Written by Audrey Swanson. Medically reviewed by board-certified pediatrician Dr. Ryan Blackman DO, FAAP.
These days, people around the world are opting for cleaner products. Whether you're ditching chemical-fueled cleaning supplies or opting for naturally made cosmetics and personal care products, it's becoming trendy for consumers to go green. (And as eco-friendly-product lovers ourselves, this is a trend we fully support!)
But when it comes to product labels, sometimes it can be difficult to determine what to look for and what certain hot-button phrases mean. "Paraben free" is one term that product labels are now donning on the regular, but how does it actually affect you, the person buying and using the product?
We're here to break down what parabens are and how they could be affecting your health so that you're more informed the next time you see "paraben free" on a product that catches your eye.
According to the FDA, parabens are a family of preservatives commonly used in cosmetic products. Methylparaben, butylparaben, propylparaben, and ethylparaben are all variations of the preservative that you may see on ingredient lists for makeup, hair products (like shampoo and conditioner), moisturizers, and other personal care products.
They are meant to protect the products from harmful bacteria and mold growth, and oftentimes several parabens are used alongside other preservatives to protect cosmetics from a larger range of bacteria. Long-lasting preservatives allow products to maintain their quality and staying power on store shelves and in your bathroom.
Based on this review prepared for the National Institutes of Health, some questions have been raised about parabens producing similar effects to those of estrogen. And too much estrogen has been associated with the development of breast cancer.
FDA studies have shown that parabens have far less estrogenic activity than the body's native estrogen. However, scientists are continuing to review studies on paraben dangers and safety. While the FDA has some regulatory oversight, cosmetic product ingredients do not need FDA approval before they go to market. The products must simply meet the standard of being deemed "safe and properly labeled" under the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act.
In a study published in the National Toxicology Program in 2005, parabens were reported to have adverse effects on male rodents' reproductive systems. In addition to the previously described estrogenic and anti-androgenic activity, butylparaben was found to potentially cause eye and skin redness, irritation, pain, and itchiness. Ingesting large doses of butylparaben was also found to irritate the GI tract, the study reports.
The CDC says parabens are absorbed in the skin and then typically excreted quickly. According to the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey in 2005-2006, non-Hispanic African Americans under the age of 60 had higher levels of methylparaben than non-Hispanic Caucasians. Females had a much greater concentration of methylparaben and propylparaben than males, which is presumably because they typically use more personal care products that contain parabens. Scientists are continuing to monitor people who have been exposed to higher levels of parabens to discover the extent of health effects.
Yes, there are parabens in “hair care products,” according to the CDC. They are also commonly found in lotions, makeup, skin cleansers, scrubs, shaving cream, and other cosmetic and personal care products.
To help give you a clear sense of the potential effects of parabens, we discussed this issue with Dr. Ryan Blackman, a board-certified pediatrician on our consulting team here at Puracy. According to Dr. Blackman, “The research on parabens is ongoing, and at times contradictory. They have been theorized to be endocrine disruptors but, as of yet, this hasn’t been definitively established in humans. Until we know all the facts, avoidance of a potential harm is never a bad choice, especially if there are safe alternatives available.”
As researchers and scientists continue to explore the health effects of parabens in personal care products, one thing is for sure: because there are many other effective natural preservative options available, we see no reason for consumers to risk having exposure to parabens.
Dr. Blackman agrees, noting that “as the scientific community continues to research the potential adverse effects of preservatives in our products, more and more families have been looking for natural yet effective products.”
Here at Puracy, we never use parabens. Instead, we use a variety of plant-based preservatives, minerals, and fragrances to effectively moisturize and maintain healthy skin and hair. Check out our line of paraben-free personal care products that use gentle, effective, and natural ingredients and preservatives.