Parabens.  We likely have all heard the word more recently affiliated with personal care products and, for the most part, many of us our nodding in agreement that these are bad for us but my guess is that there are few that actually know why they are so bad for you.  I am going to summarize a very knowledgeable article written by the EWG that I found extremely articulate in understanding what they are and why they are so harmful for our bodies.

So…What are parabens? At a basic level,parabens are used as a synthetic preservative in a lot of personal care products and has been used since the 1920s on account of their antimicrobial properties.  They are used to prevent the growth of harmful bacteria and mold; therefore, increasing shelf life.  I know what you might be thinking now… “well without these will my product expire as quickly as a carton of fresh berries?”  The answer is no, we have come along way since the 1920s and there are many alternative options now such as all-natural preservatives.  These may not give it as long of a shelf life,but why do we need a product that will last us 5+ years?  Also, think about it this way, although maybe extreme- bleach has antimicrobial properties but you wouldn’t want to put that in your shampoo or your makeup even if it is the smallest amount to preserve the product.

How many different types are there?  Below is a chart from the EWG stating the various types, the score for how harmful they are, and how many products parabens were found in. Scores 7 to 10 indicated high hazard.


Most of these products consist of moisturizers, face and skin cleaners,sunscreens, deodorants, shaving gels, toothpastes, makeup, etc.

How do they effect the body?  Parabens, especially because they are in so many products on the market, can build up in your body.  The primary correlation has been with hormone disruption.  They can act like the hormone estrogen and effect both hormone systems in men and women.  This can be especially important when you are trying to get pregnant.  Parabens are absorbed into the body through the skin, metabolized and excreted in urine and bile so long as the excess doesn’t reside in the body- which is usually does.  They typically find their way to fat cells in the body to stay alive.  They are water soluble so when you are over exposed to parabens, they find a way to live in fat tissues making them harder to get rid of and lose the weight… And then as you are exposed to more, they find other fat cells. This is a viscous cycle that can prevent you from weight loss and may even promote weight gain!  Not to mention the potential added weight gain and/or other disruptions that can happen when your hormones are imbalanced.  Yuck!  

In addition to causing serious endocrine (system that controls hormone secretion) disruption, parabens can be responsible for reproductive harm and cancer.  Problems in this department might start off small but when they go untreated, the problems build and metastasize into bigger health problems.   For example, Propylparaben can alter the expression of genes, including those in breast cancer cells and accelerate the growth of breast cancer cells. A recent study at University of California-Berkeley also found that low doses of butylparaben, previously not considered harmful, worked in conjunction with other cell receptors to switch on cancer genes and increased the growth of breast cancer cells.

If you have short periods, extremely long or painful periods, lack of a period, pain during sex, or anything that seems minor but possibly out of the ordinary could eventually become a bigger problem and you should consult your health care professional.  I am a huge believer in functional medicine,and they can usually do a deeper dive as well as give you more information about what might be happening in with your body than Western Medical physicians (although sometimes it is good to get both perspectives).

In closing, we should all be paying close attention to the labels and ingredients lists.  We need to avoid purchasing products with unnecessary ingredients just to allow the product to outlive the next apocalypse.  Target and Whole Foods often carry several brands that don’t include excess “junk” but if you are looking for something more regulated try the Detox Market or Credo- they have some extreme red lists in terms of ingredients within products they are willing to carry.  It is most helpful when you take a holistic approach to “going clean”, you won’t regret it.

Written by Allyson Welch

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