February 1, 2012

Concerns with personal care products

The personal care industry is a multi-billion dollar a year industry. We ask ourselves how healthy personal care products? The personal care industry estimates the average person has about 25 personal care products that contain more than 200 chemicals. Cosmetics are defined as products applied to the body that are not drugs. About 90% of the 10,500 cosmetic ingredients used in these products have not been evaluated for safety. Many people just assume if a product is on the market that it cannot hurt anyone..

Parabens are synthetic preservatives commonly used in cosmetics and personal care products like shampoos, hair styling products, make-up, facial masks, skin lotions, creams and some baby products. Parabens have been known to cause skin irritation, rash, contact dermatitis, or allergic skin reactions and have been found to act like the hormone estrogen in laboratory experiments.
A recent study of 20 breast tumors found high concentrations of parabens in 18 samples. Parabens have been found to mimic estrogen, which is known to play a role in the development of breast cancer. This preservative can be found in cosmetics and some foods to increase shelf life.

“From this research it is not possible to say whether parabens actually caused these tumors, but they may certainly be associated with the overall rise in breast cancer cases,” says Philip Harvey, an editor of the Journal of Applied Toxicology, which published the research. “Given that breast cancer is the largest killer of women and a very high percentage of young women use underarm deodorants, I think we should be carrying out properly funded, further investigations into parabens and where they are found in the body,” Harvey told New Scientist.

Molecular biologist Philippa Darbre lead the new research. She says the form of parabens in the tumors indicate it came from a topical product applied to the skin. The topical product could have been a deodorant, cream or spray. Parabens when eaten are metabolized and lose the ester group and makes them less estrogen-mimicking.

There are many in the personal care industry that challenges this by saying that many underarm deodorants do not contain parabens. They say that if these products contained parabens, the small amounts are metabolized by the skin and do not create estrogenic activity.

“Although recent reports of the estrogenic properties of parabens have challenged current concepts of their toxicity in these consumer products, the question remains as to whether any of the parabens can accumulate intact in the body from the long-term, low-dose levels to which humans are exposed. Initial studies reported here show that parabens can be extracted from human breast tissue and detected by thin-layer chromatography,” wrote P.D. Darbre and colleagues, University of Reading, School of Animal & Microbial Science.

The study does not currently conclude that parabens cause breast cancer. However, this study shows that 5 of the 6 common parabens can be detected intact in the cancerous breast tissue.

Concerns with Personal care products

  • 1 of every 100 personal care products on the market contain ingredients certified by government authorities as a probable human carcinogen.
  • Many of these chemicals are found in our bodies, our breast milk and our children. Diseases like breast cancer, testicular cancer and reproductive problems are on a rise, potentially due to synthetic chemicals in our personal care products.
  • Companies should continue to research innovative methods to produce personal care products that are not toxic or harmful to our bodies.

There are organizations with campaigns to amend regulatory safety standards for personal care products. In 2003 the European Union amended their cosmetics directive to require companies to remove all chemicals that are suspected to cause cancer, mutations or birth defects from all personal care products.

Tips to find safer cosmetics

  • Review the contents of your bathroom cabinet
  • Research which products are a safer option
  • Read product labels and learn more about what you are applying to your body.


Darbre, PD, A Aljarrah, WR Miller, NG Coldham, MJ Sauer and GS Pope
Concentrations of parabens in human breast tumors
Journal of Applied Toxicology, vol. 24, pp. 5-13, 2004.

Soni, MG, GA Burdock, SL Taylor, NA Greenberg
Safety assessment of propyl paraben: a review of the published literature (Review)
Food and Chemical Toxicology, vol. 39, pp. 513-532, 2001.

Breast Cancer: Parabens are found in human breast tumors
Website: http://www.obgyn.net, March 22, 2004

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