There has been a lot of publicity on Twitter recently about a video called the Story of Cosmetics. It is fronted by someone called Annie Leonard in association with an organisation called the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics. I am not sure of the precise structure of the affiliations or how it all fits together, but …
Head and Shoulders is in many ways the ideal brand. Everybody knows what it is and what it does. The problem it aims to solve is one that we have all had at some time or another. You find some white specks on your shoulders? Reach for the brand you have known since childhood.
I think that the best strategy is to be completely honest. We are pretty sure parabens are safe, but they are very widely used so we really have to be sure. The things are everywhere now after all.
There is only one point on which I can wholeheartedly agree. I think that more work should be done to prove that parabens are safe.
So is there any actual evidence beyond conjecture that links parabens with breast cancer?
I am pretty sure that this review paper was written after the controversy about parabens had become public, because many of the criticisms of the earlier paper are addressed.
The first point is that breast cancer is on the increase in recent decades. This review basically sets out to propose chemicals in cosmetics as an explanation for why breast cancer rates are increasing.
So what leads Dr Darbre to point the finger at cosmetic chemicals, particularly parabens? There are ways of assessing quantitatively how similar molecules are to oestrogen. Many many thousands have already been screened. What the data actually means is nowhere near as clear cut.
It all goes back to 2004 when some research at Reading University was reported on the BBC. The work was done by a researcher called Dr Philippa Darbre and was reported in the Journal of Applied Toxicology. Tests on samples of 20 different human breast tumours showed traces of parabens in every sample.
Anything that has much water in it will go mouldy and harbour germs if it isn’t preserved in some way. As most cosmetic products contain water they need some kind of preservative. One of the most popular families of preservatives are the parabens. These are used in pharmaceuticals and food as well as cosmetics. They …