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Controversial Ingredients: One Brand’s Perspective

By: Ada Polla and Anne Pouillot
Posted: November 29, 2011, from the December 2011 issue of GCI Magazine.

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What are the alternatives? See the following discussion regarding the alternatives of parabens.


What are they? Parabens have been used to replace more controversial preservatives, including formaldehyde releasers. Parabens have been the subject of numerous studies that have established, in addition to their broad spectrum of action against microorganisms, their efficacy, stability and lack of side effects.

Why the bad reputation? In the late 1990s, several studies suggested that parabens had an estrogenic activity.4 Then, in 2004, British researchers detected traces of parabens in breast tumor tissue samples.5 In this study, parabens were extracted from breast tumor tissue samples and individual paraben molecules were identified, quantified and compared to those present in a control group (obtained with the same procedures of extraction but without breast tumors). Parabens were found in higher concentrations in the breast tumor tissue samples than in the control samples, but the latter also contained considerable concentrations of parabens.

The control samples were contaminated by parabens of an unknown source; the parabens discovered in the tumor samples could, thus, also come from an external contamination rather than from the breast tumor tissue. Despite these inconclusive results, the media widely diffused the inaccurate news: Parabens used in cosmetics, most notably in deodorants, could cause breast cancer.

The fear of parabens propagated quickly, leading consumers to ask for paraben-free products and manufacturers to embrace that demand. It should be noted, however, that regulatory bodies, both European and American, overall continue to support the use of parabens, and have recently reiterated that there is no epidemiological evidence linking parabens to breast cancer.6, 7