Update on Parabens—Scientists Finding Them in Breast Tissue Again

Paraben UpdateI’ve posted about parabens before—those potentially harmful preservatives that are used in so many of our personal care products. These synthetic chemicals help keep products free of contamination, so they last longer.

Parabens can act like estrogen in the body, however, and since estrogen is considered one of the primary influences on breast cancer, researchers wondered if these chemicals could have anything to do with breast cancer risk.

Now, we have new studies that give us a few more details in how parabens may be affecting our health.

Parabens Found in Breast Tissue

Back in 2004, scientists published a small study showing that parabens were extracted from human breast tissue. The research covered only 20 samples, but it raised concerns that parabens could accumulate in the body and potentially cause health problems.

Critics reacted to the study, saying it was too small to be of significance, and that it did not show that parabens caused cancer in humans. Cosmetic corporations continued to state that parabens are present in products at small concentrations—too small to harm people.

New Study Shows Parabens in Breast Tissue Again

In March 2012, the same scientists published another study. This time, they looked at human breast tissue collected from 40 mastectomies for primary breast cancer in England between 2005 and 2008. They found one or more parabens in 99 percent of the samples. In 60 percent, they found all five different types of parabens. They were unable to identify the source of these chemicals, but noted that they were found in areas of the breast often attacked by tumors.

My doctor—Dr. Lipman—first drew my attention to this study. He states that the parabens were found primarily intact, which means they were not processed through the liver. This gives us a good indication they were likely absorbed through the skin.

Is it Deodorant?

Because of where on the breast scientists found parabens in the first 2004 study (outer region close to the armpit), it was initially thought that these chemicals may be coming from deodorants. According to this newer study, however, 7 of the participants had never used deodorant or antiperspirant, yet their breast tissue still showed the presence of parabens.

This leads researchers to speculate that the chemicals may be coming from other cosmetics as well, such as makeup, moisturizer, and sunscreen.

Parabens Show Potential for Causing Cancer

Even if we have these chemicals in our bodies, do we need to worry about it? That’s the main question on the minds of many researchers. So far, we really don’t know, but one other study in 2012 indicated we may have reason to be concerned.

Scientists observed parabens in the lab, and found that they could induce cancerous changes in breast tissue cells. They also found that when comparing samples from the 40 mastectomies mentioned from the former study, 22 of the 40 patients had at least one paraben present at the site of the primary breast cancer tumor. The scientists concluded that there may be a potential connection between parabens and cancer, and suggested additional studies.

How to Reduce Your Exposure

These are small, preliminary studies, and future research may prove the conclusions to be incorrect, but for now, it’s clear that parabens are getting inside us somehow. Whether or not they are doing damage once they are there, we don’t know, but I don’t like the idea of taking the risk.

In addition, I think these studies show that more and more chemicals are seeping into our bodies from the world around us. Anything we can do to reduce our exposure will be good for our health.

If you want to avoid parabens in your personal care products, read labels and avoid these ingredients:

  • Paraben
  • Methylparaben
  • Propylparaben
  • Ethylparaben
  • Butylparaben
  • Isobutylparaben

And remember—companies don’t have to resort to using potentially harmful chemicals as preservatives. There are plenty of other options, including vitamins E and C, essential oils, and plant extracts. Those companies concerned about producing safe and healthy products will be more likely to use them. Be careful where you shop!

What do you think about these new paraben studies? Do you avoid these toxins in your personal care products?

Picture courtesy imagery majestic via freedigitalphotos.net.

Darbre, P.D., et al., “Concentrations of parabens in human breast tumours,” Journal of Applied Toxicology, 24(1): 5-13. http://centaur.reading.ac.uk/10465/.

L. Barr, et al., “Measurement of paraben concentrations in human breast tissue at serial locations across the breast from axilla to sternum,” Journal of Applied Toxicology, March 2012, Volume 32, Issue 3: 219-232. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/jat.1786/abstract.

Khanna, S., et al., “Parabens enable suspension growth of MCF-10A immortalized, non-transformed human breast epithelial cells,” Journal of Applied Toxicology, 2012 Jun 29, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22744862.

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