Smooth Skin or Altered Body Hormones with a Side of Cancer?
The New Frontier of Body Lotions Containing Methylparaben

(Image: Story of Stuff)

By: Jayme Tedrick


Upon getting out of a warm shower or bath, you reach for your body lotion and carefully smooth it over your entire body. You are staving off dry skin and premature ageing by moisturizing your skin. Now envision using this same body lotion, but with the knowledge that it contains an ingredient-- methylparaben-- that has ability to disrupt the function of your body’s endocrine system, and has been linked to cancer in studies around the world (Collier, Darbre, Oishi, Environmental Working Group). Would this finally make you analyze what you’re slathering on to the largest organ system in your body-- your skin? Methylparaben needs to be banned from use as an ingredient in body lotions due to its unignorable dangers to humans and the environment. There are other ingredients currently on the market that perform the same as methylparaben, but without malignant side effects. According to A Consumer’s Dictionary of Cosmetic Ingredients (7th ed.), Parabens are a group of chemical preservatives that efficiently extend the shelf life of over 75-90% of all cosmetics found within the United States. Parabens were first found in cosmetics when chemists furthered the cosmetics industry during the 1920s with their laboratory discoveries, and parabens being among those discoveries, shortly became the “most widely used preservatives in cosmetics and personal-care products” (Epstein, 19). However, in the last decade, new information has surfaced about the dangers of parabens--especially methylparaben. Due to being synthetic, methylparaben is found to predominantly be an endocrine system disruptor and also “linked [to] reproductive toxicity, immunotoxicity, neurotoxicity, and skin irritation/dermatitis” (Deacon, 34). The endocrine system controls countless functions within the body, like the secretion of hormones, management of the the body’s endocrine glands (i.e. thyroid, adrenal, pituitary), and even maintaining homeostasis, or the normal functioning, of the body. “Endocrine disruptors are chemicals that interfere with the normal functioning of the body’s hormones by either blocking


the body’s natural estrogen or acting like an estrogen imposter” (Erickson, 18). If this system is disrupted, problems like skin rashes, early onset of menstruation for girls (as early as 6 or 7, for example) and late menstruation for women (i.e. into 80s/90s), pregnancy issues (uterine walls that are abnormally thick, for example), and even breast cancer can occur (Deacon, 34; Erickson 18). On average, women are exposed to a combined 50 mgs of methylparaben per day from cosmetics and personal-care products (Deacon, 90; Epstein, 74). Body lotions containing methylparaben are so alarming because oil solutions, or those designed to increase moisture and hydration, allow more chemicals to be absorbed through the skin (Erickson, 20). The body’s fatty tissues store methylparaben and “cannot be flushed out with water, so [it] accumulate[s] over the years and affect[s] menstruation, reproduction, and even fat metabolism” (Deacon, 84). New information regarding parabens is slowly trickling down to the general public, such as when Kiro 4 News in Seattle, Washington aired a special television news report discussing top toxins in our cosmetics-- parabens being one of the main ingredients highlighted for extreme precaution. Methylparaben first came under the gun with the scientific community in the early 2000s. One of the first studies to make the less-aware public question methylparaben, and other parabens’ safety, was conducted by molecular biologist and oncologist Philippa Darbre, of the University of Redding (located in the UK). Darbre’s study confirmed parabens’ estrogenic effects within the human body. When tested, 18 of the 20 breast tumors she had taken from women had the chemical form of paraben, and when tested among all types of parabens found


within these tumors, methylparaben was found in the highest amounts. This is an indication that those tumors originated from something applied to the skin, such as a cream, and “if any parabens do enter the human body intact, they may be able to accumulate in fatty components of body tissues in a similar manner to that of other lipophilic pollutants that are known to bioaccumulate” (Darbre et. al, 5). Furthermore, according to Darbre, lab rats have also developed mammary adenocarcinomas (i.e. malignant tumor of breast/glandular tissue) from topically applied parabens (Darbre et. al, 11). Does this make you want to have body lotion containing methylparaben all over your skin? Not only does methylparaben have the ability to induce breast cancer, it also inhibits treatments for breast cancer by mimicking estrogen. Research doctors at California Pacific Medical Center took normal, healthy (non-cancerous) skin cells and exposed them to methylparaben in a lab. Once the exposure occurred, the healthy cells began to behave like cancer cells. What’s worse, according to Dr. Goodson, lead research doctor of this study, is that: Tamoxifen, a drug designed to prevent or treat cancer, slows down the growth of healthy and cancerous breast cells and ultimately leads to their death. But when Tamoxifen was introduced in the lab, the cells exposed [to methylparaben] didn’t die and kept growing (Collier). With most of the focus on methylparaben’s danger focusing on women, it should without a doubt be known that men can also suffer from the estrogenic-mimicking properties methylparaben imparts. Dr. Oishi from the Department of Toxicology, Tokyo Metropolitan


Research Laboratory of Public Health, reported in 2002 that exposure of newborn male mammals-- lab rats to be exact-- to methylparaben negatively affects the secretion of testosterone and the function of the male reproductive system (Oishi, 1807). It is known within the scientific community that if there is a lack of testosterone secreted that Erectile Dysfunctions and other abnormalities of male reproductive tissues, such as in the testes or prostate, are likely to occur. Furthermore, the lab rats used in Dr. Oishi’s study were exposed to levels of methylparaben (and other parabens too) that are considered to be the upper-limit for daily exposure in the European Union and Japan. Citizens in these two areas of the world use less parabens on a daily Not only should one be worried about methylparaben causing harm to the body from innocently applying body lotion, the damage that methylparaben can do the the environment is also of great concern and worry. In Spain, a group of students studied and published the effects that methylparaben has on the environment after it has been absorbed by the body and then released through bodily fluids and excrement, or rinsed off of the body via bathing; “Nowadays, it is known that parabens are endocrine disruptors and, although they are removed in a considerable extension during conventional sewage water treatments,” parabens have still been discovered in river water samples (Canosa et. al). This means that the aquatic life living in our water systems is being affected; the soil and and vegetation surrounding these water systems are being affected; the animals and humans swimming or drinking the water are also being affected. What’s more is when methylparaben combines with chlorinated tap water they create harmful by-products. Clearly this develops another sense of urgency when parabens are found in water that is supposed to be pure.


What we put in and on our bodies ends up in our water. Tested by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), most water systems contained chemical contamination (Deacon, 39). Scientists cite that salmon in Lake Erie have been found with greatly enlarged thyroid glands-- up to a million times the normal size-- as proof of methylparaben in the water (Erickson, 9). Even more disturbing is a beluga whale that was found in Quebec “that had two testicles and two sets of ovaries” (Erickson, 9). Sadly, the environment has been quietly paying for the chemical preservative we choose to turn a blind eye to. At this point, one might be wondering who indeed watches over chemicals and other ingredients found in cosmetics and personal-care products. In 1938, the United States’ Federal Food & Drug Administration (FDA) began controlling cosmetics and food and is responsible for protecting and promoting public health by monitoring the safety of every morsel we eat and every drug on the market (Erickson, 14). Unfortunately the FDA does not test everyday cosmetics or personal-care products for safety before they reach the market (Erickson, 15; Epstein 52). The cosmetics industry has nearly free reign on what ingredients they wish to make use of for their products. This occurs because the FDA is massive with little allocations for cosmetics, which happen to be located at the bottom of their list. Understaffed and underfunded, the FDA’s Office of Cosmetics and Colors (OCC) directly oversees the the cosmetics industry. There are over 12,000 known ingredients-- only 20% of them have been tested, and what’s more, only 8 of them have been banned from use (The Story of Cosmetics). Since the OCC is small in size compared to cosmetics corporations and companies and their sea of products, the FDA reinstated the Voluntary Cosmetic Registration Program in 1999; it is strongly encouraged by the OCC that cosmetic corporations sponsor and pay for their own research and safety testing (Erickson, 4). This is a very minimal level of


regulation through congress.Marketers and cosmetic companies set out to prove how safe their products are-- it’s a self-interest, voluntary type of program. This is a fantastic way of turning up false statistics and biased reports. Unlike the United States, the European Union (EU), comprised of 27 member states [European countries], has protected its citizens from harmful cosmetics ingredients. According to Dr. Samuel, Chairman of the Cancer Prevention Coalition, the EU: mandates that industry [cosmetics] must provide unequivocal evidence that any new candidate products do not pose potential or recognized human or environmental risks…this further absolves citizens and regulatory agencies from the heavy burden of proving such a risk and allows the banning of suspect products in circumstances of scientific uncertainty […] raw data on which industry claims of safety are based must be fully disclosed and evaluated by an independent agency at industry’s cost (Epstein, pg. 183). Under this process, the EU has “banned the use of sodium methylparaben in fragrance because it can strip skin of pigment” (Teen Girls’ Body Burden). Though this banned ingredient might not sound pertinent to body lotion, fragrance is infused into most products, like body lotion, and masked behind the vague ingredient “fragrance” on the ingredient label. The fact that a group of countries has decided to ban this specific methylparaben ingredient in which the United States is still utilizing in cosmetics and personal-care products is appalling. Parabens have also been listed as Category 1 priority substances-- the highest category-- by the European Commission on Endocrine Disruption (ECED) of the EU, “based on evidence that they interfere with hormone function” (Deacon, 38). The ECED frequently meets with members of the European Union to discuss new research methods, new potential harmful ingredients, and review research findings;


the ECED is in existence to “ensure a better environment and health of the people within the Union” (Europa.eu). The EU also requires cosmetics companies to submit amounts of each ingredient used in every product being sold-- a standard the United States does not impart (Europa.eu). Aside from taking cues from the European Union’s proactive approach to cosmetic ingredients, the United States could alter its policy (or lack thereof) to match that of California’s Safe Cosmetics Program. In 2005, the California Safe Cosmetics Act was signed into law. This act requires all cosmetic products that are sold in California by: The manufacturer, packer, and/or distributor name on the product label to provide the California Safe Cosmetics Program in the California Department of Health with a list of all cosmetics products that contain any ingredients known or suspected to cause cancer, birth defects, or other reproductive harm (Ca.gov). Though this does not stop products containing risky ingredients from being sold, citizens are at least aware of them through the disclaimer made by the manufacturer, packer, and/or distributor of the cosmetic and/or personal-care product. Until the United States imparts strict rules on cosmetics ingredients-- especially methylparaben-every individual consumer must educate themselves through researching peer-reviewed studies, literature, and more importantly, read cosmetics’ labels. Consumers cannot trust product labels or their claims-- they are not reviewed by any agency for truth. For example, products can contain organic ingredients but have a synthetic base of methylparaben and simultaneously be promoted and sold as “organic” (Deacon, 194). Some excellent resources for consumers to consult, according to Dr. Samuel Epstein, are: The Big Green Purse-- a consumer activist site that contains information on


certified organic ingredients that are used in cosmetic and personal body care, The Campaign for Safe Products, The Environmental Working Group-- a database of over 74,00 cosmetic and personal-care products complete with ingredients list, Drugstore.com, and of course look for the USDA Organic symbol on all products, for this ensures a 100% organic product. In an ideal world, consumers would not need to scour cosmetic ingredient labels and research their cosmetics in fear that those products have the potential to make them sick, but until this happens, the best piece of advice is to make body moisturizer in one’s very own kitchen, in place of using store-bought methylparaben-containing body lotion. Body moisturizing oil made from organic sunflower oil, organic cocoa butter, organic peppermint oil, and organic spearmint oil can have a shelf-life of up to 18 months, equivalent to products containing methylparaben as the preservative (Terressentials.com). This recipe makes methylparaben appropriated by body lotions unnecessary and simultaneously illuminates the pointless endangerment to the environment and consumers within the United States.

Works Cited Begoun, Paula. The Original Beauty Bible: Unparalleled Information for Beautiful and Younger Skin at Any Age. Renton, WA: Beginning, 2009. Print. Canosa, P., I. Rodriguez, E. Rubi, N. Negreira, and R. Cela. "Formation of Halogenated Byproducts of Parabens in Chlorinated Water." Analytica Chimica Acta 575 (2006): 106-13. Www.sciencedirect.com. Science Direct, 27 May 2006. Web. 11 July 2012. <http://www.sciencedirect.com.offcampus.lib.washington.edu/science/article/pii/ S0003267006011561>. Colliver, Victoria. "Study: BPA, Methylparaben Block Breast Cancer Drugs." SFgate.com. N.p., 13 Sept. 2011. Web. 11 July 2012.


<http://www.sfgate.com/news/article/Study-BPA-methylparaben-block-breast-cancer23101 2.php#ixzz1Xt1ez67S>. Darbre, P. D., A. Aljarrah, W. R. Miller, N. G. Coldham, M. J. Sauer, and G. S. Pope. "Concentrations of Parabens in Human Breast Tumours." Journal of Applied Toxicology 24.1 (2004): 5-24. Wiley Online Library. Web. 11 July 2012. <http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com.offcampus.lib.washington.edu/doi/10.1002/jat.958/pdf>. Deacon, Gillian. There's Lead in Your Lipstick: Toxins in Our Everyday Body Care and How to Avoid Them. Toronto: Penguin Canada, 2011. Print. Epstein, Samuel S., and Randall Fitzgerald. Toxic Beauty: How Cosmetics and Personal-Care Products Endanger Your Health, and What You Can Do About It. Dallas, TX: Benbella, 2009. Print. Erickson, Kim. Drop Dead Gorgeous: Protecting Yourself from the Hidden Dangers of Cosmetics. Chicago: Contemporary, 2002. "Teen Girls' Body Burden of Hormone-Altering Cosmetics Chemicals: Cosmetics Chemicals of Concern." Www.ewg.org. Environmental Working Group, n.d. Web. 11 July 2012. <http://www.ewg.org/node/26957>. "The Truth About Parabens." The Truth About Parabens. Terresentials, 2012. Web. 11 July 2012 .<http://www.terressentials.com/truthaboutparabens.html>

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