By now it seems like everybody and their mama is aware that parabens are bad, bad, bad and should be avoided as much as possible. Yay for awareness! Yay for making healthier choices! But have you ever wondered exactly WHY we’re avoiding this chemical in our personal care products? What are parabens, anyway? Are they really that dangerous? How can they be avoided?
Parabens are preservatives meant to extend the shelf life of your health and beauty products. They’re found in cosmetics, shampoo, pharmaceuticals, lotion, shaving cream, and scads of other items you and your family probably use every day. Because these products can eventually “go bad” or spoil just like food, parabens are added to prevent bacterial and fungal growth. They’re extremely cheap and highly effective, which explains why they’re ingredients in practically every personal care product.
Although controversy exists on just how harmful parabens really are, they have shown the ability to mimic the hormone estrogen. Estrogen is known to play a role in the development of breast cancer, and very low concentrations of parabens have also been found in breast cancer tumors. While current research has not found a direct link between parabens and breast cancer, these studies also fail to show that parabens are entirely safe. There is virtually no data on the long term effects of paraben use. Basically: they may cause cancer, or they may not. We’re really not sure what the effects are right now. Since the studies are so inconclusive, many consumers have chosen to avoid parabens altogether, or at least as much as possible. Considering mercury was not officially banned as a cosmetic ingredient in the United States until 1990 (!!!), they may be absolutely right to eschew parabens!
Luckily, there are paraben alternatives available and more and more companies are beginning to use them.
Leuconostoc is one such alternative; it’s a naturally occurring peptide with antimicrobial properties similar to parabens. Danish company Symrise launched another alternative in 2010 called Hydrolite 6 that has also been proven to increase the moisture in skin. Skincare is most definitely a science, and one that is improving all the time!
If you’re concerned about the potential and unknown effects of parbens, the most important thing to do is check the ingredient labels of your products. Look out for methyl, ethyl, propyl, butyl, and heptyl forms of parabens and be aware that words like “natural” and “fresh” can be slapped on anything, regardless of contents. Don’t be misled; read the label first!
So what do you think? Should we be concerned about parabens? Do you make an effort to avoid them?