After reading the article by Catarina Alves on the ‘Ellas Hablan‘ (‘Women Talk’) website, we wanted to share all aspects of the “witch hunt” against ingredients prohibited in modern cosmetics with you. We are fascinated by this topic, and decided to discuss and explain it in a simple and understandable way. If you want to take a look at the original post (in Spanish), click here.
The increase in demand for paraben-free cosmetics indicates that people nowadays have more knowledge and pay more attention to health. However, few people know exactly why they want to avoid these ingredients. The general established idea is that they are bad for us, but why are they bad?
We will tell you all about parabens, their bad reputation and the reasons why many experts warn of the risk of searching for alternatives in brands that attempt to take advantage of this marketing frenzy.
What are parabens and why are they used?
Parabens are a compound consisting of acid and alcohol derived from p-hydroxybenzoic acid. There are several types of parabens according to their composition, and the most commonly used forms in the cosmetics industry are methylparaben, propyl parahydroxybenzoate and butylparaben. Despite their complicated scientific names, these compounds are nothing more than preservatives.
They are commonly found in personal care products such as soaps, moisturizers and deodorants, and can also be included in many makeup products.
Due to their composition based on acids and alcohol, parabens prevent the growth and spread of bacteria, microbes and mold in these products – which is very important if we consider the fact that they are usually stored in humid environments (such as the bathroom) and often are exposed to germs through direct contact with the skin of our hands. Their purpose is simply to increase the lifespan of these products and retain their properties and qualities for longer.
Are they bad for us?
Despite their widespread use in the cosmetics industry, today, parabens have fallen out of favor as a result of several scientific studies that have raised questions regarding their safety.
In 2004, traces of parabens were discovered in breast cancer patients. Although it was not proven whether these were the cause, the first doubts were raised against their use.
The European Union declared in 2008 that parabens ethyl p-hydroxybenzoate and methylparaben were safe, but also recognized that further studies were required into the possible side effects caused by propyl parahydroxybenzoate and butylparaben use. In 2015, the EU introduced a regulation to reduce the amounts and use of propyl parahydroxybenzoate and butylparaben in cosmetics products, such as moisturizers, intended for children under the age of 3.
The general conclusion of all studies on parabens is that yes, they may have contraindications and further detailed studies are necessary, particularly regarding their possible role in the development of cancer. However, they are also some of the most controlled preservatives in the cosmetics industry and researchers warn of the danger of using their bad reputation as a marketing strategy.
Although researchers are in favor of safer and more natural alternatives, they fear that brands will start using the paraben-free label to attract more consumers, exchanging them for other less-researched types of preservatives with possibly more harmful consequences for the body.
Should I use paraben-free cosmetics?
The use of paraben-free cosmetics is a matter of personal preference.
If you do not mind using cosmetic products with parabens, experts recommend avoiding those with propyl parahydroxybenzoate and butylparaben and to opt for ethyl paraben and methylparaben, since the latter are better-researched in terms of their consequences and are considered as safe parabens.
How to tell if cosmetics contain parabens:
Paraben-free cosmetics usually declare this by either using a logo or with a small phrase on their labels. However, no legislation obliges them to indicate this on their labels.
If the formula contains parabens, they should be listed in the product ingredients list. Search the list for names like:
- Propyl parahydroxybenzoate, propylparaben
- Methyl p-hydroxybenzoate, methyl para-hydroxybenzoate, methylparaben or methyl paraben
- Ethyl p-hydroxybenzoate, ethyl para-hydroxybenzoate or ethylparaben,
In Per Purr, we use another preservative (derived from coconut oil). This choice is NOT because we hate parabens, but because it is a high-quality raw material, which in addition to preserving our products, also provides them with extra soothing properties for skin and hair.