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Parabens are a type of preservative that are naturally occurring in plant sources. They act as an antimicrobial agent however, most them are synthetically produced. There is a lot of controversy around the use of the synthetically produced preservatives used in our skin care products and their effects on the human body. Essentially, parabens have been largely used in the cosmetic industry and are found in almost all products. They are very effective as they are antibacterial and anti-fungal. They show up everywhere including your food.

Cosmetic companies are searching high and low for ways to get the parabens and preservatives out of their product but still not have to worry about spoilage and bacteria. There is a lot of insufficient evidence that is leading to concerns over whether or not parabens cause cancer. One study reports that they were being found in samples of breast tumors. The study is being debated but it has people questioning if the rise in breast cancer could be related to the parabens found in under arm deodorant or other cosmetics that may have moved into the breast tissue.

Some dermatitis conditions are caused by an allergic reaction or sensitivity to parabens. I have extremely sensitive skin and have had no problem with flare ups while using a product that is paraben and preservative free. Ironically, researchers in Japan say that methylparaben may cause skin to age when it is exposed the ultraviolet rays. So the anti aging products you may be using could be aging your skin.

What about organic?

The National Organic Program prohibits chemical preservatives in products that are labeled "organic." So what are chemical preservatives such as methyl, propyl, butyl and ethyl parabens doing in personal care products labeled "organic?"

There are many delightful organic foods that contain no preservatives. Read the labels on your organic honey, maple syrup, vinegar, olive oil, sugar, raisins, peanut butter and wine. These foods are considered by the FDA to be "self-preserving" and contain no preservatives. This means that, because of certain inherent qualities, these foods are naturally stable and not overly susceptible to contamination from bacteria.

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in their report "Pharmaceuticals and Personal Care Products in the Environment: Agents of Subtle Change?" reported that the chemical preservatives called parabens—methyl, propyl, butyl and ethyl (alkyl-p-hydroxybenzoates)—displayed estrogenic activity in several tests. This means that these chemicals mimic your body´s own hormones and can have endocrine-disrupting action when they are rubbed into your body or washed down the drain into your drinking water. These disruptors interfere with your body´s endocrine system: your hypothalamus, your ovaries, your thyroid — virtually every system in your body. The EPA also stated that "continual introduction of these benzoates (parabens) into sewage treatment systems and directly to recreational waters from the skin leads to the question of risk to aquatic organisms."

Scientists in Europe found other endocrine-disrupting body care chemicals in the bodies of fish that humans are eating, and in human breast milk.

Dr. Elizabeth Smith has written that "It is a known medical fact that estrogen stimulates breast cancer" and that "anything absorbed through the skin may be as high as 10 times the concentration of an oral dose." (Think about how nicotine and birth control/hormone patches work — the chemicals are absorbed through the skin!) She also reported that, in one study, a paraben was injected under the skin and was found to have an "estrogenic response on uterine tissues." Scientists observing these harmful effects on the uterus remarked that "it is suggested that the safety in use of these chemicals should be reassessed."

There are many different ingredients in your skin care products both chemical and botanical. Do you ever wonder what they are and what are their purpose? Visit our ingredient dictionary.

Paraben Free Skin Care
Skin care that is truly free of parabens can be hard to find but they do exist. Click here for an example.

 Parabens and babies. What you need to know

 Parabens are usually found in most baby products. Manufacturers use them in their products as a preservative. If you want to check your products to see if there is a paraben in the baby product you are using, check for these commonly used preservatives (namely methyl-, ethyl-, propyl-, and butylparaben), which are listed on labels. They have recently been identified as xenoestrogens. A xenoestrogen is a synthetic compounds that mimics the sex hormone estrogen.

These parabens are absorbed very quickly into the babies blood stream. It bypasses the gastrointestinal tract where it might have been broken down so cosmetic products are one of the worst ways to be absorbed by the body.

In the July 2002 issue of the Archives of Toxicology , Dr. S. Oishi of the Department of Toxicology, Tokyo Metropolitan Research Laboratory of Public Health, Japan, reported that exposure of newborn male mammals to butylparaben "adversely affects the secretion of testosterone and the function of the male reproductive system.

"In this paper, we have shown that butylparaben had an adverse effect on the male mouse reproductive system and that it damaged the late steps of spermatogenesis in the testis," the researcher reports. "A dose-dependent decrease of both round and elongated spermatid counts in stages VII-VIII seminiferous tubules was observed, and the elongated spermatide counts were significantly lower in all of the treated groups. The serum testosterone concentration decreased in a dose-dependent fashion and was significant at 1.00%. These data demonstrated that butylparaben can exert an adverse effect on the male reproductive system at doses that are well below those of the accepted daily intake (ADI) in Japan."

If you have young girls I'm sure you couldn't help but notice this growing trend of sexual development at younger and younger ages. Pediatricians are increasingly reporting the appearance of puberty in girls as young as two. There have even been some reported cases of girls having their periods in kindergarten.

Lotions, soaps and cosmetics may all be contributing factors to these reproductive abnormalities. Women of child bearing age as well as babies should avoid parabens as a precaution.

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