What Are Parabens?
Walk down the cosmetics aisle of any drugstore, or your local beauty supply store, and you’re bound to see products with labels boasting that they’re “paraben-free.” The beauty gurus you watch on Youtube might feature paraben-free products and talk about how great they are. So you’ve probably thought, “Parabens must be bad, right?”
Well, it’s actually little bit complicated. Let’s get into what makes parabens tick, and why they’re such a controversial ingredient in the beauty community.
How Do Parabens Work?
Parabens are a family of related chemicals that are commonly used as preservatives in makeup, hair care and skincare. If you check out the ingredients list on a beauty product, you might find them under the names ethylparaben, protylparaben or butylparaben. They work in different ways, like damaging bacteria’s cell membranes or preventing it from forming properly, but they all keep beauty products clean and safe by inhibiting bacterial growth. This is especially important in products that come in pots, where you dip your fingers in and spread plenty of bacteria around in the product. Parabens give products a much longer shelf life and make them, theoretically, safer to use.
So What’s the Problem?
The issue with parabens is that there’s evidence to suggest that they mimic estrogen in the body. One 2004 study showed that parabens are capable of penetrating the skin and staying inside body tissue for long periods of time, and when a chemical that mimics estrogen finds its way into a woman’s system, it can disrupt her endocrine system. This means breast tissue growth and reproductive function might be disrupted, and this can potentially lead to cancer.
It’s not just humans being affected, either—parabens have been found in the bodies of sea mammals, most likely introduced by litter from beauty products being tossed out to sea.
You might be wondering now how parabens are even legal. But don’t panic—the beauty and scientific communities are not at all in agreement on the dangers of parabens. We’ve been using them as preservatives for decades, and their safety has stood up to rigorous testing. All we know for certain is that parabens persevere in the human body. We don’t definitively know what effects they have on us, but according to Iris Rubin, MD, they’re generally well-tolerated, and are officially considered safe by the FDA.
What Are the Other Options?
If you don’t want to take any risks by using products that contain parabens, you have plenty of alternatives to choose from. Cosmetic chemist Ron Robinson says the most common alternatives are natural preservatives, like sorbic and benzoic acids, which have the same properties as parabens but aren’t synthetic.
However, just because it’s not a paraben doesn’t mean it will be safe. Many beauty companies are guilty of “greenwashing”—that is, keeping their products free of certain ingredients mostly for clout, while using ingredients that are just as bad, if not worse. So it’s important to stay an informed consumer and check the ingredient list before buying.
And of course, you can always seek out beauty products that have no preservatives at all! This is becoming more popular among independent brands with an emphasis on natural ingredients, but it does leave the product vulnerable to bacterial growth. If you go this route, store your products properly and always throw it out after the expiration date.
Ultimately, whether you feel comfortable using products with parabens is up to you! Do your research and don’t be afraid to try new formulas until you find what works for you. And while you’re looking, check out our stock of hair care, skincare and makeup here at Keshoume. You might find the perfect thing to add to your beauty routine!
Rowan Thompson - November 2, 2020
Baxter, Hannah. “Beyond Parabens: The New Frontier of Preservatives.” Coveteur, Coveteur, 9 May 2020, https://coveteur.com/2020/05/08/parabens-alternatives-beauty-products/.
Dubs, Zoe. “So What Exactly Are Parabens? The Truth About Skincare's Biggest Bad Guy.” ELLE, ELLE, 22 July 2020, https://www.elle.com/uk/beauty/skin/articles/a36356/what-are-parabens/.
Lewis, Amy. “Parabens Are Confusing-This Is Everything You Actually Need to Know About Them.” Byrdie, 23 June 2020, https://www.byrdie.com/what-are-parabens.
n.a. “Everything You Ever Wanted to Know about Parabens.” Lush Fresh Handmade Cosmetics UK, 27 Jan. 2020, https://uk.lush.com/article/everything-you-ever-wanted-know-about-parabens.
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