Through the years I’ve worked in both the cosmetics and pharmaceutical industries and there seems to always be one ingredient that consumers are questioning: parabens.
In today’s post I want to discuss a bit about what parabens are, why they are used and what research says about the effects they can have on your health. Additionally, we’ll discuss why paraben free doesn’t always mean you are choosing a healthier product!
Let us start with the basics:
What is a paraben?
Parabens are a class of chemical compounds used as preservatives. They exhibit both antifungal (mold) and antibacterial properties and can be effective at relatively low amounts.
They are listed on the ingredients list of cosmetics and pharmaceutical products as: methylparaben, propylparaben, ethylparaben and butylparaben. While these are just 4 of the 6 most common parabens, they all seem to have a similar function, with propyl and methyl parabens being the most commonly used. Additionally, it has been suggested that propylparaben may be more active than methylparaben and may be found in higher concentrations in commercial products.
In a 2019 article published in the medical journal Dermatitis, a group of authors looked at the toxicity of parabens, and found that, “based on currently available scientific information, claims that parabens are involved in [cancer, hormone disruption, fat formation, psychological, ecological and skin issues] are premature. Haste to remove parabens from consumer products could result in their substitution with alternative, less proven, and potentially unsafe alternatives, especially given the compelling data supporting the lack of significant [skin] toxicity of this important group of preservatives."
Additionally, the American Contact Dermatitis Society lists parabens as their (non) allergen of the year for 2019 - meaning they have found that it has little to no effects on skin sensitivity and the formation of contact dermatitis. Contact dermatitis is an irritation of the skin often leading to redness and itching.
The initial “fear” of parabens began when reports suggested that there was a link between the development of cancer and the use of parabens, however, many of these allegations have been proven untrue or have been shown to occur only at doses significantly greater than the amount used in cosmetics and pharmaceuticals.
Another suggested reason to “fear” parabens is the estrogenic and anti androgenic effects. This means that parabens have been suggested to mimic the effects of the female hormone estrogen and have been found to reduce the effects of the male hormone, testosterone. Why is this an issue? Our bodies are finely tuned, and when we add extra or remove certain hormones, we are throwing our body off. Think of it in the context of birth control. When we give a female extra hormones there is a change in her menstrual cycle as well as her fertility. It’s the same effect when the hormones come from ingredients in our food, pesticides, cleaning products or skincare products.
Later studies have found that these claims are true, however, the estrogenic and anti-androgenic effects have been found to be NEGLIGIBLE and are unlikely to cause any issues for the general public.
What about using paraben free products:
As stated above, the removal of parabens from personal care products has been a common occurrence over the last few years, but could potentially be putting you at risk for skin irritation or a host of other issues.
Parabens have been used for almost 100 years in food, pharmaceutical and personal care products. They have been extensively studied and restudied. They are extremely unlikely to cause skin sensitivities and have been found to be generally safe.
Paraben has become a buzz-word. This means that by printing “paraben free” on various packaging, companies are getting richer, but at what cost to YOUR HEALTH?
The removal of parabens means that ingredients which haven’t been used for 100 years are being used with little definitive research into their long term effects. They are increasing the likelihood of allergic rashes and could potentially be causing effects that we won’t discover until far into the future.
What non-paraben preservatives are safe?
Some natural products will use acids like citric or lactic to help with pH and extending shelf life, but it’s unlikely that they will act as an antibacterial or anti fungal. Antioxidants like vitamin E (called tocopherols) and vitamin C can also be used to extend the shelf life of products, but again, will not act as an antibacterial or anti-fungal.
If you’d like to see a breakdown of each ingredient that has been “market tested/ suggested” check out this page by Beautiful with Brains
The truth? Not a single paraben alternative is as safe and well-studied as parabens.