We live in interesting times. Substances that previous generations largely ignored (e.g. gluten, pesticides, preservatives) are now being blamed for a wealth of health ills.

The fact that these modern chemicals scare us makes some sense. For instance, “processed food” has been making lot of people sick and fat. So we get why people want organic, locally sourced consumer products.

One related debate concerns the use of parabens in cosmetic products. Parabens are preservatives used in many beauty and grooming products. They aim to stop mold, bacteria and microbes from forming in your products. On the surface, that seems like a useful job.

But here’s the problem. First of all, parabens have scary-sounding chemical names, such as isobutylparaben and methylparaben. There’s no honest reason to get all “Food Babe” about products that contain chemicals with long, weird names. However, some actual, legitimate science suggests that parabens in certain vulnerable populations might be “endocrine disruptors.” That is, they can change the balance of hormones in our bodies. In other cases, parabens can mimic estrogen, a female hormone. In 2004, a respected oncologist found parabens in 18 out of 20 samples of tumors that he biopsied from breast cancer patients.

Another study out of Denmark done on healthy young men found that exposure to lotions with parabens “contribute[s] to adverse health effects.”

Although the findings are suggestive, evidence to claim parabens as a direct cause of cancer and adverse health effects is lacking. Despite this fact, many countries are working to govern the amount of parabens allowed in products.

Currently the FDA does not regulate parabens in products. There is no way to tell the paraben level of any particular product. When you buy paraben free, you know the paraben level of that product – none.

Also consider the billions of pounds of chemicals rinsed from our hair and bodies into water systems of the U.S. Every product you lather or apply Choose paraben free products and feel good knowing you are part of the solution.

So, are parabens really a big deal? The jury is obviously still out. We need more research and better science on the matter. Endocrine disruptors are no joke. Yes, products free of harmful preservatives have a shorter shelf life, but the trade-off seems like a no-brainer. Stick with naturally derived ingredients to protect yourself from exposure to parabens.

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