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Parabens are a group of chemicals widely used as preservatives in the  cosmetic and pharmaceutical industries. They can be found in shampoos, shaving gels, cleansing gels, deodorants, topical pharmaceuticals etc.

Some parabens are also found at low levels in nature in plants and trees and made from plant oils. Paraben is the common name for this class of chemical, however, they are also known by other names such as esters of p-hydroxybenzoic acid.

Parabens can be esters of p-hydroxybenzoic acid. Common parabens include benzylparaben, butylparaben, propylparaben, methylparaben, and ethylparaben.

Parabens have been linked to breast cancer, but so far there is no scientific evidence to support this claim. Parabens have been found in 20 samples of breast tumors. (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/entrez/query.fcgi?cmd=Retrieve&db=PubMed&list_uids=14745841&dopt=Abstract), but it is unknown if this would be the same for healthy breast tissue. Further research is necessary to establish the significance of parabens in breast tumors and to establish a casual link between parabens in cosmetics and  breast cancer .

Tests on animals involving oral administration and injection of parabens have shown weak oestrogenic activity (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/entrez/query.fcgi?cmd=Retrieve&db=PubMed&list_uids=11867263&dopt=Abstract).

 Oestrogenis known to drive the growth of tumors. However, there is no evidence that underarm cosmetics containing parabens pose a  health risk, because of the low doses involved and the fact that parabens are unlikely to penetrate into the tissue and to accumulate there (enzymes in skin and subcutaneous fat cells are capable of breaking down parabens).

 above from mywiseowl.com

UK Study

The UK study has established the presence of intact parabens in human breast tumors. However, this research alone is insufficient to establish that these chemicals caused the breast tumors or that the source of the chemicals was underarm cosmetics.

NICNAS has reviewed the publication and other available data on the health effects of parabens. The study by Darbre et al (2004) utilized a small sample (20), no healthy breast tissue (or other tissues from affected women) was analysed and the source(s) of the parabens found in the breast tumours and routes of exposure were not identified. This paper however, notes the need for further research to establish the significance of the presence of parabens in these tumours and to establish any link between parabens in underarm cosmetics and the development of breast cancer.

Data from published sources indicates that parabens demonstrate weak oestrogenic activity in some experimental animals and that enzymes present in skin cells and subcutaneous fat cells are capable of breaking down topically applied parabens.

Following analysis of all available data, NICNAS believes that further research is required before a causal link between parabens in cosmetic products and breast cancer can be established.

Parabens in cosmetic products are considered safe to use when the products are used as directed. If the public are concerned they can nominate these chemicals(PDF 34Kb) to the Office of Chemical Safety for further review. AU


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