Home Health What are Parabens? Are They Harmful?

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What are parabens and do you need to worry about them? These are questions that everyone who uses skin or haircare products should know the answer to. We have all seen the warning “May contain parabens” on our shampoo or face cream bottles, but not everyone knows what parabens are and what their utility is when it comes to our beauty routines. Recently, they have been made out into the villains of the cosmetic industry, but are parabens really that bad?

The debate is still on-going, and research is done to clear this matter, but still opinions are very different. Cosmetic manufacturers present one side of the story and concerned scientists another side, and they haven’t yet come into agreement. Read our article and find out for yourself whether or not you should be in the search for paraben-free products.

Generic white jar face cream

What are parabens?

Parabens are a common substance present in our cosmetics due to their ability to help preserve the products we use for skin and haircare. Face and body creams contain them and so do most of the shampoos or conditioners. Their purpose is to prevent fungus, microbes, and bacteria from developing in our creams and makeup products and ensure that they are safe to use.

Because we generally store them in the bathroom, this warm environment is an attractive space for damaging bacteria to evolve. Parabens prevent this growth in shampoos, body lotions, mascara or foundations. Recently, there have been growing concerns among scientists regarding the damaging effects parabens may have on our skin, and safety regulations have been set in place to make sure everyone knows what they are using.

Are Parabens Harmful?

Scientists are trying to discover if the rise in breast cancer incidence is in any way linked to the use of parabens. Parabens have a low ability to mimic estrogen, and the chemicals have been found in breast cancer tumors, which raises concerns for scientists. Another cause of concern is the reported declining sperm counts and increased occurrence of breast cancer in male patients.

These problems lead scientists to ask whether or not the fact that these substances are absorbed by our skin might have a damaging effect. Parabens and sulfates, the other substance used as preservative for cosmetics, are easily absorbed by our skin, and they might be linked to an imbalance in the endocrine system. The answer is not clear yet, but there are researchers who think we should be concerned.

The main topic of debate is breast cancer. Taking into account that we know there is a link between estrogen exposure and the development of breast cancer, some scientists consider that parabens, which are a weakly mimicking estrogen, might have a damaging effect.

Available Alternatives to Parabens

natural oil bottle surrounded by leaves alternative to parabens

There are paraben-free products available on the market, but they are much more expensive and have a shorter time span before the expiring date. The reason why is very simple, without parabens, which are cheap and really effective preservatives, the cosmetics can’t be safely used for long before they go bad.

Manufacturers of organic, paraben-free products explain that lotions are the toughest to create and maintain because they are the perfect environment for bacteria and fungus. The use of natural ingredients with preservatives effects such as thyme, lavender oil or grapefruit seed extract can only provide a temporary solution. At the moment, researchers and cosmetics producers are looking for better, organic alternatives to the chemical preservatives such as parabens and sulfates.

What Products Contain Parabens?

More than 80% of cosmetics on the market right now contain parabens. What are parabens used for? The answer is simple: they are a cheap way to preserve the product and ensure safe use for longer periods of time, even if the cosmetics are stored in the bathroom, and not the fridge. If you want to know what are parabens in, you should be prepared for a long list.

From hair products such as conditioners, shampoos, and masks to body lotions and creams, as well as deodorants, paraben is all around us. It’s in our makeup products such as mascara and foundation and in our body scrubs. You should note that there is no real, conclusive proof to show that the use of cosmetics that contain parabens in small amounts cause or are linked with breast cancer. Presently, the amount contained in cosmetics is generally small, and health organizations consider it safe at reduced levels.

Laws and Regulations

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is the institution which regulates the use of parabens and other chemicals in our daily products. They are aware of the growing concerns towards these chemicals, but studies have shown that the various parabens propylparaben, methylparaben, and butylparaben are safe to use in cosmetics up to 25%. They are currently used at levels starting from 0.01 up to 0.3%.

Regardless, cosmetics manufacturers have to state the amount of parabens present in their product, so you can make sure you know what you apply on your body. While waiting for conclusive evidence in any directions, the FDA assures us that at the present time consumers don’t have any real reason to worry about using products that contain parabens.  At the same time, the institution states that they are keeping up with the discoveries in the field and await conclusive proof on the matter.

You might still be wondering about what are parabens and sulfates and why they are found in our products? The reason is affordability and efficiency; these chemicals ensure that our lotions and makeup products are safe to use for a relatively long period. The tests and studies conducted regarding the possible link between these substances and various cancers are not yet conclusive.

Researchers are working on this issue at the moment, but meanwhile, most of them suggest that we shouldn’t be paranoid about parabens, but treat this matter with caution. Always remember that if you are really concerned about parabens, there are alternatives available on the market, and online, so you can choose what best fits your needs.

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A2K Team

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