Most of the consumers I have spoken to, usually visitors to natural product trade shows, know that they don’t want to see parabens in the natural products they use. Most of the same people, when I pressed them for an explanation, had no idea why. But they know with great certainty that parabens are now persona non grata.

In referring to parabens, the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics cites the Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep database. Here you can see that parabens have been linked to, among others, developmental/reproductive toxicity, endocrine disruption and neurotoxicity. Now, I’m not going to present an extensive, drawn-out academic argument here, but I would like to suggest a comparison with tea tree oil, which has also been linked to endocrine disruption and neurotoxicity. And, both parabens and tea tree oil have been “linked to” skin allergies too. The natural products industry, with which I am intimately associated, has decided that tea tree oil is OK – after all, it’s natural – and parabens are not. They are “chemicals”.

The paraben “scare” was based on the fact that parabens were found in the breast tissue of women with breast cancer, even though no causal association was established. Presumably milk might be found in cancerous breast tissue too, but does that mean that milk causes breast cancer? No, the fundamental reason for banishing parabens was that the popular press decided that parabens very likely caused breast cancer. Like a starving rottweiler with a bone, journalists, especially in the UK, decided that parabens should be banned, and they have got their way. Bravo.

Why am I defending parabens? Because I abhor bad science. I do think there are potential concerns about parabens and hormone disruption, and I am NOT saying that I believe them to be completely devoid of risk. But then, nothing in this universe in completely devoid of risk. I’m just saying…what can we learn from this devastatingly effective media-driven campaign and its apparent ignorance of what is, and isn’t, sound science.

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