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Understanding parabens, facts vs. fiction

Organic cosmetics
Organic cosmetics
The New Ecologist

There seems to be an influx of new skincare products hitting the shelf that say “No Parabens, Organic, and Natural.” Well, what does this mean to you the consumer? What are Parabens? Why is there a war against the use of Parabens? Are the marketing companies taking advantage of a new scare tactic to draw you towards purchasing their products? What is a Paraben anyway?

Let me start by giving you some factual information and guide you into the world of parabens. Parabens are simply preservatives that are added to products to prevent decomposition and bacterial growth. They are esters of p-hydroxybenzoic acid; common parabens include Methylparaben, Ethylparaben, Propylparaben, and Butylparaben. Parabens are most commonly used due to an excellent safety record and their low toxicity to humans. They also are effective against antimicrobials like mold and yeasts. Parabens are used at very low levels that range from 0.01% to 0.03% daily in food, toothpaste, hair products, etc. Parabens are regularly listed last or close to last on ingredient listings. This means they have the lowest concentration in the formula. It has also been documented by leading cancer research organizations: “No plausible biological mechanism by which Parabens could cause breast cancer.”

You might ask well…Why are Parabens getting such a bad rep? Parabens have been claimed to disrupt hormone function or mimic estrogen.Your skin contains a layer called the stratum corneum, which is designed to stop invading organisms. The stratum corneum actually prevents any deep penetration of product, you must consider the transport of an ingredient below 0.03% has little to no effect. As consumers, we are trying to become smarter about what we put in and on our bodies. In doing that, lines start to become blurred in regard to what is safe and unsafe. We must understand that when choosing natural products an alternative preservative must still be used. When choosing a "Paraben Free" product make sure they have an alternative form of preservative for your safety. Unfortunately, the word natural is used very loosely and currently has no real regulation in the industry. This allows for brands to take advantage of the new natural craze. Also, it has been known that some products labeled as organic can still have chemical ingredients that are known to be harmful due to very confusing labeling. Just be aware consumers and do your research. Parabens are safer than any product allowed to be ingested or applied to skin with mold, microbes, or bacteria from sitting on the shelf.