Do I Need a Methylparaben-Free Toothpaste?
Worried about parabens in your toothpaste, mouthwash, and other personal care products? You’re not alone. Although they’ve been used for decades without much question, they’ve come on the radar in recent years as a potential safety concern. On this page, we’ll explore both sides of the paraben debate, plus answer some of the most commonly asked questions about their safety and use.
What Are Parabens?
Parabens are chemicals derived from para-hydroxybenzoic acid (PHBA). As Chemical Safety Facts points out, PBHA is found naturally in certain fruits and vegetables. Your body produces it as it breaks down some amino acids too. While parabens found in healthcare products are usually synthetic, the agency’s experts contend “the human body quickly changes them into natural PHBA and eliminates them.”
Some of the most used parabens include methylparaben, propylparaben, butylparaben, and ethylparaben.
What is Methylparaben?
Methylparaben is considered a “short-chain” paraben. It’s water-soluble and readily absorbed by the skin and gastrointestinal tract. Product manufacturers specifically choose methylparaben over alternatives for these properties, but as Leslie S. Baumann, MD points out, you’ll also find it in products alongside other parabens when varying levels of absorption or solubility are required.
Why is Methylparaben in Toothpaste and Mouthwash?
Parabens of all types are typically used as antimicrobial agents. They preserve products to increase their shelf life, which proponents say is essential for consumer health and safety. Methylparaben, with its water solubility, is, therefore, the ideal paraben to use in things like mouthwash or toothpaste. It’s frequently used in skincare products and food too.
Is Methylparaben Safe?
The safety of methylparaben and other parabens is where the controversy begins. Suffice it to say, the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the Center for Disease Control (CDC), and even the American Cancer Society do not believe there’s enough evidence to show methylparaben poses a risk.
PHBA is a Hazardous Chemical
Described as “corrosive” and an “irritant” by PubChem, the National Institute of Health (NIH) database of ingredient safety, PHBA is known to cause damage to skin, eyes, and respiratory tract.
Methylparaben is a Hazardous Chemical
Looking specifically at methylparaben, PubChem describes it as an “irritant” with potential skin, eye, and respiratory complications. The entry also describes it as “harmful to aquatic life with long lasting effects.”
Parabens Behave Like Estrogen
“Of greatest concern is that parabens are known to disrupt hormone function, an effect that is linked to increased risk of breast cancer and reproductive toxicity,” explains the non-profit Campaign for Safe Cosmetics in a Scientific American report. The agency quotes an oft-cited study in which 95% of breast tumors we found to have traces of parabens. It sounds like a smoking gun, but the study did not look at healthy tissue in the same women, meaning they very well could have had parabens throughout their bodies. Additional research suggests that might be the case—scientists found methylparaben in 99% of urine samples in another study.
However, animal studies show more in the way of causation. “Taken together, long-term exposure to parabens, which show less estrogenic activity than estradiol, can produce suppressive effects on hormonal responsiveness and can disrupt the morphology of reproductive target tissues.”
Additional Factors May Increase Risk
Part of the reason why finding definitive answers about methylparaben is so difficult is that replicative studies come to different conclusions. This may be because there may be other risk factors involved. For example, researchers found that methylparaben didn’t cause harm when it was applied to the skin and exposed to normal sunlight. However, when sunlight exposure increased, the “UVB exposure significantly increased cell death, oxidative stress, NO production, lipid peroxidation and activation of transcription factors in MP-treated HaCaT keratinocytes.” Ergo, researchers who are not following the same study protocols would likely find damage occurring to varying degrees—something as simple as sun exposure can change the outcome of an experiment. This is backed by other studies too.
Researchers also tried to dive into breast cancer and paraben links in controlled studies by growing cancer cells in a lab. They found that when heregulin (HRG), a growth-promoting substance normally found in breast tissue, was introduced, the results were more pronounced. “Parabens might be active at exposure levels not previously considered toxicologically relevant from studies testing their effects in isolation,” the researchers concluded.
Should I Avoid Parabens?
The European Union by the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA), a division of Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals (REACH), and the World Health Organization (WHO) have put out a call for answers. Research is ongoing in the United States too. As of now, there’s not enough evidence to conclude parabens are unsafe. However, some people choose to avoid them out of an abundance of caution.
How Can I Avoid Parabens?
Although many ingredients masquerade as something else on labels for personal care products, parabens are typically clearly noted as such. Check the labels and skip products that include ingredients with the word “paraben” if you’re concerned. If you’re trying to avoid methylparaben in food, look for the preservative additive “E218” as well.
ORL is Proud to be Paraben-Free
ORL is known for what we don’t include in our products just as much as we are for what we do include. Our formulas are made with natural and wholesome ingredients like Organic Xylitol, plant-based essential oils, and vitamins and minerals, so you can nourish your way to a healthier smile. Head over to our Compare Tool to find out what harmful ingredients may be lurking in your toothpaste and mouthwash or visit our online shop to select mouthwatering flavor profiles your whole family will love.