Silicone Wristband, a Non-Invasive Method to Measure Parabens and Triclosan

Featured Image Caption: Silicone bracelets are typically used for cosmetic or fundraising causes.  However, in recent years, researchers have used silicone bracelets to measure exposure to environmental chemicals. “Pulceras” by Milagros Alcoba Deangelis, CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Primary Source article: Levasseur, J. L., Hoffman, K., Zhang, S., Cooper, E. M., & Stapleton, H. M. (2024). Monitoring human exposure to four parabens and triclosan: comparing silicone wristbands with spot urine samples as predictors of internal dose. Journal of Exposure Science & Environmental Epidemiology.

Secondary Source Article: Lopez,A (2023). Silicon wristbands track hundreds of unique chemical exposures. Journal of National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences: Environmental Factor. Science

Blood and urine samples are the gold standard of detecting environmental pollutants in the human body.  However, these traditional methods are invasive and costly.  In recent years, researchers have opted to use silicone wristbands as a cheaper, non-invasive method of measuring a person’s environmental exposure to chemicals. 

Recently, silicone bracelets have been used to measure pesticide exposure, flame retardants, and a slew of other chemical consumer products.  Participants can wear it while they are performing everyday tasks such as working, cooking, exercising, and sleeping!  Is this method too good to be true? Levasseur and colleagues from Duke University wanted to answer this question by comparing it against the tried-and-true method of urine sampling to detect parabens and triclosan. 

How the Wristband Works

The method of indirectly obtaining a chemical profile of an individual via bracelet was invented by Dr. Anderson, Dr. O’Connell, and a trainee from Oregon State University. Silicone wristbands act like the skin. The bracelet absorbs chemicals that are present in the environment and retains them.  After wearing the wristband for a couple of days, the bracelet is sent to a lab to determine the profile of chemicals that an individual came into skin contact with, for example, food, water, air, and personal care products.

A Tale of Four Parabens and Triclosan
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Parabens and triclosan are used in a variety of personal care products: toothpaste, lotions, mouthwash, and cosmetics to name a few. “The health & beauty section at a Walmart store in Vegreville, Alberta, Canada in 2021” by Rowanswiki, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

The researchers focused on four parabens: methyl, ethyl, propyl and butyl paraben as well as triclosan (If you’re curious, the prefixes just mean one, two, three, and four carbons coming off the paraben structure).  These chemicals were chosen because they are commonly found in personal care products.  Parabens are preservatives found in cosmetic and hygiene products, clothing, and food.  Parabens are endocrine disruptors that are associated with breast cancer and early puberty development.  Triclosan is an antimicrobial agent that is found in toothpastes, cosmetics, kitchenware, toys, and other products that may not be regulated by the FDA.  Triclosan is known to decrease thyroid hormones and makes bacteria resistant to antibiotics.  Although triclosan was banned in antibacterial soaps, it is still present in the environment.

Wear This Bracelet and Take a Bio Break

Ten participants from North Carolina wore silicone wristbands and provided urine samples to compare how effective the wristbands were at measuring parabens and triclosan.  The participants wore 5 wristbands and removed one each day for analysis.  Removing one wristband each day helped determine the rate and quantity that chemicals attach to the bracelet.  Participants had to collect urine every 24 hours for the full five days. After wristbands were sent to the laboratory, each wristband was cut into 3 pieces and transferred to a test tube for chemical extraction.

Promising Results, but Exercise Caution and Consideration

Wristbands performed better than spot urine tests, but the results have to be weighed with the limitations.  The sample size made it difficult to discover meaningful trends.  Duke researchers also discovered that the five chemicals studied were absorbed differently.  There was a steady increase of absorption of butylparaben and triclosan.  However, the amount detected for the remaining three parabens plateaued.  When a chemical is no longer detected at a different rate, it could be that the bracelet has reached its limit on detecting that chemical.  Alternatively, researchers state that further study of absorption rate of compounds in wristbands may provide insight on chemical absorption behavior.   

Sample wristbands are a promising method of environmental pollutant contact detection, especially for vulnerable populations.  Duke researchers cite previous studies that have found that chemical exposures can vary by race and use of different products.  Silicone bracelets are a cheap and dignified method of helping individuals monitor their health without resorting to expensive and invasive laboratory collection methods.  In the future, if researchers can figure out where silicone bracelets can best be used and which substances bracelets can measure accurately, more people could investigate their health at a cheaper price. 

Additional Reading

Hager, E., Chen, J., & Zhao, L. (2022). Minireview: Parabens Exposure and Breast Cancer. International journal of environmental research and public health, 19(3), 1873.

McNamara, P. J., & Levy, S. B. (2016). Triclosan: an Instructive Tale. Antimicrobial agents and chemotherapy, 60(12), 7015–7016.

Parabens in cosmetics

5 Things to Know About Triclosan-,not%20regulated%20by%20the%20FDA.

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Christina Andrea Alvear

Christina Andrea Alvear

I am a coordinator for a nonprofit organization in San Antonio, Texas. I earned a MS in Biology at the University of Texas at San Antonio. My goal is to make primary research fun and accessible to everyone while connecting with other science writing enthusiasts. I've explored a variety of careers from research, education, and nonprofit mental health, substance abuse, and healthcare programs. When I am not writing or working, I like to lounge around at a coffee shop on a weekend or enjoy a board game with friends.

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