Consumer alert: the truth about parabens and whether you need to go paraben-free

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. — A common ingredient in most hygiene and makeup products is prompting manufacturers to switch to "paraben-free" ingredients.

Tanzania Crew had acne issues before she went paraben-free.

“I just started researching different products, ingredients that were horrible for your skin," she said. “I learned the best thing to do with parabens is to stay away from them, pretty much like pesticides. People understand pesticides. At the time I didn’t know what parabens were."

Many others might not realize what parabens are either, even though shampoo, soap and makeup products marketed as “paraben-free” are becoming more common.

Dermatologist Joseph Pietrangelo explains parabens are an anti-bacterial ingredient in almost anything you use.

“They are a preservative used to extend the shelf life of a number of different products, whether that be personal hygiene products – shampoo, conditioner, underarm deodorants, face cream, even foods," he said.

WREG also did some research and found out the federal government is looking into the effects of parabens. The Food and Drug Administration has an entire web page devoted to questions and concerns.

Pietrangelo says he tests about 20 patients a month and finds one percent has an issue.

“For people that are allergic, you’ll develop red, itchy rash. Sounds harmless but there are some patients for whom red, itchy rashes ruin quality of life,” he said.

The questions on the FDA website are also more than skin deep. They also address whether they're linked to breast cancer and other health problems.

“Folks are concerned about what it does in the body. From a breast cancer point of view, what it does is turns on same pathway as normal estrogens,” said Dr. Gregory Vidal, a breast oncologist with West Cancer Center.

Vidal explains parabens can mimic estrogen. A lot of recent concern comes from a 15-year-old study, which he says can be misleading.

“That came from a 2004 publication that showed this product, this chemical could be found in breast tumors,” Vidal said. “It has never been proven to have any increased effect on breast cancer clinically.”

In reality, he said breast cancer diagnoses peaked in the late 1990s and the numbers have been going down since then, even though parabens are still in heavy use.

Still, Crew was motivated to make her own skin products, mixing natural ingredients like coconut oil, charcoal and organic preservatives like rosemary oil which substitute for parabens.

“I just think over time and over-consumption of parabens can cause problems,” she said.

She says her natural skin care products did clear up her acne. And she’s doing what both doctors recommend any patient does.

“If you have a product you want to use that has parabens and you are comfortable doing it, but if you are concerned and you wanna use a paraben free product, go ahead and do that," Vidal said.

He sis warn about allergies to the alternatives, but for Crew, that hasn’t been an issue either.

Instead, she calls her all-natural mixture the perfect recipe.

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