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Parabens in deodorants and antiperspirants

The media has highlighted a recent publication in a scientific journal linking parabens, a class of chemicals commonly used as preservatives, with breast cancer ["Concentration of Parabens in Human Breast Tumours" [Darbre, PD. et al. J. Appl. Toxicol. 24, 5-13 (2004)].

What are parabens?

Parabens are a group of chemicals widely used as preservatives in food and cosmetic and therapeutic products. Some parabens are also found at low levels in nature. 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. A list of common parabens along with their synonyms and CAS Numbers is included below.

How are products containing parabens regulated in Australia?

Deodorants are regulated as cosmetics by the National Industrial Chemicals Notification and Assessment Scheme (NICNAS) within the Office of Chemical Safety. Antiperspirants are regulated as therapeutic goods by the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA). This regulatory approach is similar to that in Canada and the USA.

Australia has one of the more stringent regulatory systems in the world for cosmetic chemicals. There are mandatory labelling requirements for cosmetics under the Trade Practices Act 1974. Ingredients must be listed on product labels, in descending order calculated either by mass or volume. This enables consumers to identify ingredients to which they may be allergic or which may cause an adverse reaction and compare various cosmetic products. Cosmetic labels must also indicate specific hazards posed by ingredients, where applicable. For example, if the chemical is listed in a schedule of the Standard for the Uniform Scheduling of Drugs and Poisons (SUSDP), legal requirements for warning or safety statements apply. Concerned consumers can ascertain which cosmetic products contain parabens by reading the product label.

The TGA has advised that labelling requirements also apply to therapeutic products containing parabens, requiring them to be listed on the product label. Similarly, parabens used in food are also subject to labelling via food additive code numbers.

The cosmetics industry has advised that many deodorant and antiperspirant products do not contain parabens as preservatives as these formulations are essentially self-preserving.

What regulatory action is proposed in response to this study?

The UK study has established the presence of intact parabens in human breast tumours. However, this research alone is insufficient to establish that these chemicals caused the breast tumours 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.

Parabens are still recognized as Safe

Common name Synonyms CAS Number
benzylparaben Benzoic acid, 4-hydroxy-, phenylmethyl ester
4-Hydroxybenzoate de benzyle
benzyl 4-hydroxybenzoate
4-hidroxibenzoato de bencilo
Benzyl p-hydroxybenzoate
benzoate, 4-hydroxy-, benzyl
4-Hydroxybenzoic acid benzyl ester
Benzoic acid, p-hydroxy-, benzyl ester
p-Hydroxybenzoic acid benzyl ester
isobutylparaben Benzoic acid, 4-hydroxy-, 2-methylpropyl ester
4-Hydroxybenzoate d'isobutyle
isobutyl 4-hydroxybenzoate
Isobutyl-4-hydroxybenzoat 4-hidroxibenzoato de isobutilo
2-Methylpropyl p-hydroxybenzoate
Benzoic acid, p-hydroxy-, isobutyl ester
iso-Butyl p-hydroxybenzoate
Isobutyl p-hydroxybenzoate
p-Hydroxybenzoic acid isobutyl ester
Butylparaben Benzoic acid, 4-hydroxy-, butyl ester
4-Hydroxybenzoate de butyle butyl 4-hydroxybenzoate
4-hidroxibenzoato de butilo
4-Hydroxybenzoic acid butyl ester
benzoate, 4-hydroxy-, butyl

Aseptoform Butyl

Benzoic acid, p-hydroxy-, butyl ester
Butyl p-hydroxybenzoate
n-Butyl 4-hydroxybenzoate
n-Butyl p-hydroxybenzoate
n-Butylparabenp-Hydroxybenzoic acid butyl ester
n-Propylparaben Benzoic acid, 4-hydroxy-, propyl ester
4-Hydroxybenzoate de propyle propyl 4-hydroxybenzoate Propyl-4-hydroxybenzoat
4-hidroxibenzoato de propilo
4-Hydroxybenzoic acid propyl ester
4-hydroxybenzoic acid propylester
propyl p-hydroxybenzoate
propyl paraben
benzoate, 4-hydroxy-, propyl

Benzoic acid, p-hydroxy-, propyl ester
n-Propyl 4-hydroxybenzoate
p-Hydroxybenzoic acid propyl ester
p-Hydroxybenzoic acid, propyl ester
p-Hydroxybenzoic propyl ester
Ethylparaben Benzoic acid, 4-hydroxy-, ethyl ester
4-Hydroxybenzoate d'ethyle ethyl 4-hydroxybenzoate
4-hidroxibenzoato de etilo
benzoate, 4-hydroxy-, ethyl
ethyl parasept
4-Hydroxybenzoic acid ethyl ester
Benzoic acid, p-hydroxy-, ethyl ester
Ethyl p-hydroxybenzoate
p-Hydroxybenzoate ethyl ester
p-Hydroxybenzoic acid ethyl ester
Methylparaben Benzoic acid, 4-hydroxy-, methyl ester
4-Hydroxybenzoate de methyle
methyl 4-hydroxybenzoate
4-Hidroxibenzoato de metilo
4-Hydroxybenzoic acid methyl ester
, 4-hydroxy-, methyl methyl p-hydroxybenzoate
p-hydroxybenzoic acid
methyl ester
methyl paraben
methyl ester of p-hydroxy benzoic acid
Benzoic acid, p-hydroxy-, methyl ester

Source: National Chemical Inventories disc

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