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New research on parabens

12 January 2012

You may have read articles in today’s media regarding cosmetic ingredients called parabens.  Some of these articles are quite alarmist by their nature and might make readers feel concerned about the safety of parabens. However, a detailed look at the study’s findings would indicate that there is no new, or existing, cause for concern.

The articles report on a study, published this month, which claims to have found parabens in breast samples taken from women who had undergone surgery for breast cancer.

While the authors of the study state that “the presence of a chemical in the breast cannot be taken to imply causality per se”, what they do not address is that they have chosen not to compare their results with breast tissues from women without breast cancer. So it is not possible to say whether the very low levels of parabens found by this study are in any way cause for concern. On the contrary, the safety of parabens has been recently reviewed and confirmed by the European Commission’s independent Scientific Committee for Consumer Safety, and the permitted levels brought into line with all of the latest safety information.

Of key importance is that the study showed no compelling difference between women who used deodorants or antiperspirants and those who did not.

The scientists who have published this recent research claim that the levels of some parabens were higher in breast tissue from the women who had used underarm cosmetics compared with those who had never used or no longer used underarm cosmetics. They also claim there was more parabens in some areas of the breast than others in women who used underarm cosmetics, implying that the differences related to proximity to the axilla (armpit).This is very surprising. As CTPA has previously told one of the researchers, the overwhelming majority of all underarm cosmetics (i.e. antiperspirants and deodorants) do not and have not contained parabens and so cannot be the source of the apparent differences found.

CTPA has been in contact with Cancer Research UK.

Commenting on the study, Jessica Harris, health information manager at Cancer Research UK, said in an emailed comment: “This study has a number of serious problems which mean that its conclusions do not stand up to scrutiny. For example, the researchers didn’t compare paraben levels in healthy women to women with breast cancer.

“Although they found parabens in samples of breast tissue, they also found parabens when they ran the experiment with no tissue samples at all - and sometimes at higher levels than they found in the tissue itself. Because of this, the study can’t be used to draw any conclusions about either women’s exposure to parabens, or the effects of parabens on breast cancer risk.”

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