Sunday Times - - COUNTER CULTURE -

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.

Fol­low Daniel Jardim on www.sea­son­al­cook­ery.co.za or www.face­book.com/sea­son­al­cook­ery

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