HEMICALS are everywhere today, in our food, in what we drink, in cleaning products and in beauty solutions. All of us should be concerned about whether they are safe.
If you have been shopping for cosmetics, lotions, shampoos and the like, you would have come across the label “paraben free”. Investigate what a paraben is, and you will be frightened.
Dermatologist Dr Marianne Duvenage explains: “Parabens are a preservative found in many foods, medicines, cosmetics — in almost all personal-care products, shampoo, deodorant, soap and moisturising creams. They are even found in some fruit.”
Preservatives are added to products that contain water to prevent invasion by bacteria, fungi and moulds. So why worry? “The scare about parabens surfaced when it was found [in 2004] that breast-cancer tissue contained this preservative,” Duvenage says.
“There is a high incidence of breast cancer in the upper outer quadrant of the breast, in close proximity to where deodorant is applied. However, the fact that parabens are present in the breast tissue, does not mean that they caused the breast cancer, ie it cannot be stated that there is a causal link between parabens and breast cancer.”
The amount of parabens may be minimal, too.
Duvenage said the worrying issue for her was that parabens had estrogenic effects — they mimic the activity of the female hormone, estrogen. Too much estrogen has been linked to everything from weight gain to breast tissue formation.
Duvenage says: “I would certainly opt for a paraben-free product if I had a choice. Many companies have started using other preservatives and I prefer to use these.
“They are a standard item on the patch-test tray of dermatologists, as patients may develop skin allergies to parabens. This usually happens on broken or damaged or wounded skin.”
Duvenage says parabens are in such wide use that it is difficult to eliminate exposure to them.
“We live in an extremely toxic world, and if you want to avoid using parabens, you should also stop using shampoo and all the other chemicals that we are exposed to daily — and go and live in the Karoo. But to reduce the total toxic load is the ideal, and if that means avoiding parabens, then do so,” she says.
The US Food and Drug Administration said last year “we do not have information showing that parabens as they are used in cosmetics have an effect on human health”. But the agency said it was doing further studies.
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