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Health concerns surface over toxicity of parabens in personal care products

Wednesday, November 07, 2007 by: David Gutierrez, staff writer
Tags: parabens, personal care products, health news

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(NewsTarget) Concerns are growing over the possible health effects of a common ingredient in many cosmetics and personal care products. A group of chemicals called parabens, which includes methylparaben, ethylparaben, propylparaben, benzylparaben, butylparaben and others, are favored as cheap and effective preservatives that hamper the growth of bacteria and fungi. These preservatives have enabled modern practices of manufacturing products thousands of miles away from where they will be sold, often after being stored on shelves for months or years.

In the past few years, however, studies have shown that parabens mimic the effects of estrogen in the body. Tellingly, they have also been detected in breast tumors -- and breast cancer has been linked to high levels of estrogen.

Newer studies have detected parabens in other parts of the body, and that the chemicals can pass through the skin when used in cosmetics like shampoos or skin creams. A Danish study found that when a paraben cream was spread on the backs of healthy men, the substance showed up in their blood samples in mere hours.

"This demonstrates that parabens do indeed penetrate the human skin from cosmetic products," said Philippa Darbre, a researcher from the University of Reading, England. Darbre led a 2004 study which found parabens in 18 of 20 samples taken from human breast tumors. The study was the first to detect the chemical in the body's tissues, but could not prove whether the parabens had caused the cancer or even how they had entered the body.

"I think that there is no doubt that parabens do get into the human body intact, something that was previously dismissed as impossible and why our study was so controversial," Darbre said.

Darbre concedes that there is no proof yet that parabens cause cancer, and warns that other ingredients may be as bad or worse. To be safe, she recommends avoiding using personal care products around the arm and breast.

"I have not used these underarm cosmetics for over 10 years now," she said.

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