Parabens – A tale of two headlines

There was a recent study on parabens that made the news. It was research published in the Journal of Applied Toxicology conducted by Dr. Philippa Darbre and Mr Lester Barr.

The key findings of the research includes

1. Parabens were detected in 99% of all breast tissue samples

2. An average of 85.5 ng/g was found. Four times higher than work done in 2004.

3. Propylparaben and methylparaben had the highest levels detected

The researchers conclude…

Mr Lester Barr – “Our study appears to confirm the view that there is no simple cause and effect relationship between parabens in underarm products and breast cancer”

Dr Darbre – “The fact that parabens were detected in the majority of the breast tissue samples cannot be taken to imply that they actually caused breast cancer in the 40 women studied”

Darbre further concludes that the fact that parabens are found in breast tissue justifies further investigation.

What’s the story?

The study is interesting and presents a bit of a mystery. Why are parabens being found in breast tissue? Where are they coming from? As Darbre says, more research is needed.

But the story I most want to write about is the way that this story is being reported.

Take a look at these different headlines about the same press release.

From Science Daily…

Parabens in Breast Tissue Not Limited to Women Who Have Used Underarm Products

From Cosmetics Design…

Study finds no link between deodorant use and breast cancer

Then from Red Orbit…

Possible Link Between Personal Care Products, Breast Cancer Studied

And NHS…

Deodorant chemical ‘found in breast tumours’

And finally

Popular cosmetic chemical found in breast cancer tissue

Viva la difference

How is it that all of these media outlets got the same press release and came up with completely different headlines?

None of these headlines are lies per se. But they all communicate a different message.

The Science Daily headline (which I view as the least biased source) captures what I see as the main point of the study. Parabens are found in breast tissue whether people have used deodorants or not.

The Cosmetic Design headline is clearly biased to tell the story in a way that exonerates the cosmetic industry. They don’t lie but they do miss the point of the research.

The next few headlines are much more sensational however, and communicate the message that the study somehow links parabens, cancer and the use of cosmetics.

The study does the exact opposite!!

I guess it just goes to show that way you tell a story is just as important as the facts that go into creating it.

In my view, this research provides no new information to the debate. Unfortunately, chemophobes will look at this research as a new reason to ban parabens from cosmetic products.


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