We will take a systematic, simplified look at parabens, by answering the following questions:
1. What are parabens, why are they used?
2. Are parabens bad? Is the danger real?
3. Should I avoid parabens?
4. Are paraben-free cosmetics always safe?
5. How can I choose safer products?
We hate long posts, so we've split this post into two. Do take a look at Part 2 here.
What are parabens, why are they used?
Almost every cosmetic or personal care product you use has preservatives in it. And parabens are great preservatives - they keep cosmetics from going bad due to bacteria, yeast and fungi. They give a good shelf life and PAO life (read about PAO here), thereby making cosmetics safer to use. Being extremely effective, and cost-effective, they have been loved by the industry for a long, long time.
The parabens used in cosmetics are (INCI names): methylparaben, ethylparaben, propylparaben, isobutylparaben and butylparaben. Parabens are typically used in levels of less than 0.5% each, and often a combination of parabens is used.
Are parabens bad? Is the danger real?Some people insist that parabens are safe, hence continue to use them. Our philosophy is simple: better safe than sorry. If something is iffy, don't use it on people. That's OUR philosophy - no offence to anyone here.
What is the evidence against parabens? We present a few latest ones below, to help you decide (we've simplified the findings to keep things understandable, advanced readers would do well to read the full reports):
- The EU, in its latest findings, considers propylparaben and butylparaben safe, BUT at levels not exceeding 0.19% . Concerns: reproductive toxicity and endocrine disruption. In plain words, concerns that these chemicals can behave like hormones inside the human body and cause disruption.
- Denmark has banned the use of propylparaben and butylparaben in products used by children of less than 3 years of age.
- EWG, a leading environmental health research and advocacy organization in the US, has given a hazard rating of 10 (highest hazard) to propylparaben and 7 to butylparaben
Is the danger real?
Scientifically, two key issues have prevented an all-out answer to this question:
Till then, Be Good!
- The difference between metabolism (how the body processes these chemicals) in rats (where the lab tests are conducted) and humans
- The cumulative exposure of humans to parabens - we use no less than 5 to 20 cosmetics per day, so imagine the cumulative effect of the parabens. This has not been studied in detail yet, on human volunteers.
Should I avoid parabens?
YES. We think so, here's why:
- Wherever maximum allowed dosages are so low (0.19% in this case), there's no telling the combined effect of these chemicals in our body. Too complex, and risky, to try and predict.
- Many chemicals accumulate in our body over long periods of usage. Our use of cosmetics is increasing, so it's better to be careful as we go ahead.
- Stuff that is not deemed safe for children better not be around the house. Once again, better safe than sorry
- "Lack of data" is a big issue with ingredient safety - and in many cases, the chemicals are held innocent until proven guilty
Till then, Be Good!