Denmark’s environmental ministry announced on Dec. 20 that it will ban parabens in lotions and other cosmetic products for children under 3. It is the first European country to ban the chemical preservative, which is suspected to be an endocrine disruptor, and is used in a variety of soaps, deodorants and other beauty products.
The ban affects two types of parabens: propylparaben and butylparaben. (More on Time.com: Special: Environmental Toxins)
Many environmental health groups advocate the removal of parabens from consumer goods because of some animal evidence that they can act like estrogen in the body, causing health problems. According to the David Suzuki Foundation:
Parabens can mimic estrogen, the primary female sex hormone. They have been detected in human breast cancer tissues, suggesting a possible association between parabens in cosmetics and cancer. Parabens may also interfere with male reproductive functions. In addition, studies indicate that methylparaben applied on the skin reacts with UVB leading to increased skin aging and DNA damage.
No other European country has banned the chemical, but it was listed as a Category 1 substance (having evidence of endocrine disrupting activity in at least one species in animal studies) by the European Commission in 2006. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is looking at the chemical too: a study of four types of parabens, released in June 2010, showed that methylparaben was present in 99.1% of the 2,548 urine samples of adults and children age 6 or older, while propylparaben appeared in 92.7% of those same samples. Ethyl (42.4%) and butyl (47%) parabens were found less frequently and at lower concentrations than the others. (More on Time.com: Canada Declares BPA Toxic. Is the U.S. Next?)
Recent analyses suggest, however, that there is not enough evidence to suggest that parabens are a major threat to human health. On Dec. 14, the E.U.’s Scientific Committee on Consumer Safety (SCCS) released a thorough analysis [PDF] of research on parabens, examining the chemicals’ role as endocrine disruptors, their contribution to breast cancer, and absorption levels of the chemical from consumer products through human skin.
The SCCS concluded that the data were insufficient and incomplete, finding that parabens should not be regulated until more conclusive research is conducted:
[T]he SCCS considers the use of Butylparaben and Propylparaben as preservatives in finished cosmetic products as safe to the consumer, as long as the sum of their individual concentrations does not exceed 0.19%. This conclusion is based on the lack of scientifically sound data on the pivotal link between dermal absorption in rats and humans, in particular with regard to the metabolism of the parent compound in the skin. The latter can only be addressed through additional human data.