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Paraben based Beauty Products: Not As Innocent As You Thought


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Black women spend a staggering half a billion dollars on hair care products annually, and this sum does not include hair paraphernalia like wigs or styling tools. These products take a toll on the health of Black women since most of them contain paraben.  

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What Are Parabens?

Parabens are a family of chemical preservatives used to prevent the development of harmful bacteria in perishable products. In cosmetics, commonly used parabens include methylparaben, propylparaben, butylparaben, and ethylparaben. Parabens have been used since 1920 and have undergone multiple quality and safety checks. 

Parabens as a synthetic preservatives are a commonly used set of ingredients in beauty products because of their effectiveness and low cost. The paraben family has been classified as an endocrine-disrupting chemical (EDC) that can interfere with hormonal balance and lead to several hormone-related health issues, such as breast cancer.

However, in 2004, the University of Reading (UK) published a study linking parabens to breast cancer. In this study, researchers found paraben residue inside breast tumor biopsies and, after extensive research, formulated the theory that parabens mimic estrogen function, thus disturbing the hormonal balance. This raises the probability of a breast cancer tumor developing.    

Like all studies, it was heavily criticized and scrutinized for its legitimacy and valid research practices. The question still remains: just how dangerous are parabens?

Increased Risk for Black Women 

Take a look at the following statistics:

  • Chemical straighteners and relaxers increase the chances of breast cancer by 30%.
  • Permanent hair dyes increase the chances of breast cancer by 60%. 

These statistics pose a daunting risk for Black women who are at a higher breast cancer mortality rate compared to other racial or ethnic groups. 

But why are Black women more in danger? Companies are still using parabens in hair products that are marketed to Black women. 

Parabens, Breast Cancer, And Good Hair

You are most likely wondering why women continue using products that contain parabens. The answer lies deep within American culture and the stereotypical image of a “good” woman. Hair relaxers and straighteners make the typical Afro-textured hair smooth and soft, resembling that of white women. This prejudice is, of course, nothing new. It is rooted in the time of slavery when Black women saw that they were being treated preferentially if they resembled white women, and hair was the best they could do at the time. 

This prejudice evolved into the present day, and Black women still have to deal with racial discrimination based on their hair. Natural hairstyles have been deemed inappropriate for job readiness, and Black professional women are -at times- banned from having their natural hairstyles. It seems, then, that the only option Black women have is to use these smoothening and softening hair products. This means daily paraben exposure. 

U.S. Laws on Use of Parabens: Lax and Inefficient

Up until today, the FDA has had no authority to review and approve beauty products before they hit the market. Instead, they have published a list of banned ingredients from cosmetics (11 ingredients compared to a staggering 1,300 in the EU). Surprisingly, while some ingredients are banned from other products such as children’s toys, they are allowed in cosmetics. 

To add to this lack of safety and quality checks, the FDA does not require cosmetics manufacturers to run safety checks on their products. Suppose products contain harmful ingredients after they hit the market. In that case, companies may be subject to disciplinary action such as compensation or fines, but the damage may have already been done to consumers. 

What is most alarming, showing the inefficiency of the FDA in such cases, is that there are far too many loopholes for beauty product manufacturers. For example, hair and beauty care products are exempt from declaring their ingredients when used in a salon or other beauty establishment. Also, potentially harmful ingredients can be used if they are considered trade secrets.

Regarding parabens, the scientific evidence is surrounded by ambivalence, but it is a fact that EDCs do pose health risks. At the very least, they should have been banned in the absence of conclusive evidence rendering parabens safe for use. Instead, the FDA allows their use, and Black women -who are using hair care products more than any other racial group- are still exposed to parabens without knowing their cumulative effect in the long run. 

Lapses in Research?

Research has been ongoing since the 2004 study by the University of Reading. Still, there may have been lapses in the overall research conducted by others, leading to an inconclusive outcome of whether parabens are safe to use or not. Many studies have been using white participants rendering the sample insufficient. 

Contact Napoli Shkolnik PLLC Today

If you or someone you know has breast cancer and has used products with paraben, you need to contact Napoli Shkolnik PLLC. Our expert lawyers can guide you through possible legal action you may be eligible to take, but most importantly, your voice will be heard. Steps to correct this injustice and prejudice can only be done once more and more voices are beginning to be heard, much like Tiah Tomlin- Harris who made her breast cancer parabens-related story known to the public, urging more Black women to push for change. 


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