The Paraben Scare – fact or fiction?
written by Dr Mah Hussain-Gambles
Recently there has been much idle speculation in the media regarding the potential link between the use of antiperspirant and its relationship to breast cancer. Laboratory based research studies, have resulted in contradictory and inconclusive findings. The evidence for such an association existing has not been established. Dr Mah Hussain-Gambles, Founder of Saaf Pure Skincare, believes further research is warranted before a credible claim can be made.
Parabens are routinely used as preservatives in water-based cosmetics due to the fact that they are amongst the gentlest known preservatives available. Dr Mah has conducted extensive research into the use of parabens in cosmetics and its subsequent relationship to cancer and urges the undertaking of more controlled clinical trials to specifically assess whether the use of deodorants or antiperspirants can cause the accumulation of parabens in breast tissue, and indeed whether these chemicals can promote the development of breast cancer before irrational scare tactics are reported in the press.
Dr Mah’s interest in the parabens scare is particularly pertinent as her mother recently had pre-cancerous moles removed from her skin, her aunt has had her stomach removed last year due to stomach cancer, another aunt has had a mastectomy due to breast cancer, her uncle died of bone cancer and her mother in law has also suffered from breast cancer. As a consequence Dr Mah is genuinely worried about cancer, and has conducted comprehensive research into safe skincare.
Saaf Pure Skincare is Organic certified by the UK Soil Association and since the whole range is preservative free, it is devoid of any chemicals. The range even contains scientifically acknowledged anti-cancer natural ingredients to add to its therapeutic value.
An article fuelling the scientific and public debate was published in 2004 by Darbre , which found parabens present in samples of breast cancer tumours. This study examined 20 different human breast tumours for the presence of parabens, and found traces of parabens in the samples. A theory was proposed that there could be a link between the inclusion of parabens in underarm products to these cancers. The study did not conclude that the cancer was a direct result of the parabens. No data was collected as to whether or not the patients from whom the tumours were excised used personal care products that contained parabens. In fact, very few underarm products contain parabens. Antiperspirants and deodorants are typically anhydrous. Without water, most microorganisms cannot survive, and so preservatives are not needed. Body lotions and sunscreens, which do often contain parabens, are not typically used in the underarm area. Exactly how and why parabens were associated with these tumours has yet to be established, although many people believe that they were present in the tissues samples only due to contamination because they were also detected in the control samples, which should have been clear of all traces of the compounds. For this, and several other reasons, this study has been largely discredited by many cancer research organisations, and much of the rest of the scientific community.
Darbre’s study also raised concerns that parabens could mimic oestrogen, the human hormone that can increase breast cancer risk at high levels. But laboratory research showed that they would have to be 500 to10,000 more potent to do this, and even the strongest oestrogen mimetic out of the parabens – butylparaben – is 100,000 times weaker than oestrogen.
Dr Mah further adds that the laboratories based studies of cancer samples, was contradicted by a large, scientifically robust study of 1,600 women in 2002, which found that antiperspirants and deodorants did not increase the risk of breast cancer .
Recently, a study performed at the request of the Scientific Committee on Consumer Safety (SCCS) showed that in rats, parabens are well absorbed after oral administration but only partially absorbed after dermal exposure. The data also suggested that the compounds are fully metabolised before they enter the blood stream.
Blood plasma tests highlighted only the presence of a paraben metabolite PHBA (p-hydroxybenzoic acid) and no concentrations of the parabens themselves, regardless of which paraben was used and how it was applied (oral, dermal or subcutaneous) .
PHBA is not known to have any oestrogenic effects and is found widely in plants and human food, so trace exposure in the human organism poses no health risk.
So where does this leave the consumer? The press continue to report on Darbre’s study and cause consumers to form opinions based on hypothesis and speculation rather than fact. The public has irreverently been forced to believe that there is a direct link between parabens and breast cancer, which is of course not what the study showed at all. Dr Mah is keen to ease public fear until any such time that a decisive link is established.
She believes that in addition to the scarcity of studies examining the association between antiperspirant use and the increased risk of breast cancer, the evidence accumulated so far doesn’t nearly provide us with enough conclusive information. Previous studies all have design limitations and used inadequate control tests. Until proper clinical studies are conducted that add significantly and decisively to existing literature, the published research does not constitute enough evidence to conclude that there is a relationship between antiperspirant use and breast cancer; or that the use of parabens in cosmetics, places the public at any enhanced risk of contracting breast cancer.
“People are becoming more concerned about potentially damaging ingredients used in skin and haircare products and are increasingly looking for healthier alternatives. For now, we should believe the Journal of the National Cancer Institute’s 2002 study and view it as the only scientifically credible study into antiperspirant use and the risk of breast cancer”. Dr Mah Hussain-Gambles
For general information on cosmetic raw materials, visit www.saafpureskincare.com
1 – Darbre PD. Et al. Concentrations of parabens in human breast tumours
Journal of Applied Toxicology 2004; 24: p5-13.
2 – Mirick DK, Davis S, Thomas DB. Antiperspirant use and the risk of breast cancer. Journal of the National Cancer Institute 2002; 94 (20): 1578-1580.
3 – http://www.cosmeticsdesign-europe.com/Formulation-Science/New-data-on-parabens-suggests-no-adverse-hormonal-effect-on-the-body
There is no convincing evidence that deodorants cause breast cancer. http://info.cancerresearchuk.org:8000/healthyliving/cancercontroversies/howdoweknow/?a=5441#Deodorants
No Proven Link Between Antiperspirant Use and Breast Cancer http://www.natlbcc.org/bin/index.asp?strid=790&depid=20