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New data on parabens suggests no adverse hormonal effect on the body

By Katie Bird , 18-Nov-2009

The industry awaits the judgement on parabens following the release of further data on skin absorption and the distribution of the chemicals in the body.

Florian Schellauf from industry trade body Colipa presented the findings from a recent study on rats at a conference organised by the Scandinavian Society of Cosmetic Chemists (SCANCOS) in Sweden.

The study was performed at the request of the Scientific Committee on Consumer Safety (SCCS) (formerly the SCCP) for more data on the longer parabens, propyl- and butylparaben, following research that claimed the commonly used preservatives may affect the reproductive and hormonal systems of the body.

According to the study data presented at the SCANCOS conference, in rats, parabens are well absorbed after oral administration but only partially absorbed after dermal exposure.

In addition, the data suggests that the compounds are fully metabolised before they enter the blood stream.

Blood plasma tests highlighted only the presence of a paraben metabolite PHBA (p-hydroxybenzoic acid) and no concentrations of the parabens themselves, regardless of which paraben was used and how it was applied (oral, dermal or subcutaneous).

According to Schellauf, PHBA is not known to have any estrogenic effects and is found widely in plants and human food, so trace exposure in the human organism poses no health risk.

“The study confirms the results of a number of research studies, which concluded from their work that parabens are metabolised rapidly and to a large extent in living organisms and therefore cannot exhibit any adverse effects,” said industry trade body Colipa.

The study will be submitted shortly to the SCCS, which will have to come to a decision on whether this new data means the acceptance of methyl-, ethyl, propyl- and butyl-parabens as preservatives in cosmetics products, should remain unaltered.

According to Maria Lodén founder of Sweden-based consulting firm Eviderm and a member of SCANCOS, a decision from the SCCS can’t come soon enough.

Anti-paraben stance

A number of consumer groups, environmental organisations and some industry members have taken an anti-paraben stance which may not be based on respectable scientific evidence, she said.

For example, the Nordic Swan, an environmental label well known in Denmark and Sweden has said products aiming to gain its label cannot contain parabens. Following the release of this new data and the SCCS’s forthcoming opinion, Lodén believes the Swan label should change their criteria and allow the compounds.

“My interpretation of the current data is that, in addition to methyl- and ethylparaben, also propyl- and butylparaben will represent the safest option for preserving cosmetics in the future,” she said.

“The society anxiously await the final SCCS report on the issue to reduce dissemination of misleading information on parabens,” Lodén added.

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