I’ve heard that I should choose paraben-free products. What are parabens, and why should I avoid them?
-Hannah K., Tallahassee, FL
Parabens are a group of chemicals commonly used as preservatives in beauty products such as makeup, lotion, and shampoo. Common parabens include methylparaben, propylparaben, and butylparaben, and a combination of parabens may be used with each other and/or with other preservatives. Preservatives, including parabens, do exactly what their name says: they preserve. They keep beauty products from going bad or growing bacteria as quickly. But the practical benefits come with possible health trade-offs.
Paraben exposure has been linked to breast cancer and endocrine disruption (the endocrine system produces hormones), likely because parabens can behave similar to estrogen. The link is not definitive, and, until determined otherwise, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration believes parabens are safe at low levels. However, the FDA’s position is based on the existing body of research, which is conflicting and insufficient. There simply isn’t enough research or definitive research to declare parabens safe for our bodies and the environment. That’s worrisome in itself, since parabens are synthetic and are so closely and frequently applied to our bodies via the many beauty products that contain them. Why take the risk when paraben-free alternatives exist?