Parabens are a chemical compounds that are most often used as preservatives in the cosmetics industry. Due to their low cost, low levels of toxic materials, wide range of antimicrobial activity, they have become very popular worldwide. Research has however noted that a percentage of people suffer from paraben allergies. Products that most often use parabens include shampoos, moisturizers, toothpaste, shaving creams and sometimes in tanning products. Their use is broadened since they are included in some foods and pharmaceuticals (Singh, Wani, & Saengerlaub, 2011). They also occur naturally in some fruits for their protection against microorganisms. In other occasions, manufacturers use this naturally found parabens found in berries but their safety has never been established. Parabens are used in products in several forms but the most common are methylparaben, butylparaben, and propylparaben. In addition, other preservatives are included.
There exist different kinds of parabens. Their INCI names are Methylparaben, Ethylparaben, Propylparaben, Butylparaben, Isopropylparaben, Isobutylparaben, And Benzylparaben (Chin, Mohamad, & Abas, 2010). They are extremely white powder with a faint smell and are non-hygroscopic. They are most active when they come in contact with bacteria. They have very little solubility with water but high in propylene glycol (Chin, Mohamad, & Abas, 2010). The major setback is because they are only active in the water phase and they have very low solubility in water. In addition, since they are esters, they saponificate into acid and alcohol with the correct combination of heat, pH, and time (Chin, Mohamad, & Abas, 2010).
History and use
These chemicals have been in use for the last 50 years in the cosmetics would but recently, concerns have risen over the safety of these products. For this reason, some companies have embarked on new products that are labeled paraben free (Heudorf, Mersch-Sundermann, & Angerer, 2007). Despite this rising concern the government and regulating bodies have always maintained that parabens are used at a healthy level of lower than 25% (Crinnion, 2010). Many manufacturers actually use around 0.02%. In 2004, the issue of their safety was revisited due to the rising concerns but the FDA still maintained that parabens however cheap are safe for manufacturing (Crinnion, 2010). In many scenarios, the different parabens are used to achieve maximum shelf time.
Issues with this ingredient and public opinion
Scientist have confirmed that parabens contain estrogen a female hormone that may have several side effects that may associated with the high percentage of this chemical. Notably, estrogen activity in the body may have been associated to certain forms of breast cancer. Research has revealed that in the resent past estrogen has been discovered in breast tumors. Parabens may also be associated with male infertility (Tavares, Martins, Oliveira, et al. 2009). Tests in the lab conducted on rodents revel that the male reproductive system is affected once the chemical is injected in it. However, the levels that are found in products are very minute and may not be responsible for this activity. Due to these allegations, some people have been very skeptical about the use of this product but others have remained ignorant.
Documented cases leading to changes in the industry
Parabens have mostly been associated with breast cancer. Research was conducted with tissues from 20 women undergoing surgery who had breast cancer. The result revealed the 19 out of the 20 had a very common type of paraben used as preservative in cosmetics and specifically deodorant. This research way however not conclusive since it did not include a study to reveal if cancer free women had the parabens in their breast tissues (Crinnion, 2010). Nevertheless, it was a starting point showing that parabens might be carcinogenic. Due to this inconclusive research, no case has ever been directly attributed to parabens. Cases of dermatology allergy or male reproductive system has never been established (Tavares, Martins, Oliveira, et al. 2009). It is however proven that people skin is specific to certain chemicals and therefor parabens cannot be faulted for allergies experienced.
Restrictions imposed in other parts of the world
The FDA has not restricted the use of parabens in the United States. However, in some parts of the word, tight restrictions have been put in place to control the use of this preservative. In china, the individual paraben concentration should not exceed 0.4% while in japan it is 0.1%. In the European community, the directive is different. The region has completely restricted the use of methyl, ethyl, propyl, butyl, and benzyl paraben in preservation.
Implications of the ingredient to the ecosystem
Many preservative that are used in manufacturing may be a hazard to the ecosystem. With the growing concerns and constant rally’s that are taking place, its only sensible to use products that are biodegradable and will not affect negatively our environment which is our future. Parabens however are 100% biodegradable and do not harm our environment (Heudorf, Mersch-Sundermann, & Angerer, 2007). This may be attributed to the fact that they originally existed naturally in blue berries. If released to the environment, a combination of sunlight, water and living organisms will break them down to harmless substances that benefit the ecosystem. They are broken down into hydroxylradicals to produce an acid that is contained in fruits and vegetables such as carrots, cucumbers, blue berries among others. This acid also acts as a source of food for some bacteria. For instance Enterobacter synthesizes certain types of parabens and use the products as a source for carbon and energy (Heudorf, Mersch-Sundermann, & Angerer, 2007). In addition, parabens may be used to break down toxic substances released in the environment and convert them into harmless and beneficial by products. Methylparaben were researched and found that they do not accumulate in aquatic animals as most synthetically generated products do. Most paraben have negatively tested for toxicity and are actually considered to be environmental friendly.
Paraben has been on the table for discussions for such a long time now. They may not be completely evil since as earlier discussed they have environmental benefits but the challenge is to make a decision whether to use personally. Research may not have established any ground breaking conclusion but the fact that there are speculations of its adverse side effects, I dint think it is a risk that any concerned human being should use. In most occasions it may go down to product satisfaction but there always is a substitute in the market. I also think this is an opportunity that manufacturers should use to market paraben free products due to the negative popularity it may be receiving. In conclusion, scientist should embark on extensive research that will establish on the safety of this product so as to avoid health effects for individuals that may be using this product blindly. So one is free to make a choice to use paraben free products acknowledging the risks involved that may be true or not.
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