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State of the Evidence on Parabens
Parabens are a group of compounds widely used as antimicrobial preservatives in food, pharmaceutical and cosmetics products, including underarm deodorants. Parabens are absorbed through intact skin and from the gastrointestinal tract (Soni, 2005).
Measurable concentrations of six different parabens have been identified in biopsy samples from breast tumors (Darbre, 2004). The particular parabens were found in relative concentrations that closely parallel their use in the synthesis of cosmetic products (Rastogi, 1995). Parabens have also been found in almost all urine samples examined from a demographically diverse sample of U.S. adults through the NHANES study. Adolescents and adult females had higher levels of methylparaben and propylparaben in their urine than did males of similar ages (Calafat, 2010). Higher levels of n-propylparaben were found in the axilla quadrant of the breast (the area nearest the underarm) (Barr, 2011). This is the region in which the highest proportion of breast tumors are found, although paraben concentration in the tissue samples was not related to location of breast tumors in individual women.
Parabens are estrogenmimickers (agonists), with the potency of the response being related to the chemical structure (Darbre, 2008). Parabens can bind to the cellular estrogen receptor (Routledge, 1998). They also increase the expression of many genes that are usually regulated by the natural estrogen estradiol and cause human breast tumor cells (MCF-7 cells) to grow and proliferate in vitro (Byford, 2002; Pugazhendhi, 2007). Nevertheless, parabens as a class do not fully mimic estradiol as regards these changes in cellular gene expression, nor are the effects of all parabens identical (Sadler, 2009).
*For chemicals that have been shown to be carcinogens, we provide classifications from two authoritative bodies: the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC, an international body) and the National Toxicology Program (NTP, a division of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services). We have categorized endocrine-disrupting compounds where the body of peer-reviewed research indicates a strong foundation for doing so.
EWG’s independent analysis of sunscreens and other cosmetic products has found retinyl palmitate, in hundreds of sunscreens, skin lotions, lipsticks and lip sunscreens – all of which appear to pose safety concerns for consumers. Retinol is a common anti-aging ingredient, most commonly available by prescription. Retinyl acetate and retinyl linoleate are in more than 1,000 personal care products in EWG’s Skin Deep database.Five full years after EWG sounded the alarm about retinyl palmitate, the FDA still hasn’t taken a position on the safety of vitamin A and related chemicals in cosmetics. Most cosmetics companies have not removed these ingredients from sunscreens and other skin and lip products. Sunscreen scientists and trade groups continue to dispute EWG’s warning (Wang 2010).
EWG recommends that consumers avoid sunscreens and other skin and lip products containing vitamin A, retinyl palmitate, retinol, retinyl acetate, retinyl linoleate, and retinoic acid.
If you are undergoing skin treatments for medical purposes with any form of vitamin A, you should do so in consultation with a dermatologist, apply treatments at night if possible, and always practice strict sun avoidance when using these powerful ingredients on your skin.
The Problem With Vitamin A
A study by U.S. government scientists suggests that retinyl palmitate, a form of vitamin A, may speed the development of skin tumors and lesions when applied to the skin in the presence of sunlight (NTP 2012). Officials in Germany and Norway have cautioned that retinyl palmitate and other vitamin A ingredients in cosmetics could contribute to vitamin A toxicity due to excessive exposure (German BfR 2014, Norwegian SCFS 2012a).
The evidence, while not definitive, is troubling. The sunscreen industry adds vitamin A to nearly 18 percent of the beach and sport sunscreens, 17 percent of moisturizers with SPF, and 13 percent of all SPF-rated lip products in EWG’s 2015 sunscreen database.
You can buy organic sun screen if you wish. There is a good one called Green Screen. Just remember to read your labels.
Retinol and other forms of vitamin A in cosmetics can contribute to excessive vitamin A intake. The German and Norwegian governments have cautioned that retinol and other vitamin A additives in cosmetics could cause people to take in toxic amounts of vitamin A.Too much pre-formed vitamin A, including retinol, retinyl palmitate, retinyl acetate, and retinyl linoleate, can cause a variety of health problems, including liver damage, brittle nails, hair loss, osteoporosis and hip fractures in older adults. Excessive vitamin A can cause skeletal abnormalities in a developing fetus. For that reason Norwegian health authorities have cautioned women who are pregnant or breastfeeding to avoid products with vitamin A (Norwegian SCFS 2012b). Older women at risk for osteoporosis should avoid excessive vitamin A because it undermines bone density. Children can suffer a variety of ill effects from too much vitamin A in food and cosmetics (Norwegian SCFS 2012a).
Norway limited the concentration of retinol in cosmetics to 0.3 percent and retinyl palmitate to 0.55 percent until the European Commission implemented cosmetics regulation across the European Union in 2013. That action vacated national regulation. German, regulators recently recommended restricting the concentration of vitamin A in cosmetics for face and hand care and barring the substance in lip and body care products, including lotions and sunscreens.