FAQ: What Are Parabens?

Q: I’m always looking for paraben-free products but I have a confession. I don’t exactly know what parabens are. I know they are supposedly not good for you, but why is that? What are they?

A: Great question! Don’t feel bad, you’d be surprised at how many people avoid products containing parabens, SLS, phthalates, and phosphates without really knowing what they are or why they are potentially harmful.

Parabens are preservatives that actually go by several different names- you will probably never just see the word “paraben” written on an ingredient list. Two common parabens are propylparaben and parahydroxybenzoate, but there are several others. Parabens are used in most cosmetics and skin care products in order to keep them from going bad or spoiling. So in that sense, parabens are useful because they help our favorite products have a longer shelf life. But in recent years, there has been much controversy over the safety of these chemicals.

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Similar to BPAs, Parabens have been known to mimic estrogen which leads some scientists to believe that they may be a contributing factor to breast cancer. One of the scientists who it very outspoken about the possible dangers of parabens is Philippa Darbre of the University of Reading in England. In 2004, Darbre and a team of researchers discovered parabens in 18 of the 20 samples of cancerous breast tissue in women. This is not evidence that parabens caused the breast cancer, but it was a warning bell- a sign that maybe parabens should be studied further before being used so freely by both companies and consumers.

“We’ve known for more than 25 years that estrogen exposure is linked to breast cancer development and progression; it is the reason tamoxifen [commonly prescribed to women with breast cancer] is used to disrupt estrogen receptors,” says Darbre. “So it is not such a leap to be concerned that repeated, cumulative, long-term exposure to chemicals that weakly mimic estrogen might be having an impact.”

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Another alarming  study had several young, healthy, men put lotion containing parabens on their bodies. Just a few hours later, those same parabens were detected in their urine, meaning it took a matter of hours for the chemicals to completely absorb into their bodies.

So what are your options? How can you get quality, reliable, long lasting skin and body care products without exposing your body to an excessive amount of parabens? You’ll be happy to hear that paraben-free products are becoming more and more common. As companies research the downside to these preservatives, they are revamping their current products and making them more consumer friendly, and most importantly, safe. In fact, ULTA has an entire portion of their website dedicated to paraben-free makeup.

Say Yes!, Everyday Shea, Hugo Natural’s, Tarte, Coastal Classic Creations, Alba, Burt’s Bees, and Kiss My Face are just a few companies who don’t use parabens or other nasties, and have fabulous products you can find online and in stores.

Do you have any questions or need product recommendations? Send us a comment either on this post, or through our comment/question page!

By Courtney Perry

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