In March 2012 The Cosmetics Ingredient Review (CIR) reaffirmed that parabens — common preservatives used in cosmetics and personal care products — are safe. Parabens have a long history of use in cosmetic products and their safety is well documented and continually evaluated. The Cosmetics Ingredient Review (CIR) reviewed the safety of methylparaben, propylparaben, and butylparaben and concluded they were safe for use in cosmetic products at levels up to 25% (they are used at levels from 0.01 to 0.1%).
What Are Parabens? Why Are They Used?
Parabens are the most widely used preservatives against a broad range of microorganisms in cosmetic products. Chemically, parabens are esters of p-hydroxybenzoic acid — naturally found in blueberries. The most common parabens used are methylparaben, propylparaben, and butylparaben (either single or in combination). If we look at the ingredients list on our cosmetic product labels, we will find them mostly in products with high amounts of water such as in shampoos, conditioners, lotions and facial and shower cleansers and scrubs.
How Safe Are Parabens?
Over the past decade parabens have a lot of controversy including that they can cause skin irritation and contact dermatitis. The Environmental Working Group’s (EWG) Skin Deep Cosmetics Database, which compares cosmetic ingredients to over fifty international toxicity databases, indicates that parabens are linked to cancer, endocrine disruption, reproductive toxicity, immunotoxicity, neurotoxicity and skin irritation. Since parabens are used to kill bacteria in water-based solutions, they inherently have some toxicity to cells.
This all began with research back in a 2004 study (released by Dr. Darbre in the Journal of Applied Toxicology), claiming that parabens mimic estrogen and lead to breast cancer. However, it has been criticized as flawed by many researchers including the American Cancer Society.
The mainstream cosmetic industry believes that parabens, like most cosmetic ingredients, are safe based on their long-term use, safety record and recent scientific studies. While several non-governmental organizations, such as Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, allege paraben usage in the cosmetic field to its link to cancer.
In December 2005, after considering the margins of safety for exposure to women and infants, the panel agreed that parabens are safe to use in cosmetics. The result has been accepted by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), American Cancer Society and Canadian Cancer Society. The U.S. FDA has classified methyl- and propylparabens as GRAS, which means they are Generally Regarded As Safe by medical and toxicological experts for use in preserving foods. The European Commission has also allowed parabens as safe for use as cosmetic preservatives.
What Paraben-Free Alternatives Are There To Use?
Public interest organizations which raise awareness about cosmetic ingredients believed that further research was necessary to determine the safety of parabens and its alternatives. The list includes grape seed extract, organic acid (i.e. potassium sorbate, sodium benzoate etc), sodium hydroxymethylglycinate and essential oils (i.e. tea tree oil).
Have You Gone Paraben-Free Yet?
“Paraben-free” is the new buzzword in the cosmetics world. Companies like Burts Bees, Aubrey Cosmetics, Jason, Algenist, Amazon Beauty, Apothederm, Cellure, DermaDoctor, Dr. Dennis Gross MD skin care, Bare Escentuals, Fusion Brand, Kiehl’s, L’Occitaine, La Rochey Posay, NV Perricone, Skinceuticles, Smashbox, StriVectin, The Body Shop and Vbeauty have launched a series of products ranging from face creams, cleansers, eye creams, serums, shampoos, conditioners, masks, anti-aging creams, make-up, etc. The global cosmetic giant Neutrogena has launched a new range of personal care products: Neutrogena Naturals — marketing a paraben-free campaign. It includes a face scrub, night cream, facial cleanser & bar, lip balm etc.
Controversies Lead To An End
In December 2011, Halyna Breslawec — Chief Scientist of Personal Care Product Council — stated that, “The cosmetics industry formally requested that the [Cosmetics Ingredient Review] (CIR) re-examine the safety of parabens as they are used in cosmetics and we are gratified that the panel has done so and confirmed the safety of these ingredients.” This decision has pulled down a curtain to years of controversies about parabens and is appreciated by the Consumer Federation of America and the U.S Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
- Rinki Pramanik, biotechnologist
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