You may have seen skincare products, shampoos and conditioners labelled “paraben-free” recently and wondered what parabens are.
What are Parabens?
Parabens are man-made, cost effective preservative chemicals used by manufacturers in a variety of domestic products, such as cosmetics, lotions/moisturisers, shampoo, shaving, and tanning products to provide protection against micro-organisms for an extended period of time.
First used in the 1920s, parabens are thought to disrupt membrane transport processes of some key enzymes in bacterial species, with some parabens being stronger than others. However, parabens also enter your body through your skin when you use these products.
Here are some of the common parabens used that you should look out for: Methylparaben (E218), Ethylparaben (E214), Propylparaben (E216), Butylparaben and Heptylparaben (E209).
Are Parabens Safe?
Over the past few years, a debate has been building among scientists, product safety regulators and cosmetic manufacturers about whether these chemicals may be harmful for your health.
Most studies on paraben toxicity data are from single exposure studies on one paraben type in one product (e.g. parabens in deodorants). This is believed to be a negligible risk to the endocrine system.
However, as we are exposed to many types of parabens in many types of products every day, further studies are required to provide conclusive risk.
For people with sensitive skin, parabens have been known to cause contact dermatitis, rosacea and other skin irritations.
In recent years, awareness has increased as to the role of parabens in producing potentially serious health side effects.
In 2010, Denmark announced that it will ban propylparaben and butylparaben from lotions and cosmetic products for children under 3. In 2014, the European Commission banned further parabens for use by babies and young children
The concern about endocrine disruption has led to an increase in the use of paraben alternatives.
What Paraben Alternatives Exist?
There are natural and other synthetic alternatives to parabens, such as using oils and extracts from plants, or more benign chemicals and consumers are more frequently seeking out paraben-free alternatives.
See next page for more on paraben alternatives…