In the new ‘How to Make Lotions’ video released today (available for purchase at Bramble Berry), I talk about parabens and my belief that they are safe and effective for use. If you missed my moldy lotion post, click here to read and see first hand why preservatives are necessary in lotions. My friend, noted aromatherapist and business woman, Kayla Fioravanti, wrote this article on parabens and graciously allowed me to reprint it as a guest blog
There is an overwhelming amount of information that counters the war cry against Parabens, but once that bell was rung there is no silencing the ripple effect that was caused by the scare. If you did a google search on parabens you would think that they cause cancer, but there are two sides to every story. Many manufacturers removed Parabens from products in response to the fear cause by the early paraben reports. The American Cancer Society, The National Cancer Institute, and the FDA have all come out to say that there is no proof that parabens cause cancer. If you are just joining the paraben debate you can learn more about parabens here.
The American Cancer Society
“The researchers looked only for the presence of parabens in breast cancer samples. The study did not show that parabens caused or contributed to breast cancer development in these cases — it only showed that they were there. What this means is not yet clear.
Although parabens have weak estrogen-like properties, the estrogens that are made in the body are hundreds to many thousands of times stronger. So, natural estrogens (or those taken as hormone replacement) are much more likely to play a role in breast cancer development.
Parabens are widely used as preservatives in shampoo, lotions, other cosmetics, and even foods. This study did not contain any information to help find the source of the parabens found in breast tissue.
So far, studies have not shown any direct link between parabens and any health problems, including breast cancer. What has been found is that there are many other compounds in the environment that also mimic naturally produced estrogen.
So far, studies have not shown any direct link between parabens and any health problems, including breast cancer. What has been found is that there are many other compounds in the environment that also mimic naturally produced estrogen.
The bottom line is that larger studies are needed to find out what effect, if any, parabens might have on breast cancer risk.” (Source: American Cancer Society)
The National Cancer Institute
“Some research has focused on parabens, which are preservatives used in some deodorants and antiperspirants that have been shown to mimic the activity of estrogen in the body’s cells (4). Although parabens are used in many cosmetic, food, and pharmaceutical products, according to the FDA, most major brands of deodorants and antiperspirants in the United States do not currently contain parabens. Consumers can look at the ingredient label to determine if a deodorant or antiperspirant contains parabens. Parabens are usually easy to identify by name, such as methylparaben, propylparaben, butylparaben, or benzylparaben. The National Library of Medicine’s Household Products Database also has information about the ingredients used in most major brands of deodorants and antiperspirants.
The belief that parabens build up in breast tissue was supported by a 2004 study, which found parabens in 18 of 20 samples of tissue from human breast tumors. However, this study did not prove that parabens cause breast tumors. The authors of this study did not analyze healthy breast tissue or tissues from other areas of the body and did not demonstrate that parabens are found only in cancerous breast tissue. Furthermore, this research did not identify the source of the parabens and cannot establish that the buildup of parabens is due to the use of deodorants or antiperspirants.
In 2002, the results of a study looking for a relationship between breast cancer and underarm antiperspirants/deodorants were reported (6). This study did not show any increased risk for breast cancer in women who reported using an underarm antiperspirant or deodorant. The results also showed no increased breast cancer risk for women who reported using a blade (nonelectric) razor and an underarm antiperspirant or deodorant, or for women who reported using an underarm antiperspirant or deodorant within 1 hour of shaving with a blade razor. These conclusions were based on interviews with 813 women with breast cancer and 793 women with no history of breast cancer.
Findings from a different study examining the frequency of underarm shaving and antiperspirant/deodorant use among 437 breast cancer survivors were released in 2003 (7). This study found that the age of breast cancer diagnosis was significantly earlier in women who used these products and shaved their underarms more frequently. Furthermore, women who began both of these underarm hygiene habits before 16 years of age were diagnosed with breast cancer at an earlier age than those who began these habits later. While these results suggest that underarm shaving with the use of antiperspirants/deodorants may be related to breast cancer, it does not demonstrate a conclusive link between these underarm hygiene habits and breast cancer.
In 2006, researchers examined antiperspirant use and other factors among 54 women with breast cancer and 50 women without breast cancer. The study found no association between antiperspirant use and the risk of breast cancer; however, family history and the use of oral contraceptives were associated with an increased risk of breast cancer.” (Source: National Cancer Institute)
The FDA has a page dedicated to parabens. Some of the important information contained on that page I have quoted below.
“The Cosmetic Ingredient Review (CIR) reviewed the safety of methylparaben, propylparaben, and butylparaben in 1984 and concluded they were safe for use in cosmetic products at levels up to 25%. Typically parabens are used at levels ranging from 0.01 to 0.3%.”
“A study published in 2004 (Darbre, in the Journal of Applied Toxicology) detected parabens in breast tumors. The study also discussed this information in the context of the weak estrogen-like properties of parabens and the influence of estrogen on breast cancer. However, the study left several questions unanswered. For example, the study did not show that parabens cause cancer, or that they are harmful in any way, and the study did not look at possible paraben levels in normal tissue.”
“FDA is aware that estrogenic activity in the body is associated with certain forms of breast cancer. Although parabens can act similarly to estrogen, they have been shown to have much less estrogenic activity than the body’s naturally occurring estrogen. For example, a 1998 study (Routledge et al., in Toxicology and Applied Pharmacology) found that the most potent paraben tested in the study, butylparaben, showed from 10,000- to 100,000-fold less activity than naturally occurring estradiol (a form of estrogen). Further, parabens are used at very low levels in cosmetics. In a review of the estrogenic activity of parabens, (Golden et al., in Critical Reviews in Toxicology, 2005) the author concluded that based on maximum daily exposure estimates, it was implausible that parabens could increase the risk associated with exposure to estrogenic chemicals.”
This powerpoint presentation by S Black Innovative Ingredients is an interesting read. In it the author says regarding the test methods, “Controls gave positive results – attributed to contamination! Basic science – if controls produce a positive result, something is WRONG! If controls were contaminated, why not the samples? The Darbre study contains too many flaws to be considered scientifically valid, and does not provide a causal link between parabens and breast cancer as some commentators have claimed”
Katherine Corkill of Sterling Minerals wrote a great blog post called Debate Over Parabens – Truth and Research that I highly recommend. In her article Katherine Corkill says, “I hope this will finally remove the undue paranoia that has run rampant throughout the internet causing us to double-check our labels and throw out a lot of otherwise great products based on unsubstantiated theory and narrow testing.”
I won’t spend too much time going over what the industry says because critics will say that the industry is tainted. Most companies have moved away from parabens but many refuse to because putting out a “paraben-free” product means that they agree with the bad science. We chose to go paraben free because our customers asked us to provide paraben free products. You asked, we listened, but knowing both sides of the story is still worthwhile.
Author Kayla Fioravanti is a Cosmetic Formulator and Registered Aromatherapist. She writes for Demascope Magazine, Les NouvellesEsthetiques & Spa’s and NAHA. In addition to that, she is passionate about small business; she went to Washington DC with a committed group of small business advocates to talk about the small micro beauty businesses.
Kunwar Anand says
Is there an alternative to Parabens?
Becky with Bramble Berry says
There are definitely alternatives to parabens, and if you are looking for a paraben-free preservative, we do carry one. It is called Optiphen and it is a great alternative to use in lotions if you don’t want a preservative with parabens in it.
-Becky with Bramble Berry
btw, I want to buy & try this new Jeesperse CPW2 but I don’t seem to find too many recipes on the web. I don’t want to use too many other chemicals, just the Jeesperse, water, preservative (paraben-free) and a mix of oils. anyone knows a good ratio of the ingredients?
The best I know is this formulation library here:
I haven’t worked with this product before because I feel like traditional lotion recipes do a great job with less ingredients.
If you’re concerned about chemicals, Jeesperse is polyethylene, sodium polyacrylate which fall into the chemical category =)
Deborah Jones says
I’ve just read through this whole article (second time around) and now I have a question. I decided to try Phenonip. However the test products that I have made so far all reek to high heaven of Phenonip. It’s not a slight kinda smell. It’s really more of a “in your face, horrible” kinda smell. Could you offer some guidance please? Is Phenonip supposed to smell so much? I am using it at 1% in my lotion formulations. I’ve done it 3 times now and I am still getting the same result. Perhaps I’ve missed something somewhere? Any help you can provide would be great.
I’ve never smelled Phenonip before – ever – in my final lotions. Does the Phenonip smell out of the bottle? I don’t notice any smell at all so I’m very puzzled. Did you get it from Bramble Berry? How old is it?
Ah thank you for your swift reply! Yes the Phenonip smells out of the bottle. I didn’t buy it from brambleberry because i am based in the UK. But the smell is VERY distinct. I’ve been reading up on the usage of Phenonip and I think I should use it at 0.5% instead. Perhaps the 1% was too much?
I should mention that I am using Phenonip with Jeesperse CPW2 – a cold process wax that makes a hydrogel type lotion (http://www.jeen.com/formulary/jeesperse_cpw.htm)
Could that a problem? Thank you again! I appreciate your input!
I was hoping I had a bottle of Phenonip at home to smell but alas, no bottle but I just used it a couple weeks ago (I’ve been using Optiphen this whole week for lotion batches) and I’ve never noticed any smell at all with it. Granted, I’ve never smelled it like I would with a fragrance oil but it should definitely 100% not smell up your lotion at all. I would contact the vendor that you purchased it from and ask about your negative experience.
Interesting post. For my part, I'm not thinking that parabens cause cancer, but may have an oestrogenic effect, and as I think I've already been exposed to too much oestrogen in the womb (I'm a DES daughter) I'd prefer to give it a wide berth. And why not, when they are now lots of lovely, simpler products on the market. They're just never in Boots!
Unique Garden says
I really am not sure whether the parabens will end up hurting us or not, I simply do not like using them since they may. Many years back the FDA and cancer society thought cigarettes were safe, yet look what we now know.
As for the use of chemical preservatives, I choose to supply all natural products. This means that they will not last as long as store bought and that there is a chance of contamination, but in the past twelve years I have not had mold issues either (knock on wood somewhere). I personally have used a lotion of mine that was VERY old, and while the scent was not really present, it was not moldy or rancid.
I do not think that Mother Nature will put you on the bad list if you use preservatives, but I also do not think that (the educated) creator must put in chemical preservatives. The long and the short of it is that there is a market for both, but the all natural producer should adequately inform their clients about shortened shelf-lives.
I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I don't know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.
Outre Beauty Bistro says
Thanks Ann Marie! Yes, It's only up from here! Luckily, I am an avid exerciser, and that helped sooooo much in my recovery! Having strong muscles and a healthy heart…I would encourage every woman to exercise. You never know what will come your way in the health department…being in shape makes it so much easier. They told me that I am where I should be a week from now already! 🙂 Outre Beauty Bistro
So we KNOW these studies regarding parabens are flawed…here's the details.
It's much like the inconclusive studies regarding SLS.
Why does this not spur on the need for better studies? Or even better! Why does it not spur on preservatives that are in fact in nature? If I'm not mistaken, Kayla and her team have been working on a natural paraben free preservative set of ingredients.
AM, I do commend you for offering the full spectrum of preservatives. Thanks for the topic. ~Regina
I've been staying quiet on these comments because they're all valid points of opinion and I've been thrilled to see so many differing viewpoints brought up in a respectful manner. I especially appreciate those who have signed in, with their names, to 'own' their statements.
There is one Anonymous comment above that asserts that GSE and "Alpha Tochapheral" (presumed misspelling of α-tocopherol, or Vitamin E). I do want to state, unequivocally for the record, that Bramble Berry does not endorse using GSE or Vitamin E, to preserve your products.
We sell both of these products and recommend their use to extend the shelf life of your products because they help prevent rancidity. They do not provide sufficient full spectrum anti-microbial protection to put in your lotions to sell to the general public.
You can use any number of effective preservatives from Germaben II (paraben), Phenonip (less parabens) and Optiphen (no parabens) and still meet your goals of providing the best, most safe product to your family and your customers.
Heidi, Aw sweetie. I am so sorry. You're in all of our thoughts at BB. Courtney was just asking me the other day if I had heard from you. I'm glad you're done with surgery but can't even fathom the long recovery process. Big hugs to you. We're all rooting for you and your family.
And FYI I quit using parabens long ago both professionally and personally. I would rather pay more store things in the fridge then have this shit on my body! I do think its a cop out to jump in the paraben band wagon. They are cheap and you can not trust the FDA. They only ban things after lots of people die! That is too late in my opinion!
Outre Beauty Bistro says
As I sit here recovering from breast cancer (surgery was Feb 9th) and a bi lateral masectomy, I don't know what to think. All I know is that breast cancer sucks. I have no breasts now and I have awful horrible scars that I will have to look at until reconstruction can take place which is a long process. I hurt, I ache, I can't sleep, because I can't get comfortable and my family is struggling financially because the loss of my income and not being able to sell in my Etsy shop right now. I am a fighter and will get through this..but the journey is long and arduous! Outre Beauty Bistro ~Heidi
Whilst there is no definitive prove that parabens cause cancer or other illnesses they do still remain questionable.
I would say that there are better options available in regards to your long term health if you do decide to use preservatives.
There are alternatives however such as Alpha Tochapheral (an antioxidant) and Grape Seed extract to preserve your products.
Not as effective in giving long term shelf life but still good enough to protect your product for a period of at least 12 months.
I just think the consumer today now realises that natural cosmetics are a much better option for them – despite the issue of shelf life.
Thanks for posting this info Anne Marie. I thought that because you sell lotions without parabens, that you believe them to be harmful. It really didn't occur to me that you sell paraben-free lotions just because customer's requested it. I'm glad you clarified that. Your insight and blogs continue to inspire & educate me way beyond soap-making. Thanks again.
I just noticed the link to the article about where the ACS receives funding didn't work. Here it is.
I'm sorry AM, I don't trust the FDA. The folks over at the FDA don't have the time or the man power to study every product on the market.Only 11% of the 10,000 + chemicals used in personal care products in the U.S. have been scientifically reviewed. As I type the NRDC is putting the heat on the government for this very issue.
Things approved by the FDA that we should be avoiding. Aspartame. BPA (although pressure is changing this). The list is long.
And the American Cancer Society can't be trusted either.
"Elaine Feuer comments that the ACS is more intent on developing cancer treatments than preventing the disease. "
How can people trust the ACS when they receive a bulk of their funding from pharmaceutical companies and corporate polluters.
It might not be proven that parabens CAUSE cancer but it hasn't been proven that they DON'T cause cancer either. Their sheer presence in breast tumors is the cause for concern with most individuals. The major concern is the cocktail affect of chemicals in our system.
I don't think most people want to take any risks with their health and unless something is proven to be 100% safe I personally won't use them in products I sell nor would I buy them and I don't know anyone educated on the subject that would buy or sell them either.
As a preservative they work and they are cheap but I don't care about cost when it comes to health.
It doesn't hurt to eliminate the use of parabens from our products but it could hurt to continue using them.
This is an ever raging debate in the industry and I can't help but weigh in. Coming from a background in pharmaceuticals I agree with Anonymous (Stephanie) and Staci, I do not trust the FDA, ACS, NCI, I know all to well how these organizations work..and I tell you now if you knew you'd be scared.
As for the avoidance of parabens I believe if the ingredient is even questionable, which it is, it should be avoided. Even if it is not currently a proven link to cancer it is suspected to be endocrine disruptor and is one of the preservatives most linked to skin irritation. While they are widely used because they are cheap there ARE viable alternatives that are safer or at the very least less questionable. The European Union banned them for years (although they recently repealed the ban for certain parabens but in much smaller allowable percentages than the FDA has approved) and the cosmetic industry did not collapse.
I also agree that there is holes in the research there needs to be long term, tightly controlled, independent third party studies on the accumulated effect of many of these chemicals; not just by themselves but in combination with the other chemicals they are so commonly combined with. And as our technology and understanding of the human body continues to grow these studies need to be re-evaluated again and again. While the FDA has approved certain percentages as safe it doesn't take into consideration that the average woman uses at least 16 products a day some multiple times a day, multiple exposures, multiple concentrations, then add in the potential that it is in some of the food we eat— at a the very least a build up in the tissue it can't be good. In a time where the diagnosis of autoimmune disorders, hormonal imbalances, autism, and multiple chemical sensitivity is on the rise why risk it?
I think I speak for a lot of formulator's in the indie beauty industry as well as most passionately for myself that I started creating products for a safer, less questionable product. Something that I felt good about the ingredients it comprised (and how much better could you feel about an ingredient than a food- safe natural one?) as well as felt good on my body, didn't cause any irritation, and didn't risk my health. It requires a lot of research because there are some non-safe naturals but I feel it's worth it. That said any product that contains water, or may be exposed to it absolutely must be properly protected with a preservative, but I will stick to ones that are paraben-free, non formaldehyde doners, and free of 1,4 dioxane. Keep bringing us the alternatives Anne-Marie!
Speaking as someone with Stage IV Endometriosis, who has gone through the pain of infertility due to wonked out hormones, I find a discussion that can't be had without sophmoric typo mocking or McDonalds references sad. There are no absolutes. Precaution is never paranoid. Medical science changes daily, we just don't know and to think we have all of the answers is ridiculous, the same thought applies to thought and reason. Frankly, everyone's absolutes make me ill. If you want to use parabens, use them. Your customers will either buy it or not. However, if you're unable to listen to a counter thought without acting like a child, you're in the wrong business.
Thank you for posting this. Bare minimum it got people thinking.
Honestly, I am sooooooo sick of everyone whining about EVERYTHING causing cancer. Ive read that french frys cause cancer (something about the oil and frying causing a chemical reaction… blablahblah…), but do we see McDonalds going out of buisness? NO. The air we breathe is way more dangerous than french fries or lotion. The bottom line is, everything is dangerous in massive quantities. Some lady died from water overdose trying to win a Wii. Are we going to outlaw water? Just don't be stupid and you will be fine.
milk and cookeez says
I do not use Paraben Based Products. While I have read the science and studies behind Parabens, I have made the decision to not have products that contain them.
I just recently started carrying a Paraben Free Scrub and Lotion, while they are paraben free they are not preservative free.
As Kelly stated, this is not a perfect world. Preservatives are necessary to keep products on shelves.
My theory is, if you do not want Preservatives, with or with out Parabens, do not make products that require preservation.
I am toying with the idea of adding lotion to my product line. I have tried different solid lotion recipes in the hopes that I don't have to consider preservatives. I don't, however, care for the solid lotion recipes I've tried so far. I have recently tried a liquid lotion recipe and I absolutely love it! I want to be able to share it with people, but I don't feel comfortable selling it with out some kind of preservative. Thank you for providing the links so I can continue to explore and hopefully make an informed decision. ~Sara
Kelly Taylor says
I agree with Cibaria; we do get customer inquiries regarding this topic, and it is great and in fact imperative to know both sides.
Most of my customers say that they understand the need for preservatives; and most concur that they are OK with "mostly" natural. Even a lady from a health food store who asked me for product said it was OK with her to provide her customers with mostly natural products.
Since we no longer live in the Garden of Eden, and since the Law of Entropy is already in full swing on Planet Earth, not all of us can make our cosmetics in small batches and then keep them in the refrigerator. In a perfect world this would not be an issue; but in a perfect world neither would we need or use cosmetics.
W r e a k ing havoc is the last thing we want to do with our bodies, or customers. To "wreak havoc" on another person's blog us just. plain. un-cool. Period.
By the same token, most of us are not chemists and as such need to rely on the information available to us….
We definitely get a lot of questions regarding preservatives and since Bramble Berry sells the entire spectrum from paraben preservatives to non-paraben preservatives (Germaben, Phenonip, Optiphen) to the super antioxidants (Grapefruit Seed Extract and Rosemary Oil Extract), I'm generally able to find something to meet everyone's needs and preferences.
The Mayo Clinic has an excellant starter guide to how to help prevent cancer:
using simple lifestyle factors like weight and eating habits. It's a great place to reinforce my desire to leading a healthy lifestyle.
Cibaria Soap Supply says
There is definitely a lot of information presented here, and although no studies have pointed directly to specific symptoms when is comes to parabens, we've noticed the common consensus among handmade bath/beauty professionals seems to echo the statements made above.
I definitely agree with Kayla's last statement; "Knowing both sides of the story is still worthwhile". I imagine a few of you get customer inquiries regarding this topic, and it's great to know a good amount about it.
Staci Marquez-Nichols says
You trust the FDA, ACS, and NCI??? Really…the same people who think chiropractic care and acupuncture for cancer are invalid, risky, and might HURT you…but recommend people run out and get chemotherapy! The same people that think Red #40 is safe…Any body with lobbyists should NOT be trusted – come on. As a general rule, anything made via chemical processing in a lab isn't good. I'm a vegetarian, and I feel I hear the same logic from people telling me constantly how and why they simply can't stop eating meat (or reduce intake). It's clear that the "logic" is based on their desire to ignore "inconvenient truths" because they really want to make lotions with parabens or to eat factory-farmed, hormone-laden cows. Two wrongs don't make a right. The whole point of making handmade stuff is so it doesn't have the same junk the factories put in their products. I think the handmade industry can and should do better.
The estrogens taken as hormone replacement or birth control are in no way natural. They are replicated, synthetic chemicals and that's a BIG distinction here. Synthetic hormones are known to cause cancer, strokes, blood clots and a bevy of other medically related issues. So the contention that they play a role in breast cancer development is accurate, but to state that these chemicals are natural, is not. Parabens act as xenoestrogens, or estrogen on crack. It takes significantly lower amounts of a xenoestrogen to reak havic in a woman’s body than a phyto or natural estrogen.
Ultimately I think this is the big divide. There are those camps who feel with adequate alternative preservatives that do not contain parabens (one which you sell at Brambleberry), why risk it? It’s not paranoia; it's a desire to eliminate unnecessary chemicals from our already chemical laden lives.
Honestly I’m a little surprised by the ferocity in which you present this. Just as you feel they’re safe, some of us…don’t want to take the chance.
Very thorough, scientific, and dispassionate article- Thank you for the time and effort you have put into this topic!
Kelly Taylor says
I think to know both sides is necesary in order to make informed decisions.
Recently I was asked to present some samples for a spa here locally.
A high end, known and respected name in BB products was being taken off the shelves of this particular spa.
The esthetician told me she could actually smell the product going rancid!
I had already looked at the labels and noted the lack of parabens.
So, the other side.
I hate to think of anything causing cancer and anything going rancid while waiting to be sold.
What is necessary to know would be perhaps the absolute least amount that will do the trick and still stabilize the product?
Heather Walls says
Thank you for posting this. I have posted something similar. I think it is important for everyone to realize that there was a study done, but the study itself did not state that parabens caused cancer. That was something that people assumed and it is not true. Associating cancer and parabens does not mean that one caused the other.
Luster Canyon says
I took a class on lotion making once, and they basically feel parabens are safe…and they may or may not be, but as you do…I choose paraben free as that is what the majority of my customers ask for. Unfortunately we will never fully understand the hows and whys of cancer.
Thanks for this article, very interesting read. 🙂