Parting Ways With Parabens

Parting Ways With Parabens

Posted by Valerie McTavish on Oct 05, 2012 | Green Living

Potentially harmful preservatives have been a mainstay in beauty products for decades but ongoing research has women raising an eyebrow. Are you ready to break-up with these bad boys and say hello to paraben-freedom?

Parabens are a group of chemical additives found in a great deal of cosmetics, beauty and personal care products that have been found to be potential endocrine disruptors and xenoestrogens. What does that mean? This substance has the ability to change how effectively glands work and to act as estrogen within the body. And while parabens do appear naturally in products like blueberries and carrots, they behave differently when they are absorbed into the skin than when they are metabolized.

Scientists have postulated that, because estrogen plays a key role in the development of breast cancer, a link between the chemical and breast cancer (as well as early onset puberty in girls) is likely. A small medical study (Darbre, 2004) found 20 breast cancer patients had parabens in their tumors. Health Canada and the Canadian Cancer Society have deemed this study to be inconclusive. A slightly larger study (by the same researcher) was published in 2012 which found 99% of breast cancer tumors contained some form of paraben. Researchers at the Kyoto Prefectural University of Medicine found that skin products containing methylparaben accelerated the aging of skin cells when exposed to sunlight.

Europe has restrictions in place regarding paraben use however North America manufacturers do not face the same regulations. Despite being told it’s safe, many women see these studies as reason enough to raise an eyebrow at who their skin has been keeping company with.

Like being stuck in a bad relationship, breaking up with parabens can be hard to do. Parabens are in a lot of products because it is an inexpensive way to extend shelf life so you may be surprised to find out just how involved you are.

You can make a clean break by rounding up all of the paraben-laced items in your home and kicking them to the curb. It may be the best way to break up but it will likely leave you with a long shopping list. The easier way out is to identify the products that you use most often and most pervasively like moisturizers, shampoo and sunscreens as well as products for thinner skin like eye cream, and replace those right away. The remaining products can be replaced when they run out. This is a slower, gentler transition kind of like saying, ‘we can still be friends.’

Parabens are listed on labels in many different derivatives so read carefully. Watch for long names with paraben on the end, like isobutylparaben.  Even with careful reading, you may miss some because they can be covered up by the blanket listing of ‘fragrance’. The surest way to know if a product is paraben-free is when it clearly says so on the label. 

And while you’re at it, you might want to also say goodbye to parabens’ bad-boy friends -- phthalates, sodium laureth sulfate (SLS) and synthetic fragrances.