Most of us don’t think twice about stocking up on deodorants, lotions, and body washes–particularly when they are on sale–only to stash them in a closet until needed. Sometimes it can take several months to use up stored bottles of personal hygiene products. Often, however, we don’t consider what might be added to allow these products to remain stable on a store shelf for several months or even years.
As we step out of the shower, freshly cleansed, we may slather on moisturizer while our skin (our largest organ) is still warm from the shower and our pores are open from the heat and steam. What we don’t realize is that most of the products we are using (and trusting) contain parabens, which can be detrimental to our health!
What Are Parabens?
Parabens, known as esters of para-hydroxybenzoic acid, are preservatives added to many of our deodorants, lotions, cosmetics, shampoos, soaps, and other personal care products as well as food and drugs. They keep the products smelling fresh and clean and keep them shelf-stable for an indefinite amount of time by preventing mold, fungus, and bacteria from growing. You’ll find six of the most common types of parabens in personal care products easily under these names on the ingredients list: ethylparaben, methylparaben, butylparaben, propylparaben, and benzylparaben.
How Are Parabens Dangerous?
These additives seem like they would be a good thing; they keep your products from spoiling while they are stored for extended periods of time. Unfortunately, when you apply the cosmetics or hygiene product to your body, your skin absorbs these parabens. It has been estimated the average woman in the U.S. uses about 12 personal care product daily; 6 daily for men and, according to The Telegraph, the body can absorb almost 5 pounds of makeup chemicals each year through our skin! While these additives are designed to protect the products (and perhaps, profits?), they can wreak havoc on our bodies and cause a great deal of harm. But wait! The government would surely neeeever allow this to happen…correct? Uh (insert record scratch sound here), here is a great video, The Story of Cosmetics, to offer better understanding on how the system actually works:
What Kinds of Problems Can Arise From Parabens?
Parabens have been linked to a variety of problems and illnesses ranging from endocrine disorders to certain types of cancers. When they are absorbed into the body through the skin, they cause hormonal imbalances in many people since they often mimic hormones in the body–namely estrogen. Studies have shown that regular, prolonged exposure to estrogen over the course of a person’s life has been linked to breast cancer. Even the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) admits that estrogenic activity in the body is associated with certain forms of breast cancer. Because these xenoestrogens mimic estrogen very closely in the body, they have also been known to decrease sperm counts in otherwise active, healthy males. The use of parabens has been loosely associated with the increase in infertility seen in many couples as a result of lowering sperm counts in males and disrupting hormonal balances in both men and women.
How Can Parabens Be Avoided?
You may have a difficult time finding paraben-free products at your regular mass-market retailers since most of the well-known and commonly used cosmetic products and moisturizers contain parabens. Products which are altogether preservative-free will spoil quickly, so look instead for those made in small batches or products which contain Vitamin C (also known as ascorbic acid), or Vitamin E (also known as tocopheryl acetate) as more natural alternatives in anhydrous (without water) formulas that contain more fragile oils prone to oxidation. Many health food retailers are beginning to stock products which are more natural and preservative free, but be aware of newer so-called ‘paraben alternatives’ which may pose harm by merely replacing one synthetic preservative with another.
Most of us don’t even realize we are slathering on pounds of preservatives when we are trying to take care of our skin. Unfortunately, the products that we think are helping us look good may actually be hurting us over time. The parabens contained within our hygiene products and cosmetics can cause hormone imbalances, fertility issues, and even cancer. When selecting your skin care products and cosmetics, check the labels carefully, and avoid those which contain parabens to help minimize your risk of exposure to these harmful chemicals.