Your Cosmetics Paraben Free?

I get asked almost daily what I think about parabens in cosmetic products. The answer to this question is not so straightforward, but I would like to tell you more about it. Once you know how it is, you can make your own mind up if you want to use or recommend products with this chemical. I have already written a blog about (‘What Is the Precise Situation with Parabens’ and ‘Parabens; Breast Cancer and Infertility?’), but there is still much more to tell you! Do your cosmetics need to be paraben free?

Preservatives are necessary

Parabens are the most widely used out of all preservatives. The term parabens is actually a collective name for chemicals, the most common parabens being Methylparaben, Ethylparaben, p-Propylparaben, Isobutylparaben, n-Butylparaben and Benzylparaben. In general, you’ll find more than one type of paraben in a product. Parabens are difficult to avoid, an investigation into preservatives from 215 cosmetic products revealed that parabens were used in 99% of the cosmetic creams (abstract). The chance that skin problems are caused through other ingredients- and not parabens- is then much higher. Unfortunately there are staggeringly high numbers of irritating substances in our cosmetic products, many of which are significantly more likely to cause allergies or skin irritation. Perfume, for example, is the number 1 cause of skin problems, but the consumer doesn’t realise this negative association. In fact the first thing that most people do when trying out a product is to check if it smells nice.

Even in your food….

What most people don’t realise is that parabens are not only found in cosmetic products; there is a big chance that your breakfast, lunch or evening meal is not paraben free. Sometimes they are added, but there are more often natural parabens found in food. For the conscious eaters among us; natural parabens are even in cucumbers, fruit, green tea and soya. Very useful, as in this way these products are protecting themselves against decay. Parabens are also often added to medicines. The CIR (Cosmetic Ingredient Review, an American advisory board that scientifically scrutinises the safety of cosmetic ingredients) assessed methylparaben, propylparaben and butylparaben in 1984 as being safe in cosmetic products up to a percentage of 25% (link). The safety of parabens was investigated further by the CIR in 2003 and 2005 (whereby the safety of parabens was checked specifically in women and children) and was still found to be safe.

UV damage?

But perhaps you should still be a bit careful with parabens in cosmetic products… The presence of parabens in a cream can, in theory, accelerate skin ageing due to the sun. That could mean that an anti-wrinkle cream containing parabens will do more harm than good. Following a study in 2006 (abstract) it appeared that human skin cells (keratinocytes) which were exposed to parabens for 24 hours in a test tube became more damaged by UVB rays than skin cells which had no parabens mixed with them. Without UVB rays there was no difference. However you could overcome this by daily use of an SPF, a sensible idea anyway.

Paraben free products

A little warning for all the people who buy “paraben free”products. There are often more old fashioned preservatives added to these cosmetic products which have a far worse safety record than parabens. For example I think of chemicals such as:

  • methylchloroisothiazolinone/methylisothiazolinone
  • quaternium-15
  • 2-bromo-2-nitropropane-1,3-diolaka (AkaBronopol)
  • diazolidinyl urea
  • imidazolidinyl urea
  • DMDM Hydantoin

I recently read a statement from someone about the use of parabens in cosmetic products and I would like to close with it:

“If you’re the kind of person who triple-locks and checks her doors, you’ll use paraben-free products. Yet, based on the current scientific research, there does not seem to be health risks from paraben use in typical skin care products, so I myself am sticking to my tried-and-true favorite beauty products, regardless of paraben content.”

Regards Jetske.

(Dr. Jetske Ultee-Research Physician Cosmetic Dermatology)

You can also read:
‘Parabens; Breast Cancer or Infertility‘,
Hypo-Allergenic or Dermatologically Tested?’,
Perfume in (too Many) Baby Products’,
Cosmetic Products for Men and Women: Spot the Difference”,
Luxury Ingredients for Your Skin‘,
Alcohol in Skincare Products; Rather Not!’,
Rubbish on the Cosmetics Market‘,
The Search for Your Miracle Cream’.

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