Parabens in personal care products found within reasonable safety limits, yet researchers advise caution
10 Mar 2023 --- The Netherlands Food and Consumer Product Safety Authority (NVWA) has measured the average daily exposure to parabens for adults and children after using various personal care solutions. Researchers remain wary and uncertain of the cumulative effects of using multiple paraben-containing products all at once. However, each of the items investigated have been deemed safe when used individually.
The study concludes that both adults and children are largely within reasonable safety limits in their exposure to these substances when evaluating individual personal care products.
Toothpaste was identified as the largest source of exposure to methylparaben for children, in particular. “However, this may be an overestimation due to the worst-case assumptions that were made,” note the researchers.
Next to toothpaste, the researchers also assessed people’s potential dermal exposure to parabens in the context of using shampoo and shower gels, foams and scrubs – which were deemed the most “relevant” paraben-carrying personal care products.
Assessing consumer exposure
Parabens are preservatives. They ensure that a product does not spoil and that its shelf-life is prolonged. Because of their functionalities, they are used in a variety of products, especially those with high water content. As a consequence, exposure can occur via many different sources.
In hair straightening products, as one example, previous research found that parabens may be contributing to the elevated risk of uterine cancer.
Examples of personal care products that commonly contain parabens include items like sunscreen and shampoo. In Europe, four parabens are allowed for use in certain personal care products: methyl-, ethyl-, propyl- and butylparaben.
“Although measures are in place to minimize the exposure to parabens, these specific legislations do not or hardly consider exposure from multiple sources,” argue the researchers.
“As parabens are often present in various personal care products, estimating consumer exposure to parabens from a single product likely results in an underestimation of the actual exposure.”
In the study, the researchers used two computer modeling systems – PACEM and ConsExpo – to calculate the rate of people’s exposure to parabens. The findings have been published in the database of the Netherland’s National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (RIVM).
“ConsExpo can provide an initial estimate of the exposure that occurs when a person uses a single product. PACEM allows for the calculation of exposure to multiple products,” note the NVWA researchers.
“Furthermore, PACEM gives a more realistic estimate of the exposure, because it uses concrete data about the frequency of use.”
The researchers found that the estimated systemic doses of methylparaben, ethylparaben and propylparaben are “far below” the corresponding “no-adverse effects” levels, for both adults and children.
Moreover, based on the calculated margins of exposure, the scientists found no health concern associated with exposure to these parabens via personal care products.
The estimated aggregate exposure values for the four parabens as derived in the current study were “generally lower than the exposure estimates reported in literature,” conclude the scientists.
“This may be caused by the use of the PACEM modeling tools, or due to differences in study populations (the Netherlands vs. the US or Japan), the inclusion of different product groups and different paraben concentrations in the products.”
Awareness of the potential risks
Parabens are known endocrine disruptors, meaning they are chemicals that may mimic or interfere with the body’s hormones, known as the endocrine system. The European Commission has published advice warning that their health impacts may be felt long after the exposure has stopped.
The negative health effects linked to parabens that occur depend on the amount to which people are exposed, highlight the NVWA researchers. This is why a legally permitted maximum concentration applies per product. As a result, people come into contact with only a small amount of parabens per product.
“However, if people use more than one product containing parabens, they are exposed to higher amounts,” warn the authors.
When people use different products containing the same type of paraben, the total exposure appears to be less than the amount expected to cause a health effect.
“As regards the possible endocrine disrupting effects of parabens, however, it is not yet known whether the combined exposure is safe,” the researchers comment. “Multiple studies into this are currently taking place in Europe, including into the exposure level to parabens at which endocrine-disrupting effects could occur.”
The researchers still maintain that it’s unclear what the health risks are when people are simultaneously exposed to different types of parabens from different products.
“In general, apart from more product use data, additional measurement of paraben concentrations in personal care products and other products is necessary to make exposure calculations more reliable and realistic,” they conclude.
By Benjamin Ferrer
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