Methylparaben is a common synthetic preservative used in foods, drugs and cosmetics to increase their shelf life. A methyl ester of para-hydroxy benzoic acid, it belongs to the paraben family of antibacterial and antifungal agents. The long-term safety of parabens is a highly debated topic fuelled by contradictory research studies that demonstrate both the safety as well as the dangers associated with their use.
Mechanism of Absorption
Parabens, including methylparaben, are readily absorbed either by the intestinal tract or by the skin following the use of body care products such as lotions and deodorants. Advising caution on long-term use of these products, a May 2008 study published in the Journal of Applied Toxicology reported that paraben esters are not always broken down and excreted by the body. Acting like environmental oestrogen, they accumulate in reproductive organs of the body and cause chronic health problems such as breast cancer and male infertility.
The link between parabens and breast cancer is a controversial one. While earlier studies have not found a link, a 2004 study published in the Journal of Applied Toxicology reported that biopsies of breast cancer tissue revealed trace amounts of parabens. Even though larger studies are required to establish the role of the chemical in causing breast cancer, it is advised for those with a genetic susceptibility to oestrogen-dependent cancers to stay away from methylparaben and other parabens.
Parabens mimic the female hormone oestrogen in the body. According to a January 2009 study published in the Journal of Reproductive Toxicology, parabens may have a role in male infertility. The study reports that the mild oestrogenic properties of the ingredient may alter the health of cells in the testes, and may in turn be responsible for lower sperm counts and reduced reproductive potential.
A small percentage of people from the general population are sensitive to methylparaben and other parabens. The ingredients can cause contact dermatitis and skin irritations in people with paraben allergies. While they are non-irritating for most people, individuals prone to skin allergies, eczema and rosacea may benefit from using paraben-free products. In an assessment of the safety of parabens, Cosmetic Ingredient Review expert panel concluded that patients with a sensitivity to the ingredient could tolerate the application of paraben containing products on normal skin, but not when applied to broken or sensitised skin.
According to the Environmental Working Group's cosmetic safety database, methylparaben is a toxic ingredient with a high hazard score of 8, and a potential to cause several health problems. While the cosmetic industry continuously assures that the ingredient is safe, EWG advises caution while using products containing parabens until further research is done.
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