Parabens are widely used as preservatives in cosmetic and pharmaceutical products which can be absorbed through the skin. They have also been known as xenoestrogens (synthetic estrogens) which can mimic the female hormone oestrogen and there are concerns that they may be linked to breast cancer. Parabens are.common ingredients in cosmetics, shampoos, body lotions and sunscreens where they are used to prevent microbial growth and prolong shelf life.
The breast on the other hand has been known as the 'dustbin' for environmental chemicals because it's a very fatty part of the body so any fat soluble chemicals that are absorbed from the environment can linger in the tissues. On top of environmental chemicals, estrogen has been linked with promoting breast cancer.
The latest, a study in cells, not humans, from the University of California Berkeley and funded by the California Breast Cancer Research Program found that even at low levels parabens could stimulate the growth of breast cancer cells when they interact with a growth factor that's naturally produced in a woman's body (1).
Another study of 160 tissue samples from 40 mastectomies for Primary Breast Cancer in England between 2005-2008 has detected the presence of paraben esters in 99 percent of breast cancer tissues sampled (2).
Although further research will be required to clearly linked paraben to breast cancer and it will take even more years to spread the word and for policies to be implemented, it is safe to say that I myself will be choosing products that are paraben-free (better safe than sorry). Avoiding parabens and other harmful chemicals requires becoming an avid label reader. Beware that products boasting "all-natural" labels which can still contain harmful chemicals, including parabens, so make sure to check the list of ingredients.
1: Pan S, Yuan C, Tagmount A, Rudel RA, Ackerman JM, Yaswen P, Vulpe CD, Leitman DC. Parabens and Human Epidermal Growth Factor Receptor Ligands Cross-Talk in Breast Cancer Cells. Environ Health Perspect. 2015 Oct 27.
2. Barr L, Metaxas G, Harbach CA, Savoy LA, Darbre PD. Measurement of paraben concentrations in human breast tissue at serial locations across the breast from axilla to sternum. J Appl Toxicol. 2012 Mar;32(3):219-32. doi: 10.1002/jat.1786. Epub 2012 Jan 12.
Dr Nicole Ng (MBBS) is a medical doctor with a passion in women's health and medical research