Parabens – The Toxic Truth in Beauty & Skincare
It is one of the ironies of the beauty industry that in seeking to preserve the beauty of our skin, many of the products contain a potentially harmful preservative that can do us long term damage! That preservative is given a single “umbrella” term, paraben, and as one authority writes:
Parabens are a chemical compound of para-hydroxybenzoic acid which is naturally present in many fruits and vegetables. Nearly all the parabens used are man-made and not naturally occurring. This chemical based preservative is artificially synthesized and added to skin creams, lotions, moisturizers, shaving gels, foundations, mascaras, shampoos, toothpastes and all cosmetic products to prolong their shelf life.
While it is entirely understandable that any product needs to have a realistic shelf life, while also being free of microbial growth, there is growing concern that the use of paraben agents is far more harmful than helpful.
Why Is a Paraben Harmful?
There are a number of reasons you will want to avoid any sort of product (not only skincare and beauty products) with a paraben ingredient. Let’s consider the most fundamental reasons to look for paraben free skincare:
- Any time a chemical compound is added to a product, there is always the risk that the proportion of this ingredient is far higher than needed, diluting the beneficial compounds and cutting manufacturer costs.
- The first point is especially relevant in light of the fact that parabens are one of the least costly preservatives, stabilizers and antimicrobial materials on the market. When a compound is cheap, it opens the door to overuse as a filler, to low quality production, and more.
- You want paraben free makeup and paraben free skincare because the parabens are actually one of the biggest triggers for such skin issues as dermatitis, allergic reaction and rosacea.
- Not only can some paraben ingredients cause skin issues, but more studies are linking them to endocrine system imbalances, depression and even risks for cancer from long-term usage.
- As a compound that can mimic estrogen, paraben can actually alter your hormone levels as it is absorbed through the skin. This can trigger bodily reactions that can include the development of breast cancer. As one report warns: “A recent study revealed the presence of paraben in the breast tumor of a woman suffering from breast cancer.”
- In addition to altering the hormones of the body, it can cause both fertility and developmental problems – in both men and women.
- Their names are concealed in lengthier chemical names, and this should be seen as a red flag. Instead of a label simply indicating that parabens are in the beauty product, many have confusing names such as propylparaben and butylparaben or even Alkyl parahdroxy benzoates. A typically good rule of thumb is to avoid using anything on your body that you can barely pronounce!
No matter how you view these problems or concerns, it is impossible to ignore the facts about the whole paraben issue. There are some naysayers in the medical and scientific communities, but more and recent studies just keep uncovering the simple fact that paraben is an ingredient to avoid.
Consider what one health magazine wrote:
…over the past few years, a debate has been building among scientists, product safety regulators and cosmetic manufacturers about whether these ubiquitous chemicals, used for almost 70 years, may actually be harmful to our health.
Some of the questions being asked: Is the rising incidence of breast cancer linked in part to the fact that parabens, which have a weak ability to mimic estrogen, have been found in breast cancer tumours and can be isolated from other body tissues? Are declining sperm counts and increasing rates of male breast cancer and testicular cancer related to the fact that these chemicals can be absorbed into our skin, potentially disrupting our endocrine systems?
In addition to studies revealing the presence of paraben in breast tumours, a recent Danish study revealed that “parabens could be detected in the blood and urine of healthy young male volunteers a few hours after paraben-containing lotions were applied to their skin.”
What the Industry Says
Though it is frightening to hear that such a commonly and widely used ingredient has seemingly slipped under the radar, it has started to be seen as a much more harmful compound. If there is any good news where this is concerned, it is that more studies are showing this ingredient to be the guilty party.
When a problem is identified, it can be alleviated. And the beauty product industry can simply find alternatives… yet few have taken such steps at this time.
Why? It has to do with conflicting reports. For instance, the USDA and the Cosmetic Ingredient Review panel insist that paraben use is “safe at current exposure levels”. They reached such a conclusion by looking at product recipes dating from 1984 and those of 2005, as well as modern products, and feel that no single product delivers a risky exposure to paraben.
The problem is, as the famous Environmental Working Group has repeatedly insisted, that it is not a matter of “individual product exposure but [the industry] must find a way to evaluate the cumulative impact of many products used over many years.”
After all, most adult consumers will use roughly nine different personal care products each day, and any of them could contain more than one type of paraben. In fact, in their “Exposures Add Up” survey, the group had this to say:
Women use more products than men, and are exposed to more unique ingredients daily, but men use a surprisingly high number of products as well. The average woman uses 12 products containing 168 unique ingredients every day. Men, on the other hand, use 6 products daily with 85 unique ingredients, on average… ingredients that are known or probable reproductive and developmental toxins, linked to impaired fertility or developmental harm for a baby in the womb or a child. These statistics do not account for exposures to phthalates that testing shows appear in an estimated three quarters of all personal care products but that, as components of fragrance, are not listed on product ingredient labels.
As already explained, the industry tests risks of exposure to the consumer by looking at the impact of a single compound at a time, one-by-one instead of in a combined formula. And, they test as if the only exposure comes from that single product and not the entire environment. In light of such slanted studies, it is clear that industry is wrong in adhering to the continued use of paraben ingredients.
Additionally, many industry professionals insist that it is far greater a risk to be exposed to microbes and bacteria that the use of parabens prevents. Even firms looking to eliminate parabens insist that this is a worse threat. Gary Leong, VP of a skin cream firm in Canada said that “until effective alternatives are found, more consumers might actually be harmed by micro-organisms growing in their products”
Fortunately, many manufacturers are already taking steps to eliminate paraben and produce paraben free skincare lines.
Alternatives to Parabens
Can there be a safer way to get the benefits of parabens without using them? It is interesting to point out that paraben became the ingredient of choice when it was discovered to be more cost effective than formaldehyde!
Today, it is considered one of the best, and most affordable, preservatives and antimicrobial compounds, so getting manufacturers to eliminate it from their formulas is a financial, ethical and safety issue. The need to identify an affordable and effective alternative is something that many are exploring, and there are some surprisingly simple answers at hand.
For example, if consumers would be willing to store all beauty and skincare products in the refrigerator, it would be one direct way of limiting any microbial issues at all. Of course, this would greatly shorten the shelf life of products as they waited for purchase in stores and markets. To make paraben free makeup and paraben free skincare means looking for natural sources of paraben that are not altered in any way, or finding natural materials that provide the same benefits.
Currently, some companies used grapefruit seed extract, lavender oil, goldenseal root, and herbs like oregano, rosemary and thyme as preservatives. Some makers have turned to grapeseed oil in higher concentrations, and most using paraben alternatives will go to great lengths to be certified as organic.
A firm that can offer Certified Organic skincare and beauty products is going to offer a buyer far more than the guarantee that there is no paraben in cosmetics or other goods.
Understanding Organic and Paraben Free
There are a few ways to be sure that you are obtaining the safest products for your skincare, hair care and beauty regimen. You can always seek out a product that is “BDIH” certified. The group is “the non-profit Association of Industries and Trading Firms for pharmaceuticals, health care products, food supplements and personal hygiene products”. The group has more than 400 distributors and producers of natural cosmetics, supplements and beauty products. They have tested more than 2,000 products and use very rigid guidelines to assure consumers that a product was not animal tested, obtained from dead animals, is not GMO, is sourced from organic plants and minerals only, and is even packaged to avoid waste.
Other top certification agencies include Organic Food Chain (OFC), Australian Certified Organic (ACO) and USDA Organic, as well as BioGro New Zealand and OTCO Oregon Tilth Certified Organic, among others.
In addition to seeking out organic certified goods, you can use vendors specializing in Certified Organic skincare and beauty products exclusively. The very best refuse to stock or sell items that have failed to obtain organic certification.
Not only will such vendors supply products that are both safe and effective, they can actually deliver a much better value over the long term.
Benefits of Organic Beauty Products
Let’s reconsider what we learned as we looked at the medical studies around paraben ingredients. They are compounds absorbed by the skin, and in unknown mixtures that could each cause a host of issues. Consider the simple truth as pointed out by one expert on organic products:
What goes on your skin eventually goes in your body. If you slather chemical-filled soaps, lotions and creams over your skin, your body absorbs those toxins. That means common artificial chemicals in conventional beauty products, like phthalates, parabens, petroleum waxes and others, go straight into your body.
Not only are the non-organic products full of these obvious toxins, but they are also full of, well…fillers! Unwanted materials like fragrances and oils that are used to bulk up the blend without any real benefits, and even some causing irritation or harm (such as fragrance ingredients).
Paraben in cosmetics and beauty products is seen as necessary for preservation, but many organic cosmetic firms are able to create formulas without such compounds. Because of that, they are much simpler, and more readily absorbed and used by your body. In other words, organic cosmetics and beauty products tend to work better.
If you think of these items in the same ways that you think of food – doesn’t the meal made of whole foods and natural ingredients taste and look much better than a dish made of processed and artificial ingredients? Of course! And the same thing can be said of organic cosmetics. Not only do they offer you the enormous direct benefits of pure ingredients and high quality compounds, but they provide far greater “nutrition” to the skin and body when you use them. And also consider what happens if you wash those products from the skin and down the drain. Only the organic skincare and cosmetics will not add anything harmful to the water or ground.
It is important to include the ecological benefits of organic beauty products in the argument. After all, with minimal processing, ethical sourcing, and even recyclable or no-impact packaging, these products will never harm the planet.
Paraben free skincare is an essential part of improving your skin, health and even that of the planet. Though not as widely available as the commercial compounds, they offer you much more value and long-term benefits, and should replace any paraben products you currently use.
“Why Your Skin Deserves Organic Beauty Products – Organic Authority”. Organic Authority. N.p., 2013. Web. 29 June 2016.
“Certified Natural Cosmetics: BDIH”. Kontrollierte-naturkosmetik.de. N.p., 2016. Web. 29 June 2016.
“Exposures Add Up – Survey Results | Skin Deep® Cosmetics Database | EWG”. Ewg.org. N.p., 2016. Web. 29 June 2016.
“Parabens – Warning: They Are In Many Things We Use And Could Be Doing Us Harm – The Kind Human”. The Kind Human. N.p., 2014. Web. 29 June 2016.
“Parabens: What Are They, And Are They Really That Bad?”. Best Health Magazine Canada. N.p., 2008. Web. 29 June 2016.