Skin Care

By Leesa Davis

A 2004 study conducted by British researchers found traces of the chemical form of parabens in 18 of 20 breast tumor samples tested. Parabens are preservatives used in many foods, medicines and most commonly in cosmetic products and underarm deodorants and antiperspirants. In other words, parabens increase the shelf life of many of the products we use.


Avon’s lotions like Skin So Soft contain both Methylparaben and Propylparaben

There isn’t any scientific evidence that proves that parabens are cancerous but findings have shown parabens to act like weak estrogen-like properties. The hormone, estrogen, promotes growth of both normal and cancerous breast cells. In the findings, the substance (parabens) was not shown to cause or contribute to breast cancer but they were present and seemed to originate from a substance applied to the skin. Since the underarms are close to the breast tissue, the researchers figured the probable cause resulted from use of body sprays, deodorant or antiperspirants.

According to Ellen Burov M.D., a dermatologist in New York City, parabens in cosmetics are safe. “It’s impossible to avoid parabens. It’s in almost every cosmetic. If you go to the drugstore, you won’t find anything that doesn’t have parabens.”

The most common parabens used in cosmetics are methylparaben, propylparaben and butylparaben. Fran E. Cook-Bolden, M.D. says the quantity of usage also matters. “Typically, parabens are used at levels ranging from 0.01 to 0.03 percent. The Cosmetic Ingredient Review (CIR) concluded they were safe for use in cosmetic products at levels up to 25 percent. Usually a mixture of parabens are used in order to provide protection against a broad range of microorganisms which could contaminate the product.” Most natural products do not contain parabens.


Products from Burt’s Bees are 100% Natural and paraben free

Hydroquinone, found largely in bleaching creams, is another substance that many fear as a potential carcinogen, though it is used to treat disorders including hyperpigmentation, sunspots, and eczema. Hydroquinone decreases the formation of melanin in the skin. Dr. Cook-Bolden says that hydroquinone is currently being evaluated by the FDA but is effective in the purpose it serves. “Many people obtain significant benefit from hydroquinone. There are many ingredients that can be helpful in some cases to lighten unwanted dark spots but none have been comparable to hydroquinone.” Some ingredients that can act as substitutes of hydroquinone include mequinol, Vitamin C, retinoids and retinols.

Cosmetics that may contain parabens include shaving products, hair care products, lotions, moisturizers and makeup. Most major brands, deodorants, and antiperspirants do not currently contain parabens. There are companies such as Burt’s Bees, Botanical Skin Works, and Barefoot Botanicals that do not use parabens for preservation. For a list of paraben-free cosmetics, visit

Originally published March 2007
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