Monday, 15 August 2011

Skincare Chemicals to Avoid: Parabens

Today, I will write about a group of chemicals that can be present in almost any product, from shampoo to deodorant, but at the same time it is placed on numerous ‘to avoid’ watch lists.

What are parabens?
Parabens are used as preservatives in many personal care products. Any product that contains water requires a preservative in order to prevent growth of microorganisms. Using synthetic parabens is an easy and inexpensive way to prolong the shelf life of products, which works very well for large brands. Most commonly used parabens are propyl, methyl, butyl and benzylparabens. They are easy to identify in the ingredients list and are usually (hopefully!) located toward the end of the list (i.e. smaller quantities at the end)

The controversy
What is the fuss surrounding parabens you may think? What’s wrong with using a preservative in order to protect my product from yucky microorganisms? Well, to start with, parabens can imitate the effects of hormone oestrogen on a weak basis. All women need oestrogen to function properly, however, it is important to keep oestogren levels on an individual balance. Too much or too little oestrogen can have unfavourable effects. Main concerns about parabens are connected to them being found in breast cancer tissue. It is said that if cancerous tumours develop, increased oestrogen can encourage their growth. During treatment, doctors usually attempt to decrease oestrogen levels in the body, so the tumour does not get extra encouragement in its growth.
The influence of parabens on cancer development and its growth are not fully understood. The FDA (US Food and Drug Administration) has relatively recently
(October 2007) updated information on parabens, still concluding that these preservatives are safe to use in cosmetics. Main reasons for this conclusion came from a study (from 1984!) that has shown that it is safe to use parabens at levels under 25% of a product, and typically these are used from 0.01 to 0.3%. The FDA seems satisfied with the use of parabens because they are present at such low levels. However, these studies do not take into account the frequent use of each cosmetic product: for example on an average day a person can use soap, shampoo, shower gel, shaving products, moisturizers, serums, conditioner, numerous make up products (and some products more than once!) all of which may contain parabens. And that happens on everyday basis!
It is worth noting that according to the European Commission’s Scientific Committee on Consumer Products, longer chain parabens like propyl and butyl paraben, and isopropyl and isobutylparabens may disrupt endocrine system and can be linked with reproductive and developmental disorders.

If your head is spinning with all the blablawhatareyoutalkingabout-parabens, you are not alone. The evidence is not conclusive, but if there is a potential risk, why not avoid all together? It is not as hard as it may seem. It seems many brands pride themselves in not including synthetic parabens in their products (e.g. Pai), and go for natural preservatives. It may cost just a tiny bit more, but I believe it would be worth it. Have you got experiences in trying to avoid parabens that you could share? 

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