A new study found that chemicals commonly found in cosmetics and other personal care products such as lotions, may cause more hazards even in lower doses of application, than previously believed.
Parabens, which is a widely-used preservative in the cosmetic and personal care products industries, have long ignited concerns about its safety to health. Apprehensions towards the chemical is triggered by the fact that it imitates the action of estrogens, which have been associated with an elevated risk of developing breast cancer and other condition of the reproductive system.
Researchers from the University of California Berkeley and Silent Spring, an institute that supports studies about chemicals and women's health, wanted to know what really occurs when parabens are present. To do this, they analyzed breast cancer cells with two kinds of receptors called estrogen receptors and human epidermal growth factor receptor (HER2).
About 25 percent of breast cancers are said to have increased levels of HER2. Tumors with this receptor likely grow and expand more aggressively compared to other breast cancer types.
For the experiment, the scientists used naturally-developed growth factor heregulin found in breast cells to activate HER2 receptors, while the breast cancer cells are subjected to parabens.
The findings of the study showed that parabens instigated the estrogen receptors via activating genes that triggered the breast cells to reproduce quickly and the impact was highly notable. The parabens were able to cause breast cancer cells to grow in concentrations that are 100 times lower compared to cells that were not subjected to heregulin.
The results implicate that parabens may be stronger at lower amounts than previously thought. Such findings may drive scientists to reassess the possible effects of the chemical on the development of breast cancer, specifically on cells that are positive for estrogen receptors and HER2.
The work of the researchers also highlights concerns about the existing safety testing techniques being employed at present, particularly if the accurate potency of parabens and its effects on human health are being detected.
Chris Vulpe, co-author of the study, who used to be a toxicologist in the university said that while the research targeted parabens, it is also possible that the potency of other substances that imitate estrogen may have also been underestimated by existing testing modalities.
Dale Leitman a gynecologist and molecular biologist at University California, Berkeley said while parabens are known to mimic estrogens, the concern is not too significant as the effects are said to be too weak to be hazardous, but with the results of the study, that might not be the case. "But this might not be true when parabens are combined with other agents that regulate cell growth," he explained.
The study was published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives on Tuesday, Oct. 27.
Photo: Akira Ohgaki | Flickr