Cosmetics are a beautiful oasis for women, where we take care of our skin and relax by pampering our senses.

However by applying beauty products on our skin we need to be aware of the other effects – the ones that go beyond the five senses and are therefore below our radar of normal detection.

Some common ingredients such as parabens are under scrutiny because of their female hormone disruption properties and the concern they promote breast cancer growth.

Parabens are very common synthetic ingredients, found in cheap and cheerful products as well as high end luxury ones. Their function is simply to kill bacteria protecting the product from spoilage, they are very cheap and they also have a good dermatological record. So far so good.

However do we know how much they are absorbed by human skin? No, there is only data from rats and rabbits1, and they are very different from humans.

Authorities prefer to look at the rat data, however the picture that emerges from the rabbit data is that parabens can be absorbed up to 60%.

If our skin happens to be more like rabbits skin what happens to parabens when they are absorbed by our body? Nobody really knows. However Dr Philippa Darbre a Biological Sciences reader atReadingUniversity, was curious about this so she did a quick and clever test: she took human breast cancer cells and put them in a petri dish with and without butylparaben.

After 4 days she looked at the cancer cells under the microscope and she saw that the breast cancer cells had grown in presence of the butylparaben.

Parabens - Time
Parabens – Time


Parabens – No addition 4 days.


With isobutylparaben 4 days
With isobutylparaben 4 days


This is not conclusive evidence and it may take a long time before this is researched – if ever! Are we prepared to wait and see while being exposed to parabens? Or are we going for a precautionary approach by avoiding them for good? If this is our choice we need to go beyond the senses and read the ingredients list of cosmetics every time we buy so that we can relax in our beautiful oasis. Watch out for methylparaven, ethylparaben, propylparaben, butylparaben.

Read the ingredients list and keep well.


About the Author

Dr Barbara Olioso is a Green Chemist and founder of Forest Secrets Skincare


1 In vitro skin permeation and retention of parabens from cosmetic formulations

S. Pedersen1, F. Marra, S. Nicoli and P. Santi

Dipartimento Farmaceutico,UniversityofParma, Parco Area delle Scienze, 43100Parma,Italy

International Journal of Cosmetic Science, 2007, 29, 361–367




Be Sociable, Share!