A lot of the time, when I mention being aware of the ingredients in your cosmetics, I get asked about parabens. Mainly because with the rise of pseudoscience (quack science), parabens in skin care get a lot of bad press. I thought it best to set the record straight about parabens.
What are Parabens?
Quite simply, parabens are preservatives – they are extremely effective in preventing microbial (bacteria, yeast, mold, fungi) contamination. In cosmetics, the most commonly found preservatives are methylparabens and propylparabens – they are considered safe for use in ingredients up to 25 percent—though effective concentrations are often as low as 0.01 to 0.3 percent.
Other types of parabens include ethylparabens, butylparabens and isobutylparabens. Interestingly, butylparabens and isopropylparabens seem to have greater efficacy but aren’t as commonly used.
The History of Bad Paraben Press
According to the Beauty Brains, “in 2004, Dr. Philippa Darbre at the University of Reading published a study in the Journal of Applied Toxicology that said her group tested 20 different human breast tumors and found parabens in all of them. Neither she nor anyone else could explain how they got there or why they were there. They also couldn’t say whether normal tissue had parabens. This raised the possibility that the parabens could have something to do with the cancer, but no one could explain what was going on. And since then, there still hasn’t been an explanation. This doesn’t mean parabens have anything to do with cancer. We just can’t say they don’t.” Source.
Despite Dr.Darbre’s study, many in the scientific community were not convinced since the study was not done in a scientifically rigorous way. In fact, parabens were found in non-cancerous breast tissue, too. All the study unearthed was the need for more studies. Cue a study by the Cosmetic Ingredient Review, an independent panel of cosmetic chemists, and the Scientific Committee on Consumer Products who found that using parabens is not a death sentence.
To Use or Not to Use Parabens
The efficiency of parabens against microbial contamination is well documented. There is also no significant or conclusive scientific reason to be concerned about parabens causing breast cancer. At the end of the day, everyone would like cosmetics that aren’t breeding grounds for germs, I know I would.
However just like any other ingredient, if your skin gets irritated by parabens (thankfully parabens have low incidences of causing contact dermatitis) then it would be best to avoid them. There are plenty of paraben free products out there. There are alternatives to parabens such as methylisothiazolinone and benzoic acid.
According to the Beauty Brains, “Unfortunately, every other effective preservative such as DMDM Hydantoin (a formaldehyde releasing ingredient) or Kathon (synthetic) have potential safety issues. And suggested alternatives like grapefruit seed extract, phenoxyethanol ,potassium sorbate, ascorbic acid, tocopherol (vitamin E), vitamin A (retinyl), vitamin C (ascorbic acid) don’t really work too well. The available preservatives aren’t perfect, but they are the best there is. And they are certainly better than using nothing. Bacteria, yeast, and mold could really kill you!”
My two cents is not to waste too much time worrying about parabens in your cosmetics. Just make informed decisions about your cosmetics. At the end of the day, it’s your skin and your choice. What are your thoughts on parabens?
Image by Clare Oparo