Sunday, December 29, 2013

New Cancer Risk: Are Parabens the New BPA?

Reposted from TakePart

by Melissa Rayworth

Here's a health question you'll likely hear more about in the coming months: How dangerous are parabens, and should we avoid them?

Women are likely getting a steady dose of parabens through the use of common personal care products such as body lotions, makeup, and cleansers, according to a new study. Babies and toddlers are likely to be absorbing even more.

Researchers examined samples of 170 personal care products, including 20 designed specifically for use on babies. Their results, published last month in the American Chemical Society's Environmental Science & Technology journal, found parabens in 40 percent of rinse-off products and 60 percent of leave-on products.

Use of these products, by the researchers' analysis, would expose infants and toddlers to a maximum 766 micrograms per kilogram of body weight per day. That's about three times more than the amount adult women are believed to be exposed to—which is alarming because women were previously believed to be absorbing the highest levels of the chemical.

This comes in the wake of research published in the Journal of Applied Toxicology exploring the potential link between parabens and breast cancer; the research found traces of parabens in 158 of 160 breast tissue samples taken from 40 women being treated for breast cancer.

That research, released in 2012, noted that parabens were present in the breast tissue of every woman in the study—including those who did not use any "underarm cosmetics." That suggests that avoiding chemical deodorants and antiperspirants, once considered a useful way of keeping parabens from leaching into your body, isn’t enough.

And while the amounts of parabens found in these tissue samples weren’t huge, their levels were four times higher than the concentrations recorded in a similar but smaller study in 2004.

What Makes Parabens Scary?
No definitive link has been documented between parabens and cancer. But these preservatives have "estrogen-like properties," and estrogen plays a role in cancer growth.

The FDA's current statement on parabens, updated in November, is this: "FDA believes that at the present time there is no reason for consumers to be concerned about the use of cosmetics containing parabens. However, the agency will continue to evaluate new data in this area."

The Cosmetic Industry Review, a cosmetic industry–sponsored organization that reviews cosmetic ingredient safety, determined in 2005 that there's no cause for concern over the use of parabens by anyone, including infants.

Why am I not finding that even remotely comforting?

So parabens appear in a huge range of products. Scan your stash of makeup, lotions, cleansers, and shampoos: You'll probably see words like "methylparaben" and "propylparaben" in the ingredients lists.

Yet, avoiding them is becoming increasingly easy: Paraben-free skin-care options for grown-ups and babies are now common, and new ones are frequently hitting the market.

What’s Next?
Should these chemicals, which are sprinkled throughout so many people's medicine cabinets and makeup kits, be banished? Two of our nation's retail giants may be wading into the debate.
Target's "Sustainable Products Standard," announced in October, will use GoodGuide's UL Transparency Platform to look at the environmental and human health impacts of the products it sells. The company isn't promising to remove products containing chemicals that GoodGuide ranks as worrisome (including parabens). But Target's announcement of this new initiative does promise that the information it gathers will "inform Target’s merchandising and product-placement decisions."
Weeks earlier, Walmart announced its "Policy on Sustainable Chemistry in Consumables," which involves "working with suppliers to reduce or eliminate the use of priority chemicals used in consumables products in favor of greener alternatives." The big-box retailer said it would share its list of those "priority chemicals" with suppliers but did not include the list in its public announcement.
We'll be chasing down more information on parabens for you in the new year. In the meantime, this could be the season to treat yourself and the friends on your last-minute gift list to some fabulous—and paraben-free—new skin products.