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What's the deal with parabens?

An example of a product labeled paraben free that is not natural or safe. Labeling can be deceiving!

Paraben & Sulfate free beauty, hair and body products have started to fill up the shelves of Target, Walmart and different drug stores. We’re going to go into a little more detail about what they are, how they negatively affect health and why seeing these labels on a product might not be an indication that the product is safe, non toxic or natural.

Yes, that’s right. The good news is that society is beginning to care about their long term health goals and invest more resources into ingredients to avoid in beauty products. The bad news is that companies are taking advantage of this in the name of making a profit.

Environmental Working Group

We found a wonderful article by the Environmental Working Group (EWG), a company that strives “to shine a spotlight on outdated legislation, harmful agricultural practices and industry loopholes that pose a risk to our health and the health of our environment.” Founded in 1993, “EWG’s team of scientists, policy experts, lawyers and communications and data experts work tirelessly to reform our nation’s broken chemical safety and agricultural laws. We push industries to adopt our standards and stand against chemicals of concern. We educate consumers with actionable information and inspire demand for safer products.” They state that their mission is simple: To empower you with breakthrough research to make informed choices and live a healthy life in a healthy environment.” We have used many direct quotes from this article because of this.

The article written by Tasha Stoiber discusses what parabens are and how they negatively affect the body. They were first used in the 1920s to preserve cosmetics that were then made predominantly with organic material that came from naturally occurring materials that would biodegrade. A concern listed by EWG is that parabens can disrupt hormones in the body and harm fertility and reproductive organs, affect birth outcomes, and increase the risk of cancer. Here’s a list of products that contain parabens.

  • moisturizers

  • face/skin cleaners

  • sunscreen

  • deodorants

  • shaving gels

  • toothpaste

  • makeup

While you are not consuming these harmful toxins, they are actually getting absorbed topically through the skin. Birth control and nicotine patches are great examples of how our body can absorb what we put on our skin. When people use products containing parabens everyday, like the instance with makeup on some women, they are putting themselves at much greater health risk. A study done by Berger, 2018 found that teen women who wore makeup had 20 times he levels of propylparaben in their urine compared to those who never or rarely wear makeup

Different Types of Parabens

  1. methylparaben

  2. ethylparaben

  3. propylparaben

  4. isopropylparaben

  5. butylparaben

  6. isobutylparaben

While they are all harmful, the longer-chain parabens (propyl- butyl-) have been shown in research to cause more of an increase and dysregulation is natural estrogen levels in women.

Adverse Health Effects

According to research, parabens can cause:

  • endocrine disruptors

  • reproductive harm

  • hormonal cancers

  • skin irritation

According to this article by Stoiber on EWG, “The U.N. Environment Programme has identified parabens as a group, including propyl- and butylparaben, as endocrine-disrupting chemicals or potential endocrine-disrupting chemicals (U.N. Environment 2017). The Danish Center on Endocrine Disruptors has also identified butyl- and isobutylparaben as endocrine disruptors (Danish Center on Endocrine Disrupters 2018).”

Parabens can act as phytoestrogens, acting like people’s natural estrogen levels, negatively affecting ale and female reproductive system functioning, reproductive development, fertility and birth outcomes. Scientists worry about the link between exposure to environmental estrogens and cancer, specifically breast cancer. Parabens can also irritate the skin and cause reactions.

Environmental Concerns

“Parabens are also linked to ecological harm, as low levels of butylparaben can kill coral, according to laboratory tests (Danovaro 2008). Parabens have been detected in surface waters, fish and sediments (Haman 2015). When parabens are combined with chlorinated tap water, a number of chlorinated paraben byproducts can form (Canosa 2006). Little is known about the toxicity of these byproducts, which may be more persistent (Haman 2015).”

What can we do?

Major retailers in the U.S. have planned or already have in place active bans or restrictions (EDF 2019). Whole Foods Market bans all four parabens as part of its premium body care standard. CVS has committed to removing them in CVS store brand products by 2019 and in all beauty, personal care and baby products at Target by 2020. Rite Aid lists butyl- and propylparaben on its restricted substances list to phase out of some products by 2020. Walgreens has committed to removing isopropyl- and isobutylparaben by 2021.

Government bans

Since 2015, the EU has banned isopropyl- and isobutylparaben in all personal care products, because of the European Commission’s Scientific Committee on Consumer Safety declaration that “adequate evidence has not been provided for the safe use of propyl- or butylparaben in cosmetics” (SCCS 2013). These parabens are also banned in personal care products in 10 Southeast Asian countries, as determined by the intergovernmental Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). The use of propyl- and butylparaben is restricted in the EU, ASEAN and Japan.”

Our Opinion

We believe that it’s essential to avoid parabens, however, since companies are taking advantage of the fact that people are finally catching on to how vital it is to live a toxin-free lifestyle. Companies like Herbal Essences (which is hardly herbal at all), Olay and Neutrogena have come out with hair and beauty products that are labeled Paraben Free. We are told that Parabens are non-natural, can cause serious health issues, and to seek a more natural alternative to the same products we’re already using.

The issue with this is that when the average consumer reads paraben and sulfate free on their shampoo bottle of Herbal Essences, they’re going to think that they are doing something good for themselves by buying that product. They’re thinking that they’ve taken a step in a healthier direction. The point is that just because something is labeled Paraben free does not mean it’s safe. Many of these products are still filled with other fillers, coloring, preservatives, fragrances and other ingredients proven by research to be both endocrine duripting and carcinogenic.


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