Parabens are a very large group of chemical compounds which have been used for many years in the cosmetics, pharmaceutical and food industries for their bactericidal and fungicidal properties. Their function is to prevent mould or bacteria from developing in products and affecting their quality after production, especially once they have been opened to use. This type of preservative can be found in a whole host of commonly used products, such as cosmetics, shaving products, medicines, hand creams, bubble bath, baby wipes and household detergents.
While the parabens most often used (methylparaben and ethylparaben) have a lower molecular weight and are therefore somewhat safer, the main problem lies in the fact that people are exposed to these substances on an ongoing basis because they are so widely used. A further problem lies in the fact that the quantity of the substance absorbed through products that are not rinsed off cannot be calculated.
The greatest risk is that of allergic reactions, although the cancer risk has been downgraded by the Scientific Committee on Consumer Safety. As regards the increased incidence of allergies, it is estimated that around 10% of people who attend allergy clinics have had a reaction to cosmetics and perfumes.
There are three aspects to consider:
children’s skin is more absorbent and their endocrine systems are less developed, while in elderly people the skin becomes more fragile;
Denmark has banned the use of parabens in all products for children under three years and France is considering whether to introduce a similar ban;
as stated above, the amount of parabens we absorb cannot be measured, added to which they are used very frequently.
In the light of this information, does the Commission consider that further studies are needed to assess the health effects of paraben-containing products which are absorbed through the skin?