Tuesday, 8 May 2012

What are Parabens?

When writing about mineral make up the other day, I mentioned parabens. I know that most people have heard of them, but they don’t really know more than what we read in papers – “parabens are bad”, etc.

The thing is that every cream or foundation produced will need some sort of preservative, otherwise they will go off. Most cosmetic products (especially liquid based) have a shelf life of maybe three months, if refrigerated. In order to prolong the shelf life, cosmetic companies have to use preservatives. One of those is paraben and its varieties.

Parabens are esters of para-hydroxy benzoic acid. All of them are synthetically produced in the lab and they are quite cheap and effective, so they are added to products such as foundations, moisturisers, toothpaste, shampoo, self-tan, etc.
Some of them are present in nature, but for the sake of argument, we’ll look at them as man-made.

So why are parabens apparently bad for us?

I’ll start with allergic reactions. Although rare, they still happen to some people that they react to parabens.

Another, more controversial issue, is that parabens tend to slightly mimic estrogen in human body. Soy does that too, by the way.
Estrogen (oestrogen) is a female hormone that when produced in high concentrations can lead to breast cancer.

The fact is that the link between parabens and breast cancer was not proven. Mainly as the parabens are not staying in our bodies for long at all, they are very quickly metabolised and excreted. But the people will fear them anyway, so I’ll list them here in case you wish to avoid the products containing them.

Here they are: butylparaben, ethylparaben, heptylparaben, methylparaben, propylparaben.
Less common parabens include isobutylparaben, isopropylparaben, benzylparaben and their sodium salts.


So what are the alternatives to parabens?

I know that companies use phenoxyethanol, which on paper does not look that fabulous at all, but hey, it’s not paraben!
The “natural” alternatives are vitamin E, citric acid, grapefruit seed extract and rosemary oleoresin.

What do I think? Hmmm, I don't know what to say. I use products with parabens, I'm lucky that I'm not allergic to any of them, so if I happen to like the product and it contains parabens, I'll use it. 
I think that life is too short to worry constantly about what goes into or onto us. I just don't have the time to be obsessive about it really. And I think the stress is the biggest killer of them all.

Unless you get hit by a bus, then the bus is bigger, hands down!


  1. Kiki Rollinson8 May 2012 at 22:14

    Perhaps you have a point, but I still be rather safe than sorry! Oh, and by the way, soy is extremely bad for you (just like parabens), unless it's fermented, e.g. natto!

    1. Hi Kiki, thanks for your comment! What creams do you use that are not with parabens, and what's in them instead? Do the creams work for you and have you noticed any difference on yourself since not using parabens?