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* A sunscreen ingredient that is linked to cancer
* Please read TIA's article on Chemical VS Physical Sunscreens
* Also known as 4-Aminobenzoic Acid and Para-aminobenzoic Acid
PABA was first used as a UV filter in sunscreen formulations in the 1970s, in part because of its ability to bind tightly to cells in the epidermis, keeping it from getting washed off in water or even rubbed off with a towel, according to research. It has since been strongly linked to cancer, an increase in free radicals, and DNA damage.
Widely associated with Vitamin B, PABA is a nutrient produced in the colon from E-coli that is essential to bacteria, but not to human health. However, PABA deficiency can lead to some dermatological effects in the human body, including scleroderma, eczema, skin infections, and patchy pigment loss in skin, according to Wikipedia.
"Currently, safer and more effective derivatives of PABA, such as Octyl Dimethyl PABA (padimate O), are more commonly used" (Source). It is the only PABA ester approved by the FDA for use in the United States; this compound is chemically similar to PABA, but isn't as irritating. However, it is still considered controversial and can still cause allergic reactions. Therefore, Padimate O is generally only used with other chemicals to increase the SPF of a product.
Safety Measures/Side Effects:
PABA is no longer seen in many sunscreens because it has many negative side effects. It has been shown to cause an allergic reaction in 4% of the population. It has been found to generate free radicals and the formation of a particular DNA defect in human cells, thus increasing the risk of skin cancer.
One of PABA's primary functions in sunscreen is to ‘filter’ UV light on the surface of the skin and convert it from light to heat, but it can also be absorbed through the skin. If light is converted to heat in the basal layers of the skin, it can cause damage to growing cells, leading to DNA damage and defect. A study published in the Environmental + Health News reported that scientists at the Memorial Sloan Cancer Center found that sunscreens protected against sunburn and cancers like Carcinoma, but not against Melanoma, which has increased twenty fold in Europe and U.S.A. since 1935 (Source).
The Cosmetic Database notes that PABA is a high hazard ingredient and causes neurotoxicity, organ toxicity, cancer, allergic reactions, reproductive toxicity, cellular changes, and immunotoxicity. It is, however, FDA approved.