Parabens Good Or Bad Guys

Both?

Bob Root, Keys Technologist

As a part of my ongoing series of looking at the Dirty Dozen Chemicals shown to provide elevated cancer rates in people and animals, in this article, I outline why we do not use parabens leaving the judgmental diagnosis to the NGO’s attacking them.  The Dirty Dozen Chemicals are a list of 12 developed originally by the Marin County Cancer Project which at the time, had the highest Cancer Rates in the US.  Followed by Search For The Cause and Teens Turning Green the list is now designated the Dirty Thirty.

So, are parabens good guys or bad guys?  Both it seems and there is a why we do not use them as well.

Below is a scavenged description of parabens from Wikipedia.    On the surface and from a chemical perspective they do their job.  Many chemists and companies support their use based on a belief of safety.  I believe that they are looking at the wrong reasons for safety.

Our society seems to primarily look at safety as, “will what we put on our skin hurt us directly?”  I believe that we should be looking at whether it hurts us based on contact and will it cause something else to hurt us because of it.

So first let’s try to understand what they are and why some manufacturers use them.  Here is that Wikipedia description


Parabens are a class of chemicals widely used as preservatives in the cosmetic and pharmaceutical industries. Parabens are

Paraben 2D Skeletal

effective preservatives in many types of formulas. These compounds, and their salts, are used primarily for their bactericidal and fungicidal properties. They can be found in shampoos, commercial moisturizers, shaving gels, personal lubricants, topical/parenteral pharmaceuticals, spray tanning solution and toothpaste. They are also used as food additives.

Their efficacy as preservatives, in combination with their low cost, their long history of safe use and the inefficacy of natural alternatives like grapefruit seed extract(GSE),probably explains why parabens are so commonplace. They are becoming increasingly controversial, however, and some organizations which adhere to the precautionary principle object to their everyday use.

Chemistry

Parabens are esters of para-hydroxybenzoic acid, from which the name is derived. Common parabens include methylparaben (E number E218), ethylparaben (E214), propylparaben (E216) and butylparaben. Less common parabens include isobutylparaben, isopropylparaben, benzylparaben and their sodium salts. The general chemical structure of a paraben is shown at top right, where R symbolizes an alkyl group such as methyl, ethyl, propyl or butyl.

Occurrence

Some parabens are found naturally in plant sources. For example, methylparaben is found in blueberries, where it acts as an antimicrobial agent. However, when parabens are eaten, they are metabolised and lose the ester group, making them less strongly estrogen-mimicking. ( Bob Comment) Part of the rub here is a number of studies that link parabens to breast cancer because of these properties, but let’s not get too off track!

Synthesis

All commercially used parabens are synthetically produced, although some are identical to those found in nature. They are produced by the esterification of para-hydroxybenzoic acid with the appropriate alcohol. para-Hydroxybenzoic acid is in turn produced industrially from a modification of the Kolbe-Schmitt reaction, using potassium phenoxide and carbon dioxide.


Now that you are an expert on parabens, I think it is fair to talk about the pros and cons of them.

Remember that I believe that it is a indirect result of the parabens that is as important to look at as well as the direct result of their actions.

The pros of parabens or grapefruit seed extract is that they kill bacteria and fungus inside a products.  It is very difficult to sterilize containers and apparatus  without using chemicals.  The technique we use is super-heated steam on our equipment, but those parabens do a really good job of killing microbes, gram positive and gram negative rods.  The con is that they do a good job of killing bacteria on our skin as well.

You might say that is good, but much research shows that what we want to do is inhibit bacteria growth on our skin while permitting flora bacteria to exist as it does in nature.  To me, it is sort of like drinking parabens in hope they will kill diseased bacteria in our gut in hopes that they will leave all that good bacteria we want alone.  If science could figure that out, it would be major…just has not happened yet.

Frankly, when I developed our first products, I did not know what parabens were.  So it was simple…ignorance was bliss.  I did know that I needed a preservative and my aboriginal friends suggested rosemary.  Turns out it is also a natural high grade antioxidant, but for me, it minimized bacteria growth in our natural products.

It turns out that we have traced part of Wendy’s reaction to prescription products after her Melanoma to a paraben allergy.  Admittedly rare, I personally believe that it is more common than we think.

I will let our friends at the Breast Cancer Fund fight the paraben battle on their own front.  I would encourage you to research that more for yourself.

Why We Do Not Use Parabens

Simply, I have done enough research and read enough that parabens in our personal care, household products and mouth care kill all forms of bacteria on our skin and in our gut.  Like studies have shown with Triclosan and Germicides used in household products, my own studies have shown these same agents kill the natural flora on the skin and in the gut.  What I believe happens next is that the really bad bacteria including gram positive rods like eColi and Staph (MRSA) have an opportunity to come back with a vengeance and attack our systems freely.

For example, it is common in our microbiology lab to take an agar Petri dish and smear a natural ingredient on it to see if colony, gram positive or gram negative rods (bacteria) show up in an accelerated 72 hour test.  What is not common, but we have done it, are to take a sample of “bugs” and kill them and then watch what grows back first in an open air environment.  More than not, we first see some harmless colony bacteria show up first, but then some really nasty bacteria take over and on most occasions we see fungus appear to feed on the bacteria.  Can’t prove it, but I have to wonder if all this MRSA staph that has shown up in our middle schools is not a direct link to the Triclosan in antibacterial soaps and the parabens in all of our products.

Okay, now that I have you flipped out a bit, I did a test of ten products at one of my labs and measured the cumulative amount of parabens in them.  What I mean is that I know that the providers of parabens suggest a range or percentage to use.  Let’s say it is 0.5% of the total solution.  When I tested the products all showed excessive amounts of parabens well beyond the recommended dose.  Knowing that chemist strive for economy, I began to wonder why the levels were so high…high enough to kill anything.   I could not figure out why until I was giving a speech on the  Dirty Dozen near Dayton Ohio and one chemist from P&G asked how many ingredients were typically in natural products.  I answered, “probably 10 to 15.”  He laughed and said our average is 45.  It suddenly dawned on me how the paraben levels could be so high in the products I tested.  The answer, the ingredient/chemical suppliers were using parabens to preserve their raw material.  Think it through!  The manufacture puts 0.5% into the product and each of the suppliers of those 40+ chemicals put 0.5% into the raw materials.  Simply, we are being overdosed with parabens and every product we use adds to the equation.  Ten products times the 1.6% average we tested is a daily dose of 16% on our skin.  I think the most recent statistics I heard from the EWG is that the average woman uses 12 products a day containing parabens and men average 6.  That means that if I am correct with my average that women are getting  ~19.2% paraben contact.  We have always joked that “Chemists add and engineer  subtract, but maybe it is not a joke.

Our Simple View

To overly simplify the reason we do not use parabens is that we believe that what comes out of the bottle designed to kill bacteria in the packaging also kills the floral on our skin and our gut facilitating bad super-bug bacteria to grow in its place that also facilitates fungal growth and imbalance.

Right now, this is a tested theory long from scientific fact.  What if I am right!

See, I told my mother eating dirt was good!

BTW, The Mayo Clinic states, “Most MRSA infections occur in hospitals or other health care settings, such as nursing homes and dialysis centers. It’s known as health care-associated MRSA, or HA-MRSA. Older adults and people with weakened immune systems are at most risk of HA-MRSA. More recently, another type of MRSA has occurred among otherwise healthy people in the wider community. This form, community-associated MRSA, or CA-MRSA, is responsible for serious skin and soft tissue infections and for a serious form of pneumonia.”

I personally believe that people are walking in with the MRSA and when surgery is performed that is when it invades.  Maybe hospitals should pretest for MRSA and an incoming inspection….Do you think?

Bob

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About Bob Root "Beaker" 179 Articles
Keys Founder & Chief Technologist. Author: Chemical-Free Skin Health® , Defining Moments