Saturday, July 7, 2007

The Paraben Dilemma


There’s a big fuss in natural products about being ‘paraben free’. In fact, I understand from a very lovely perfumist I met yesterday at Barney's that parabens have just been banned in Europe. Most people wonder what 'paraben free' means, exactly...and I have to admit that I represent a line of products that are all natural & being 'paraben-free' is a selling point. I realized that I wasn't entirely sure why that was such a great thing. So, I did a little homework. Now we all can know.

Parabens are synthetic preservatives. They are also the most widely used preservative used in skincare products, according to the FDA. Preservatives are used in products to prevent microbial bacterial growth in products.. protecting consumers & maintaining what is known as ‘product integrity’. Basically, without parabens or some other form of preservative, your lotions, shower gels, etc would mold. Just imagine, you've taken a nice long shower; you've cleansed and scrubbed and now you feel squeeky clean & can't wait to put on your favorite yummy smelling body cream....only to open up the jar & find it molded. Yuck! And imagine how much money we would throw away. So, that should make us all pro-paraben, right?

Well, parabens have been accused of disrupting hormones & have been suggested to be linked to breast cancer & other estrogen related diseases…although testing is still inconclusive. It seems that parabens act similiarly to estrogen, but have a weaker effect than estrogen. Let me re-iterate, as there are different sources out there… parabens mimic estrogen, they are not estrogen. Estrogenic activity is linked to certain forms of breast cancer, fetal defects, & parabens have been blamed in many cases.

However, on their website (, the Mayo Clinic states that the link between parabens in anti-perspirants & deodorants & cancer (remember all the scary emails that every friend who cared about you sent around a few years ago?) is a myth…that there is no proven link that parabens cause or increase risk of breast cancer.

I’m no doctor or health expert, but if there were a history of breast cancer in my family, I might want to avoid parabens just to be on the safe side. Even if there is no family history of breast cancer, some people are choosing to avoid potential issues by avoiding parabens. This is up to you to decide.

The Fat Problem,, also claims that since estrogen helps regulate the fat cells in your body, and parabens mimic estrogen, yes, your shampoo could be making you fat! That’s all the motivation I need to stay away from parabens. They also claim (probably correctly) that when parabens are washed down our bath/shower drain they then infiltrate our drinking water. But they don’t stop there… they go as far to say that the water gets into soil & then gets into animals & causes defects in them. Wow! Who knew that washing my hair was going to cause defects in animals? This sounds like pretty serious stuff.

There are many paraben free products out there. Some use this as a marketing claim on their packaging, some do not (i.e. the couple’s line I represent,, is paraben free, and is part of the marketing to retailers, but is not listed anywhere on the packaging other than you will not find any parabens in the list of ingredients) always be sure to read the ingredients to check.

Also, never trust a sales associate to know the truth. I have to say I was at a very fancy deparment store recently & was told a line was natural 'based'. I asked if the line was paraben free & was told it was. When I was shown the packaged product, the ingredient list on the box showed 5 types of parabens in one product. I don't think anyone was trying to deceive me, I just think that some sales associates don't have all of the product knowledge they need.

So, how do you avoid parabens? Here’s what to look for in a list of ingredients: methylparaben, propylparaben, butylparaben, or benzylparaben . If you are looking to avoid parabens, you want to keep an eye out for & avoid all of the above.

Just so you know, parabens are also used as preservatives in the food & drug industries as well…be sure to read your labels or ask your pharmacist if you are avoiding parabens. Be warned…they will turn up in the most unexpected places.

As for me, I've decided to keep an eye on them...for now, I won't 'not buy a product' because it has parabens, but I will keep an eye on where they appear in the ingredient list (preferably at the bottle of the list), & I'll try to have some paraben-free products as well. I'd like there to be a bit of balance in my products. Too much of anything can't be a good thing...unless it's chocolate.

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