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For the record

Are your toiletries toxic? The Daily Mail, 6th July 2009

The article outlined concerns over links between parabens in toiletries and cancer. It said that the research suggested that some parabens “might mutate and produce free radicals when exposed to UV rays, causing skin ageing and potentially skin cancer.” It added that the alcohol in many cosmetics can “stimulate the penetration of parabens into the skin”.

Dr Gary Moss (School of Pharmacy, University of Hertfordshire) researches how drugs and other chemicals penetrate the skin barrier and the implications for safety in pharmaceuticals and cosmetics. Dr Simon Wilkinson (Newcastle University) is a skin toxicologist. They respond here:

“The research showed that when methylparaben is exposed to UV light and broken down by enzymes, it can produce free radicals that could cause DNA damage. The study however was done in a lab and so didn’t take into account how the chemical would be absorbed into the skin or broken down in human skin cells. Skin is exposed to many other sources of free radicals and has repair mechanisms designed to cope with this. Using the word ‘mutate’ to describe this process is highly emotive and incorrect.”

“The article refers to ‘alcohol’ but doesn’t explain what type. Ethanol has been shown to enhance the penetration of molecules into the skin. Any cosmetic chemical containing ethanol is unlikely to contain parabens as well - the parabens are antimicrobials, and ethanol works just fine as an antimicrobial on its own.”

Author: Sense About Science

Document type: For The Record

Published: 13 July 2009

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