Dirty Dozen of Cosmetics; Parabens
Dirty Dozen of Cosmetics; Parabens
Parabens are very commonly used in cosmetics. It is estimated that up to 90% of cosmetic products contain parabens. Parabens are used in cosmetic preservatives. The harmfulness of parabens has been discussed for a long time. Unfortunately, there are only few alternatives to parabens. Parabens and their avoidance is one of the main reasons why I make cosmetics myself.
This article belongs to the series “Dirty Dozen of Cosmetics”. In this series, I am taking about harmful chemicals commonly found in cosmetics. This time we take a closer look at parabens; what they are and why they are harmful.
Parabens are preservatives in cosmetics
Parabens are esters of para-hydroxybenzoic acid. The most common parabens are ethyl paraben, methyl paraben, propyl paraben and butyl paraben.
Parabens are very effective preservatives. They are used in cosmetics, detergents and even foodstuffs. Parabens effectively inhibit the growth of bacteria and mould in various products.
In which products are parabens used?
Most water-based hygiene- and cosmetic products contain a paraben-based preservative. Parabens are not allowed in certified natural cosmetics. Parabens are also generally not used as a preservative by small non-certified natural cosmetics producers.
Parabens also occur in nature. For example, blueberry contains methyl paraben. It is blueberry’s own preservative. However, paraben levels in natural products are really low. Harmful levels of parabens are obtained from cosmetics and hygiene products such as shower soaps.
Why should parabens be avoided?
Preservatives are absolutely essential in many products. Preservatives ensure product safety. Without the preservative, the product would be spoiled in a few days. Parabens are definitely a better thing than no preservative at all.
According to official recommendations, a person can tolerate parabens 10mg / day per kilogram of body weight without a risk of getting ill. This is quite a huge amount. There are, of course, many views on this. The industry does not want to give up an effective preservative and the research results are in line with that. Once parabens have been found to be harmful in some studies, the industry immediately conducts its own study in which they are found to be completely safe. It is entirely up to the authorities what studies are relevant. That is why we consumers must be awake.
Only one paraben at a time has been used in studies on the harmfulness of parabens. In reality, products always contain several different parabens at the same time. The interaction of different parabens has not been adequately studied.
The problems of parabens also continue in nature. Paraben decomposition residues are highly toxic and harmful to both nature and humans.
Parabens are irritating and sensitizing ingredients
Parabens are very common preservatives. If you use non-natural cosmetic products bought from supermarket, it is virtually impossible to avoid them. The majority of the population is exposed to parabens on a daily basis. Although parabens are not actually allergenic, sensitization is very common. Because the body is so often exposed to parabens, paraben allergy is very common. In general, changing a cosmetic product does not help because parabens are found in almost every product. Only Natural Cosmetics does not contain preservatives. Even then, you should make sure that the manufacturer uses only ingredients that are allowed in natural cosmetics. ECOCERT and COSMOS certificates are the most reliable guarantee of product quality. The products of small natural cosmetics manufacturers are quite often paraben-free but unfortunately not always.
Parabens cause hormonal disorders
The main concern for parabens is their estrogenic properties. Parabens have been classified as weak xenoestrogens. Xenoestrogens are substances that mimic oestrogens. Xenoestrogens are harmful to health. They interfere with hormonal function by advancing puberty. Therefore, products containing parabens intended for children should definitely be avoided. Denmark has banned parabens in products for children under 3 years of age.
Xenoestrogens increase the mucosa of the uterus, causing endometriosis. Xenoestrogens also cause a painful condition in the uterus called adenomyosis.
The effect of xenoestrogens has been studied among other things in reproduction of fish. Xenoestrogens were found to interrupt the normal development of fish genitals. The fish could no longer reproduce. Xenoestrogens also affect men’s health. It has been speculated that the decrease in sperm count in men may be due to exposure to xenoestrogens in uterus.
Some parabens are more harmful than others. It has been found that different paraben groups have varying degrees of estrogenic activity. Therefore, Isopropyl paraben, isobutyl paraben, phenyl paraben, benzyl paraben and pentyl paraben were banned by the EU decision.
Environmental hazards of parabens
Parabens are abundant in cosmetics and hygiene products such as shower soaps and shampoos. Some parabens are absorbed through the skin into the body. Most are flushed down the drain and end up in water. Parabens are relatively rapidly biodegradable. In wastewater treatment plants, parabens are either removed, chemically modified, or released into the environment with the sludge. 40-98% of parabens can be removed from wastewater. Parabens are a major environmental problem in countries where the wastewater problem has not yet been solved. Fortunately, parabens decompose rapidly in nature.
The use of shampoo and shower gel in natural water systems is a problem. Parabens and other chemicals in shampoos are harmful to fish and algae. Therefore, hair should never be washed using any kind of detergent or shampoo in a lake, river or sea. Always wash your hair in proper place and make sure the wastewater is properly treated.
The decomposition products of parabens react sensitively with chlorine
Parabens decompose relatively quickly. However, their degradation products are quite problematic. When parabens enter the sewer with wash water, they often come into contact with choral compounds. Remember that even tap water is chlorinated. Sodium hypochlorite is used in the disinfection of wastewater treatment plants. Chlorinated parabens are no longer biodegradable. They are removed with the treatment plant sludge to the fields. Chlorinated parabens in sludge will remain for a long time.
Chlorinated parabens are many times more harmful than the original parabens.
Chlorinated parabens tend to accumulate in cell membranes. Decomposition products of parabens cause, among other things, abnormal development of the foetus.
Decomposition products of parabens also cause problems for the environment. If sludge containing decomposition products of parabens is applied to fields, it is easily drained into ditches and thus into water systems. The chemical is very toxic and easily destroys various algal species.
Read more about the harmful ingredients in cosmetics
How can I avoid parabens?
As I said at the beginning, up to 90% of cosmetic products contain parabens. Preservatives must be used to make cosmetics safe. Parabens have been replaced by phenoxyethanol, for example, in cosmetics.
Learn to read the INCI list
By law, products cannot be labelled “free of parabens”. This rule was created because parabens are completely allowed to be used in the cosmetics industry. If you know INCI names, you can try to look for parabens in the ingredients of the product. There are 25 parabens in the INCI search. Parabens are easy to identify from the list of ingredients.
Use certified natural cosmetics
Eco-certified natural cosmetics do not contain parabens. For example, the prestigious ECOCERT and COSMOS standards do not allow the use of parabens in certified products. Parabens are preferred preservatives and are used in products for the masses. It is desired that the product remains usable for up to years. Natural cosmetics are more expensive because high quality and safe ingredients cost more. The shelf life of natural cosmetics is also shorter because the products do not contain strong preservatives.
No preservative will take care of your skin. All preservatives are useless or harmful. A completely preservative-free, anhydrous product is always a better option. Therefore, prefer anhydrous products whenever possible.
Anhydrous creams, butters and balms are generally preservative-free. Even bar (soap bar etc) products usually do not contain parabens. Ordinary, familiar and safe soap bar is the best alternative to liquid shower soap. Many small cosmetics manufacturers make preservative-free cosmetics by leaving the water out from the product.
Anhydrous products should always be applied to well-moisturized skin. This way they work on the skin just like products containing water.
Parabens should be taken seriously
Parabens are one of the most harmful chemicals in everyday cosmetics. So seriously consider how to replace products containing parabens in your home. Parabens are especially harmful to children.
Parabens accumulate in the skin in large amounts during the day from various products. They are found in every liquid hand soap and hand creams. If you are starting to reduce parabens, I recommend replacing your liquid soap with a bar of soap. Even a small change can make a big difference.
Are you worried about parabens?