It is a fact that 60 percent of whatever we put on our skin goes into our bloodstream.
Sixteen years ago, following nine months of breast cancer treatment, I attended a weekend retreat sponsored by Natural Health Magazine. That began my journey into the “non-toxic” world of new choices and options that I would embrace and share with my friends and anyone who wanted to know. My biggest “AHA” moment came from learning about parabens, which I had been slathering most generously on my body for most of my life! These products smelled wonderful and they made my skin soft, but little did I realize how toxic they were.
All of these products that I had been using were in my daily use of moisturizers, lotions, shampoos, shaving creams, sunscreens, make-up, toothpaste and other personal care products. And parabens are not just a women’s issue, we need to be concerned about them being in the products used by our families, especially our children and babies. These products also often contain other toxic chemicals, but for the purpose of this article I’m focusing on parabens because I consider them to be among the most dangerous.
What is a Paraben, and why should I care? Parabens are chemicals used as anti- microbial preservatives that extend the shelf life in food, pharmaceutical and cosmetic products. They are widely used. Parabens have been considered “highly toxic” by many, including the Organic Consumers Association.
So What’s the Problem?
In the 1990s, parabens were deemed xenoestrogens―agents that mimic estrogen in the body. They are also fat-loving chemicals and thus build up in our fatty tissues. (GreenBeaver.com) “Estrogen disruption” has been linked to breast cancer and reproductive issues. The European Commission on Endocrine Disruption lists parabens as a category 1 substance. And in 2004 British cancer researcher, Philippa Darbre, Ph.D., found parabens present in malignant breast tumors. As a result, experts in many countries are recommending limits on paraben levels in cosmetic products. What’s more, watchdog organizations worry that if parabens can be stored in the body, over time they could have a cumulative effect and pose a health risk. In fact a recent study definitely shows long-term accumulation in human tissue. (Journal of Applied Toxicology-“Concentrations of Parabens in Human Breast Tumors).
Parabens may fall into these categories on the labels of many personal care products: (If the product lists “paraben” at the end of ANY ingredient, I won’t buy that product)
Did You Know That:
- 80 percent of diagnosed breast cancers are estrogen positive. A cancer is called estrogen-receptor-positive (or ER+) if it has receptors for estrogen. This suggests that the cancer cells, like normal breast cells, may receive signals from estrogen that could promote their growth. My breast cancer was in this category.
- Under the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, cosmetic products and ingredients do NOT require FDA approval before they go on the market. The exception is color additives (other than those used in most hair dyes). Companies and individuals who market cosmetics have the legal responsibility to ensure the safety of their products.
- Instead, the safety (or not) of the ingredients in these products is looked into almost exclusively by a manufacturer-controlled safety committee called the Cosmetic Ingredient Review (CIR) panel. Consequently, “89 percent of 10,500 ingredients used in personal care products have not been evaluated for safety by the CIR, the FDA, nor any other publicly accountable institution,” says the nonprofit Environmental Working Group (EWG). “The absence of government oversight for this $35 billion industry leads to companies routinely marketing products with ingredients that are poorly studied, not studied at all, or worse, known to pose potentially serious health risks.”
- “There is no toxicity information available for 56 percent of the cosmetic ingredients and 28 percent have less than minimal information and only 2 percent have complete health hazard assessment possible” according to Ruth Winter, author of “A Consumers Dictionary of Cosmetic ingredients.
- Fragrances also often contain parabens. Manufacturers of fragrances are not required to label their ingredients as they claim for “trade secret” purposes.
So How to Know What Is Safe? The Environmental Working group has a wonderful database called Skin Deep where you can review over 69,000 personal care products. The site will also tell you if a company has signed the Compact for Safe Cosmetics, a sincere commitment to creating safer products. In addition, check the list on the Breast Cancer Action website for paraben-free cosmetics. http://www.safecosmetics.org/downloads/Compact_Signers_12.15.pdf
As most cancers are not caused by one thing, I do believe that a paraben overload may have contributed to my cancer diagnosis. The studies are real and more are coming as to the long-term risks of using products with parabens. Most of the cosmetics on our shelves today contain ingredients (including formaldehyde) that can cause cancer, skin irritants, birth defects, liver and kidney damage and our reproductive systems. Like the cleaning products I mentioned in an earlier post, I encourage you, dear reader, to check the labels on your current products and try to switch over to paraben-free, more natural products. Do this not just for yourself, but also for your loved ones and children.
Today, I use no products containing parabens. There are many companies who have gotten on board with paraben-free, no animal tested personal products. There are many options today and they aren’t expensive. I pay a little more for some of my paraben-free products but I know the cost is small compared to another cancer diagnosis. Because I no longer use lotions, I have found oils, such as grapeseed and almond to be wonderfully moisturizing. They are inexpensive, pure and clean. A light application guarantees soft skin and sometimes I use more at night after a bath and before putting on cozy pajamas. In this journey to learn about skincare and living a non toxic lifestyle, I have learned that no one product is going to cause us harm, but an overload in many areas can. One of my personal mantras has become, “reduce my risk everywhere I can.” Why not? These are some of the daily choices we all have each day. We do have a great amount of control over our health and what we put in and on our bodies. I encourage you all to read labels and to go paraben-free wherever you can!
Remember, it is a fact that 60 percent of whatever we put on our skin goes into our bloodstream.
Be well and “skin-healthy” this summer!