Parabens in cosmetics
Have you ever seen a product labeled "paraben free" or read something about the paraben controversy? It has been a hot topic in the beauty industry for several years now. Like mineral oil, I think parabens are getting a bad rap so I wanted to offer a little education on the topic.
What are parabens? Parabens are a class of preservatives which are naturally derived, organic, and have been used for over 80 years in thousands of products we use every day, including beauty products and food. In fact, numerous fruits and vegetables, including blueberries, carrots, cucumbers, and raspberries produce parabens to protect themselves from bacterial attacks.
Why are preservatives used in beauty products?
Preservatives are absolutely essential in topical product formulations to keep the product from becoming a bacteria breeding ground. Product labels that claim a product is "preservative free" might be misleading you. Every cosmetic product containing water (which is a LOT of them) simply has to have something in it that inhibits yeast, mold and bacteria growth or you'd have to throw it away in a few days. There are products that don't contain water or contain certain essential oils or have a pH level that inhibits organism growth and, therefore, don't need preservatives added. There are numerous preservatives formulators have to choose from; some are manmade and some come from nature (ex. honeysuckle extract).
Why is there a controversy about parabens specifically?
Parabens have been under attack since 2004 when a study by Philippa Darbre, Ph.D., was published in the Journal of Applied Toxicology. That study showed paraben-like substances in breast cancer tissue. Apparently, the media jumped on this "headline" and ran with it and the public's fear has had a major impact on the beauty industry. Never mind the fact that the experiment included no control group (the study never should have been published because of this) and the author never claimed that parabens, applied topically, were the cause of the tumors.
Because of the extreme consumer backlash against parabens, many manufacturers (including Dermalogica) are moving away from using parabens despite the scientific data supporting their safety and efficacy. Unfortunately, some of the alternative preservatives need to be added in higher concentrations, can be more irritating to the skin, and can drive up the cost of the products.
My opinion after consulting many different sources, is that parabens are safe in cosmetic preparations. As a skin therapist, it irks me that consumer opinion based on creative marketing and misinformation can sway an entire industry away from sound science and safe ingredients. You can research it and decide what's best for you. Be sure to consider the source and whether financial gain could influence the information. Below are links to a few of the articles I read.
I am a licensed esthetician and own Renewal Skin & Body Center in Iowa City, IA. I love giving facials and other services that enhance one's appearance. Even more important is to educate people about skin-related services and products.