In today’s polluted world, we are living in the middle of a vast scientific experiment.  More chemicals (in the many tens of thousands) have been introduced into the environment just in the last seventy years or so than in all of previous human history.  The vast majority of these chemicals have never been tested for their effects on human health, especially for long-term exposure.  We also do not know how these chemicals interact with each other in our bodies.

One area of concern I’d like to focus on in this article are the tens of thousands of beauty/grooming products and cosmetics that are out there in the marketplace, and that most people use on a daily basis.  The regulations governing the beauty/cosmetics industry are very weak and are completely outdated for today’s environment.  The companies manufacturing these products are allowed to use potentially toxic chemicals and risky ingredients due to lax oversight of the industry as a whole.

One frequently used group of chemicals in beauty/grooming and cosmetic products are called parabens, which are used as preservatives.  Parabens, which mimic the hormone estrogen, have been implicated before as potentially having a role in endocrine disruption, but the studies were conducted in lab animals, and there has been a lack of consensus on whether these chemicals could produce the same effects in humans.

A new study has just been published which now would suggest that parabens are indeed harmful for humans, and in lower concentrations than previously thought.  The researchers at UC Berkeley concluded that parabens can interact with other biochemical changes in cancerous cells in the breast, causing the growth of more aggressive and malignant tumors.

A type of paraben called butylparaben was found, even at low doses, to interact negatively with HER receptors in breast cells to “overexpress” or turn on certain cancer genes.  This contradicted previous research which had concluded that the amount of paraben in the body would have to be much higher in order to activate a cancerous response.

My advice here is to try to avoid products with the so-called long-chain parabens:  butylparaben, propylparaben, isobutylparaben, and isopropylparaben, which were implicated in this recent study.  Legislation is in the works to try to give the FDA more oversight and ability to police the safety of the vast and poorly-regulated beauty industry, but until then we are on our own as far as the safety of our personal care products and cosmetics is concerned, and we have to take responsibility to safeguard our own health.

I urge you to become educated and active in finding out what chemicals are in the products you use.  Start reading labels carefully to see exactly what is in them.  If there is a list of ten or more unpronounceable ingredients, that’s a huge red flag!  I’d also like to encourage you to check out the Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep database, which has detailed info on thousands of beauty, grooming and cosmetic products, and can be a valuable guide in deciding on more natural, less-toxic substitutes.  Their website is

Each and every seemingly small step you take will pay back many benefits in terms of reducing your body’s total toxic burden, and will lead to greater health and vitality throughout your life.


Dr. Allen gives free lectures at the Library three to four times each year, on topics of interest from the cutting edge of integrative medicine.  If you would like to be added to our mailing list for these lectures and his other speaking engagements, please email