Paraben free is a popular buzzword flying around the beauty industry. What are parabens and why should you care whether or not they are in your hair and skincare products?
What benefits are there to a paraben free skincare regimen and what products out there are paraben free? Read on to find out.
What Are Parabens?
Parabens are a family of related chemicals derived from benzoic acid that are commonly used as preservatives in cosmetic products, foods and pharmaceuticals.
Their purpose is to prevent the growth of mold and bacteria to prolong the shelf life of the product and protect consumers from harm, though many believe they do more harm than good.
Parabens are commonly found in shampoo, toothpaste, skincare products such as makeup, anti-aging creams, facial masks, acne creams, foundation, fragrance products, foods ranging from nuts to pancake syrup and alcoholic beverages.
Research suggests that some 90% of grocery store products contain considerable levels of parabens.
The most common parabens found in commercial products are methylparaben, propylparaben, butylparaben, and ethylparaben.
Methylparaben is a pheromone found in a variety of insects that serves as an anti fungal agent. Propylparaben and butylparaben are found in many plants and are credited with anti-aging and antimicrobial properties.
Ethylparaben is another antimicrobial agent commonly found in alcoholic beverages such as wine and sake.
While most parabens occur naturally, the chemical agents are synthesized in a lab for use in commercial products.
Why Parabens Are Bad For Your Skin
With all of their uses and benefits you may be curious why many experts recommend a paraben free skincare regimen.
Parabens have been widely used in skincare and other products since the 1940s. It wasn’t until the 1990’s that research surfaced raising questions and concerns about the affects of extended exposure to parabens.
Research conducted by British cancer researcher Dr. Phillippa Darbre discovered a connection between parabens and breast cancer.
She conducted a study on twenty breast cancer tumors and discovered parabens present in all but two of them.
Further research revealed that parabens are xenoestrogens or agents that mimic estrogen in the human body.
This added pseudo-estrogen can disrupt the delicate hormone balance in the body and cause cancer and reproductive issues.
Researchers discovered that parabens and similar chemicals could be absorbed into the skin of pregnant women causing complications and birth defects, especially in male fetuses.
A study of the paraben, butylparaben found the agent had a negative effect on testosterone levels in rats.
Some experts and researchers believe the recent decline in sperm count and increased breast cancer rate in males could be connected to exposure to parabens in skincare products.
The xenoestrogen affect has also been linked to early onset puberty in young girls who have faced continued exposure to parabens.
Parabens have been known to cause allergic reactions, especially in children and those with sensitive skin. Reactions such as dermatitis and rosacea are commonly reported and connected to cosmetic bound parabens.
As a result of these findings, many countries and health care experts are recommending a limit on parabens in commercial products.
What is a Healthy Level of Paraben Exposure?
There is much controversy on what level of paraben exposure can cause harm to the human body.
Everyone is different and can be affected in different degrees of severity. The sweeping majority of experts on the subject suggest limiting or completely halting exposure to parabens in skincare products in order to avoid health issues such as cancer or allergic reaction.
There are others still who believe limited exposure should not cause any harm but growing evidence has caused an increasing amount of skepticism towards parabens.
Some countries in Europe have placed limitations on two of the most harmful parabens, butylparaben and isopropylparaben.
But other parabens that pose similar health risks have no restrictions and are considered safe for use in ingredients up to 25%.
Benefits of Paraben-Free Skincare
Limit Risk of Cancer
As mentioned above, parabens are known to introduce oestrogen to the human body. This estrogen-like hormone can greatly destabilize the sensitive endocrine balance causing cancer, especially breast cancer, and other complications.
Limit Risks of Reproductive Complications
Studies connect parabens to lower sperm count in males and the chemical agents can absorb into the skin of pregnant women causing complications and even birth defects.
Limit Risk of Early Onset Puberty
Extended exposure to parabens at a young age can cause early onset puberty due to the xenoestrogen affect.
Stop Skin Irritation and Redness
Ever noticed itchy red skin after applying makeup or using a skin cream? The likely culprits are parabens present in the product. Parabens are known to cause allergic reactions such as rosacea and dermatitis.
By substituting skincare products with paraben-free options with natural ingredients like vitamin E you may actually see more anti-aging benefits.
Smoother Shinier Hair
Parabens can tear apart the cuticle covering of the hair shaft causing, brittle, dry and frizzy hair. Your shampoo that promises silky clean hair can actually be doing the opposite and causing damage to your locks. Check your shampoo and conditioner bottles to see if they contain parabens.
Top Paraben-Free Skincare Products
So now you know the potential health risks of parabens in your hair and skincare products but what’s next?
How do you avoid parabens and their risks? There are products on the market that use natural alternatives to parabens, many are high in vitamin E and offer greater benefits.
Some of these natural alternatives include:
Grapefruit Seed Extract
Grapefruit seed extract is a common replacement for parabens with similar antimicrobial properties as the controversial agents.
Oils, Vitamins and Herbs
Some natural oils, vitamins, and herbs have similar preservative properties but sacrifice in the way of longevity. They are only useful in products that a consumer will use immediately.
Sodium benzoate naturally occurs in fruits and roots and is commonly found in salad dressings and is an all natural, risk free alternative to parabens.
Prickly Pear Seed Oil
Prickly pear seed oil is a relatively new ingredient and paraben replacement in the skincare world.
It is found in Africa and contains some of the highest vitamin E concentration of any beauty oil on the market.
Here is a list of some of the top paraben-free hair and skincare products and brands on the market that utilize these natural alternatives.
Mun Beauty – This line is meant to unite beauty, health and sustainability. Ingredients are solely derived from plants sourced from women-owned, responsibly managed local co-operatives.
Bare Minerals Nude and Nice – Formulated without parabens, sulfates and phthalates.
Ilia Tinted Lip Color – An organic, cult-classic lip tint that finishes like a sheer lipstick and nourishes like a hydrating lip balm.
Tarte Tartelette In Bloom Clay Eye Shadow Palette – An eyeshadow palette with 12 brand-new shades formulated without parabens or sulfates.
Tarte Lifted Sweatproof Mascara – This product is vegan, dermatologist tested, ophthalmologist tested, and safe for contact lens wearers.
Anti-Aging and Wrinkle Creams
Mahalo Skincare – Hand crafted artisan skin care from Hawaii. Made from high-quality organic ingredients.
CV Skin Labs – CV Skin Labs refuses to use ingredients that are potentially toxic or hormone-disrupting. Each product is rigorously tested for purity, tolerance and customer satisfaction.
Odacite – This company’s philosophy is founded on the idea that fresh is best. The freshness of the raw ingredients is what makes a skin care product potent and effective.
May Lindstrom Skin – This is luxury, hand-crafted skin care, using the highest quality, sustainable ingredients nature has to offer.
Caudalie Vine Activ Glow Activating Anti-Wrinkle Serum – The brand’s signature grapeseed polyphenols join spruce extract to support natural antioxidant defenses.
Shampoos and Conditioners
John Master’s Organics – this universal formula includes white tea and, to boost the hair’s moisture and strength, an elixir of evening primrose, jojoba oil and chamomile.
Orchid Oil – this unique formula blends orchid oil, acai berry and UVA/UVB filters to moisturize, strengthen and protect against fading.
Weleda – oat extract, sage leaves and jojoba oils work together to strengthen, revitalize and smooth your hair.
Live Clean Vitamin Shampoo and Conditioner – A vitamin rich cocktail (B5, provitamin B, D and K) works with avocodo extract to nourish, hydrate and repair split ends.
Dr. Bronners – Dr. Bronner's uses their castile soap base and mixes in shikakai from organic sugar and grape juice.
Paraben Free Skincare Review Summary
Parabens have been vilified in the skincare industry and rightly so. These chemical preservatives are linked to severe complications from allergic reactions and early onset puberty to reproductive complications and cancer.
It can be easily argued that their risks out-weigh their benefits. Many suggest avoiding parabens in skincare products, which is easy to do.
Take a look at all of your products at home. If you see the word paraben in the ingredients, throw them out and replace them with paraben-free options that use preservative alternatives such as grapefruit seed extract, sodium benzoate, prickly pear seed oil among others.
Be conscious of the risks you take with your body and limit them by making informed skincare purchases.