Parabens are chemicals widely used in cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, and processed foods such as sausage, pies, and pastries. In a recent study led by Dr. Philippa Darbre from the University of Reading, tissue samples were taken from 40 women undergoing mastectomies between 2005 and 2008. Of the 160 samples that were collected (four from each woman), it was found that 99% of the tissue samples contained at least one paraben and 60% of the samples contained atleast five parabens. In a separate study, the US Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) tested the urine from 100 adults tested, and found parabens in nearly all cases.
Parabens are added to cosmetic products and food largely to preserve shelf life and are thought to most commonly enter our bodies through the use of personal care products. It is estimated that 75 – 90% of our cosmetics contain parabens. Some common types of parabens are: butylparaben, parabens, isobutylparaben, isopropylparaben, sodium methylparaben, sodium propylparaben, ethylparaben, methylparaben, propylparaben, benzylparaben. Parabens are listed in David Suzuki’s “Dirty Dozen” list of most toxic cosmetic ingredients and he reports that it has been estimated that women are exposed to 50 mg of parabens each day from cosmetics.
Parabens from cosmetics are of particular concern, because when applied to the skin they are directly absorbed into the bloodstream and do not get metabolized by the body as with food or other ingested products. Research compiled by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) suggests that parabens are linked to causing organ system toxicity, reproductive and fertility problems, birth and developmental defects, and endocrine (hormone) disruption. Last December Denmark announced it is banning two parabens in products for kids under 3 years old, which shows progress that parabens are being recognized as harmful, but we doubt the US or Canada will be following suit anytime soon.
Consumers must take responsibility to educate and protect themselves. The EWG’s Skin Deep database of cosmetic products can be used to look up and assess the ingredients in your skincare products. The David Suzuki Foundation’s excellent report What’s Inside That Counts found the most highly concentrated toxic ingredients in widely used brands such as Bath and Body Works, Loreal, Lubriderm, and even the Body Shop. Brands frequently reported to be free of toxic ingredients include Aubrey Organics, Green Beaver, Jason, and Kiss My Face. Below is a list of our favorite non-toxic products.
And check out this simple recipe for homemade makeup remover, from the book “There’s Lead In Your Lipstick” by Gillian Deacon:
1 tbsp castor oil
1 tbsp light olive oil
1 tbsp sunflower or safflower oil