I was cruising along, doing that daily life thing, and I saw yet another label on yet another cosmetic product boasting “Paraben Free.” It wasn’t an empty or deceiving claim: The product’s manufacturer used a preservative system that doesn’t contain parabens.
I see this same fear of parabens pop up in “crunchy living” Facebook groups and the occasional post, and I know where it originated. A 2004 study in Great Britain found parabens in breast tumors. The Environmental Working Group (EWG) grabbed the study and ran with it, using their agenda to push the federal government to ban parabens as dangerous, cancer-causing ingredients. The study was flawed, though. The group left out a very valuable component of solid scientific research: The control group. The British scientists failed to test healthy breast tissue to determine the amount of parabens present in non-cancerous tissue.
In the thirteen years since that study came out, other scientists have conducted other studies, including those the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) employs.* The findings have been revealing. Parabens occur naturally in plants and in humans. In fact, a normal, healthy woman’s body can naturally have 10,000 times the amount of parabens as are found in a paraben-preserved product.
Let’s look at another factor here. Parabens are naturally occurring. They show up in the body and in plants. (Japanese honeysuckle is sometimes used as a natural preservative in products, such as shampoo.) This is not something I’m going to freak out about. Why? I’m not putting it in my body. As I’ve said before, the skin is marvelous at keeping things out of the body; that’s one of its primary functions. The primary way that manufactured parabens could be hazardous is if we drank large quantities of them. Ew! How disgusting would that be?!
When you’re trying to determine if something is worth panicking about, consider the source. I personally like the broad-spectrum protection that paraben-based preservatives give my products. There are, however, some non-paraben preservatives that are very close to equally as good that I’ve been using lately. I’ll tell you, “Hey, don’t worry about parabens,” and it’s not because I have some vested interest in the companies that manufacture these preservative systems or the labs that conduct the tests. I’ve done the research that not many people have any interest in doing and am simply passing those findings on to you, because my informing customers allows you to make informed buying decisions.
At the same time, I could say, “Go ahead and avoid parabens.” Again, this isn’t because I have an agenda or a vested interest in the organizations or companies that support a ban on parabens. Interestingly enough, the companies that manufacture the paraben-based preservative systems also manufacture the paraben-free preservatives. If paraben use makes you feel uncomfortable for whatever reason, that’s fine, and it’s OK to use products that don’t contain parabens. If, on the other hand, you don’t care as long as nasty stuff isn’t growing in your body products and makeup, that’s fine, too. Regardless of how I feel about an ingredient or a product, I respect people’s right to use it or avoid it as they choose.
For more information about why it’s important to preserve cosmetics, check out this article I wrote a few years ago.
*Caveat: I’m not saying that the FDA is some infallible government agency that never messes up and never has an agenda impact it. However, in this case, I can’t see any agenda that would influence their research findings, as chemical manufacturers tend to make a variety of preservative systems.