Growing awareness and a desire to care for more for what we put on our skin and in our bodies means more people want to know more about paraben free skincare products.
Parabens are normally used in a wide range of skincare products from creams to shampoos, moisturizers to toothpaste. Parabens can appear on labels under terms such as butylparaben, propylparaben, methylparaben and ethyl parabens.
What is a paraben?
Parabens are a group of esters of para-hydroxybenzoic acid. An ester is the result of a reaction between a carboxylic acid and an alcohol. So in the case of parabens, para-hydroxybenzoic acid and methanol for methylparaben, ethanol for ethylparaben and so on.
Parabens occur in nature. Methylparaben is found in blueberries for example. But the parabens in skincare products are usually synthetic, albeit often nature identical copies.
Why are parabens used in skincare and cosmetic products?
Any skincare with water in the formulation requires some form of preservative. Put simply, parabens are antimicrobial preservatives; they kill bacteria and microbes that could be harmful if allowed to grow. Parabens are also PH neutral, colorless and odorless. Importantly for manufacturers they are cheap. Parabens are also approved by the European Cosmetics Directive as safe to use in small percentages.
Problems associated with parabens?
One of the biggest areas of concern, and certainly the area that has attracted most media coverage, is whether there is a link between parabens and breast cancer. Several studies have found traces of parabens in breast cancer tumours. However, there has yet to be a causal link between cancer and the use of parabens in skincare.
In addition, parabens are oestrogenic, they mimic oestrogen. Studies have shown that this may affect male and female reproductive organs. Some studies suggest that a low sperm count and a decrease in testosterone are directly related to the use of parabens. In addition oestrogen can accelerate tumour growth, increasing the concerns over parabens and their links with cancer.
When parabens are eaten they lose their ester group and they become less oestrogen like. When used in skin care products, parabens are absorbed directly into the blood stream rather than through the gastrointestinal tract. What is not known is how harmful parabens are when applied to the skin.
Clearly the longer that parabens are on the skin the greater any potential risk. So leave-on products (underarm deodorants, lotions and creams) with parabens will give more prolonged exposure to any risk than wash off products like shampoo and shower products.
The paraben free approach to natural skincare
Making anhydrous products (doesn’t have water) mean they don’t contain ANY preservatives. Or there are other less controversial preservatives available reducing any potential risk. Some people subscribe to the precautionary principle, if there is doubt, why risk it. If you decide to reduce the amount of parabens in your life then using paraben free natural skincare products is ideal.