What are parabens? Parabens are synthetic preservatives used in many products, especially cosmetics, food, and drugs. “Chemically, parabens are esters of p-hydroxybenzoic acid. The most common parabens used in cosmetic products are methylparaben, propylparaben, and butylparaben,” explains the USFDA. They also note that most beauty products contain not just one paraben, but a mixture of many different parabens.
Parabens are esters; this means their molecular structure is similar to estrogen. In 2002, the Journal of Steroid Biochemistry & Molecular Biology published a study which examined the estrogenic activity of parabens in human breast cancer cells. Results showed that parabens may disrupt hormone function, which in turn is linked to an increased risk of breast cancer.
Because of the similar molecular structure, paraben molecules can bind with the cells’ estrogen receptors, which can increase the expression of genes regulated by the estrogen form estradiol, creating a proliferation of unnecessary genes that can cause tumors to grow.
In a 2012 study published in the Journal of Applied Toxicology, it was found that all of the 40 women who underwent mastectomies had at least a trace of one paraben in her body. On this particular study, the USFDA comments, “[The study] left several questions unanswered. For example, the study did not show that parabens cause cancer, or that they are harmful in any way, and the study did not look at possible paraben levels in normal tissue.”
As long as there is no proven link between breast cancer and parabens, no restrictions shall be made on the use of parabens as preservatives in cosmetics, food, and prescription drugs. So, it’s really up to the consumers if they want to use products with parabens.