Why Parabens Could Be Bad For You!!!
Walk through any beauty aisle and you’re bound to see multiple products prominently touting their “paraben-free” formulas on the packaging. Perhaps you’re even seeking them out. You certainly wouldn’t be the only one. It’s pretty clear that consumers are moving away from parabens — but why? Turns out it’s not as simple as it seems. To demystify the conflicting opinions around parabens, we turned to experts on both sides of the argument.
Not quite sure what the big deal is? Here’s what you should know.
What are parabens and why are they in so many cosmetics products?
Parabens are a class of chemicals that are used as preservatives in many personal care products, including lotions, shampoos, toothpastes, makeup, and more. There are six types of parabens commonly used in personal care products — methyl-, ethyl-, propyl-, isopropyl-, butyl-, and isobutylparabens — and they all work to help curb bacterial growth and extend the shelf life of those products. “Not having a preservative in a product or having an under-preserved product could mean that there’s bacterial contamination in that product, And, as you can imagine, introducing that product to your skin, your eyes, your mouth — all the places that we use personal care products — could have detrimental effects.”
So then, what’s so bad about them?
While it’s certainly important to keep bacteria at bay, and parabens accomplish that, there’s concern that they can also do some real harm — borne out of the fact that the chemicals (particularly the “long-chain” parabens like butyl-, isobutyl-, propyl-, and isopropylparabens) are considered potential endocrine disruptors. Endocrine disruption is basically the disruption of the normal function of the hormone system, and our hormone system drives all of the functions of our body. Any alteration or disruption to the function of our body can alter growth, development, and reproduction, and brain function, for example. Parabens specifically mimic the hormone estrogen and could thus interfere with the production of that hormone.
If they’re so bad, why haven’t they been banned?
It all comes down to the fact that, while there are concerns, no research has been conclusive enough to convince the FDA to regulate the use of parabens. Published research does not show small amounts of parabens in cosmetics pose a significant risk to health, Says a New York dermatologist Dr. Patricia Wexler, Studies that have been done, show that there haven’t been enough to warrant serious concern. “In science we don’t look at one or two studies that draw conclusions if they’re outside what the large body of data suggests”
Sometimes, though, preservatives are necessary, which leaves companies and consumers who want to avoid them looking to alternatives. There are certainly natural alternatives like grape seed extract, lavender, green tea, & eucalyptus. But there is no ideal solution that fits all skin types.
That said, it’s important to note that “natural” doesn’t necessarily always mean “good.” There are many, many chemicals that are found naturally that we shouldn’t rub on our skin, So, whether you’re looking at parabens or alternative options, look beyond whether they’re natural or synthetic, and to what they actually do.
It’s also important to know as a consumer that the absence of parabens doesn’t automatically qualify a product as safe. The fact that it doesn’t have parabens says nothing about what it does have in there. In many cases parabens could be replaced with something equally as hazardous, or more hazardous in some cases. So we advise shoppers not to focus on the claims on the front of the package, but actually to look at the ingredients themselves.
Of course, unless you happen to be a toxicology expert, that’s easier said than done. So many products have long ingredient lists full of words that are difficult to pronounce, much less understand. That’s where the EWG’s Skin Deep database could come in really handy, though. The database contains information on more than 65,000 cosmetics products, which it scores based on more than 60 regulatory and toxicity academic industry databases that contain studies on various ingredients. You can search specific products you’re already aware of by name (or by scanning bar codes with the Healthy Living app), or use the database to discover new, safe alternatives. Each product listed has a score from 1 to 10, with 1 being the best and 10 being the worst. And if a product you’re curious about isn’t in the database, you can still get information the specific ingredients it contains.
What’s the bottom line?
If you’re buying your cosmetics from a large, reputable cosmetics company, these companies have regulatory and safety departments that make sure all these current regulations are being followed for their formulations. So these things are well understood, well regulated, and well taken care of when you’re buying from a company that basically follows the rules. Now if you’re ordering something over the Internet from a company in China, or from somebody who’s making this stuff at home in their bathtub and you’re buying it on Strawberry Net, that’s a different story. Either out of ignorance — someone may not know the regulations if they’re making some small, handcrafted brand…or they may just be willfully ignoring the rules if they’re some fly-by-night overseas Internet company.”
Of course, the science can be overwhelming, as can any reports of potentially harmful effects in your products. And if you’re concerned about parabens, it’s certainly fine to try to go without — as long as you take the time to at least do some research on whatever may be taking their place.