Recently I’ve noticed the claim – Paraben-free – on more and more of the beauty products I’ve purchased. Whilst knowing nothing about parabens, I naturally assumed it must be a positive said product was free of them. Congratulations shampoo, you’re free! Awesome job!
But this made me think. Did this mean paraben containing products are potentially harmful?
Before jumping on the ‘let’s boycott parabens’ bandwagon, I decided it was time to investigate…
So what are parabens?
Parabens are effective preservatives commonly used in many of the beauty products that frequent bathroom shelves. Their bacterial and fungicidal properties help to keep our products in tip top condition for the longest time possible. They stop the nasty stuff from growing that can be damaging to you. Especially helpful when products are stored in the moist, warm environments our bathrooms often provide.
Proven to work and low cost to produce – both massive contributing factors to explain why parabens are so common place. And no doubt why beauty companies have been using parabens for decades.
What is all the fuss about?
So far, it all sounds pretty harmless. However – if this is the case – why are beauty companies starting to look for natural alternatives? (*warning* this is the bit akin to typing a symptom into Google and ending up with the word cancer)
Basically, back in the early 2000’s, a UK-based study highlighted the presence of parabens within 19 out of 20 samples of tissue taken from breast tumor biopsies. The people behind the study advocated that exposure to chemicals that mimic estrogen (such as parabens) might have an impact in causing cancer.
However, the study didn’t conclusively prove the presence of parabens caused the cancer in the tissue samples taken. It only proved that parabens were detected among cancerous cells. Furthermore, no comparison was made to paraben levels found in normal tissue. There was no decisive evidence to conclude parabens are linked to breast Cancer.
Moving further into Europe…
A Danish study detected the presence of parabens in the blood and urine of healthy young males hours after applying paraben containing lotions. The study concluded since parabens could be absorbed and excreted, they potentially could contribute to adverse health effects.
In opposition, industry giants state the use of parabens is strictly regulated and monitored, ensuring consumers are protected. They argue the amount of paraben within each product is too low to be harmful. It concluded the parabens within products are relatively safe with only a negligible risk to the endocrine system.
Or are they?
Most anti-paraben groups argue the only existing toxicity data is from single exposure studies (1 type of paraben in 1 type of product). What if you use more than one paraben containing product every day?
The Environmental Work Group conducted a survey showing the average adult consumer uses nine personal care products per day! Campaigners argue this ‘overloading’ of our bodies with parabens could contribute to a wide range of health problems.
For the moment though, this is only theory. The debate between the scientists, product safety regulators and cosmetic manufacturers continues on.
How can I tell if my products contain parabens?
If you search the ingredients label looking for parabens you won’t find them. In order to know they’re there, you need to look for ingredients ending in paraben. The most commonly found parabens are butylparaben, methylparaben and propylparaben. However sometimes companies can disguise the paraben under an alternative name. This post from One Green Planet contains some alternative names used. Benzoic acid is one of the common ones to look out for.
Should I go paraben-free?
There are pros and cons to each side of the argument. Yes paraben-free does eliminate the potential health concerns raised through using preservatives with estrogenic qualities. However, paraben-free products aren’t without their own risks too.
The alternative preservatives aren’t yet as effective when compared to commonly used parabens. Paraben-free products are at risk of contamination by bacteria and yeast. No one wants to open their moisturiser and discover mold! Neither do you want to use a product that puts you at risk of infection due to it’s potential inefficiency at killing bacteria.
As a point of caution, it’s important to be extra vigilant with the product-life labelling on the paraben-free products. Once you’ve had them for the recommended time, or if they change consistency, colour or smell – throw them out. Additionally any paraben-free products used around the delicate eye area would be better stored in the fridge.
Everything in moderation. I haven’t read anything (yet) that makes me want to run to my bathroom, bin liner in hand. However, limiting over exposure to anything including parabens is probably sensible. My shelves are a mix of paraben-containing and paraben-free products and will remain so until evidence becomes available to the contrary. I wouldn’t dissuade you though, if you decide to err on the side of caution.
Although soon we may not even have a choice.
More and more manufacturers have long term plans to find paraben replacements. Whilst this move by manufacturers could spark paranoia amongst consumers as confirmation of the evils of parabens; many would argue this mass phase-out is due more to growing consumer demand.
Whatever the reason, it’s as good a time as any to be better armed with the knowledge of exactly what we are putting onto our skin.
Want to try paraben-free products? I recommend my favourites: Recommended: Paraben-free skincare
What are your thoughts and feelings surrounding paraben- containing products? Are you Paraben-free all the way? Or do you (like me) own paraben-free products but were unsure of their benefits? Do you believe it’s a passing fad or something that is here to stay? I’d love to here from you! Join in the conversation, by leaving a comment in the box below!