Sushi, sit-ups and saunas are standard hazards to avoid during pregnancy, but spurred by concerns about chemicals, many pregnant women are taking a closer look at what's in their bathroom cabinets. Many health and beauty products contain methylparaben, an ingredient that has given birth to controversy.
What Is Methylparaben?
Parabens, including methylparaben, are preservatives that stop the growth of bacteria, mold and fungus to increase shelf life in beauty products. According to the Federal Drug Administration (FDA), they’re the most popular type of preservatives used in cosmetics, moisturizers, shampoo, conditioner, anti-aging products, shaving cream, sunscreen, toner and astringent. The FDA reports that most deodorants and antiperspirants are paraben-free.
Pregnancy and Hormones
According to the Environmental Working Group (EWG), lab studies have shown that parabens can disrupt reproductive hormones and, specifically, mimic the hormone estrogen. Fit Pregnancy confirms reports that methylparaben is an endocrine disruptor, affecting the network of glands that secrete human hormones, including estrogen.
Estrogen affects a woman’s body in many ways throughout her lifetime. During the childbearing years, it causes the lining of the uterus to thicken to receive a fertilized egg. During pregnancy, according to Science Daily, estrogen helps maintain the pregnancy, triggers fetal growth and steers breast changes.
Other Health Concerns
EWG claims that American consumers receive repeated, direct exposure of methylparaben with their daily use of beauty products. The organization sites studies showing that traces of parabens have been found in breast cancer tumors, and that the ingredient has been linked to cancer, skin irritation and allergic reactions. The website Healthy Child, Healthy World repeats claims by the EWG that parabens have been tied to an increase in prostate and breast cancer, genital abnormalities in male babies, a decline in semen quality in men and early-onset puberty in girls.
The Official Word
Europe has banned the use of sodium methylparaben in perfumes because it damages skin pigment. In the United States, however, the FDA does not regulate cosmetics, and manufacturers can use any ingredients except a few that are specifically prohibited as poisonous.
Responding to public concerns, the FDA website notes that “at the present time there is no reason for consumers to be concerned about the use of cosmetics containing parabens,” particularly among women and infants. The agency claims that it is aware that parabens can act like estrogen but that products don't contain enough of the ingredient to cause adverse health effects. It also asserts that past studies linking methylparaben to health concerns left many unanswered questions. The agency states that it will continue to gather new data to protect the health and welfare of consumers, and that it will take action if it “determines that a health hazard exists.”
Find Paraben-Free Options
While the FDA can’t regulate cosmetics, it does require manufacturers to list ingredients on the label. If you choose to avoid methylparaben--as well as ingredients such as propylparaben, butylparaben, ethylparaben, isobutylparaben, isopropylparaben or benzylparaben--you usually can find alternatives to your favorite products that are paraben-free on the Internet or at natural food stores.