially causing developmental issues in the fetus, parabens definitely seem to steer you off the road when it comes to maintaining your and your baby’s health. With all the information under your wing, you must ask yourself whether it’s worth it or not.

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