Ingredient Profile: Parabens

Beverly Hills MDIngredient Profile: Parabens

In recent years, many skincare companies have been adamant about advertising their products as “Paraben Free”. But what is it about parabens that’s making manufacturers shy away from their use?

The answer, like so many other beauty issues, is unfortunately not exactly black and white.

Parabens, including methylparaben, butylparaben, and propylparaben, are esters used as preservatives to help delay the growth of bacteria in skincare and cosmetic products. In essence, they help prevent the product from “going bad” too soon.

Considered safe for years, parabens have recently become controversial due to a number of theoretical risks associated with their use.

First of all, parabens are an allergen for many. That means that some people who come into contact with parabens, especially on more sensitive skin like the thin skin around the eyes, could have adverse reactions that involve itching, burning, redness, rashes, or flaking.

For those who are not allergic to parabens, these side effects are largely avoided altogether, so long as they are not applied to broken skin.

The claim that’s really hitting home for a lot of people, though, is far graver. Some studies have found traces of parabens in malignant breast tumors, suggesting that use of products that contain parabens could have some connection to the formation of cancer.[1]

This is only a surface interpretation, though. Scientifically-speaking, the presence of an item in tumor tissue does not necessarily mean that that particular item caused the tumor. A direct causal relationship between parabens and tumor formation has been neither proven or refuted; no one can say for sure if such a relationship exists.[2]

Indeed, from a chemistry perspective, there is nothing about the chemical structure of parabens that would suggest the potential for carcinogenesis.[3] While parabens do act as weak estrogens in the body, which could theoretically point to a role in the formation of tumors, this effect is small and considered by many researchers to be essentially negligible.[4]

Some studies have shown that certain parabens can increase potential UVB skin damage when exposed to sunlight, meaning that their use during the day might increase the risks of photo-aging.[5]

So, at the end of the day, should products containing parabens be avoided? Ultimately, no one knows for sure.

There is, however, one important factor to consider when choosing between paraben-free products and those that contain parabens. Now that parabens have become controversial, companies that are still using them to preserve their products may be less trustworthy when it comes to their other ingredients, and less dedicated to using the latest technologies that help make products safer.

This is to say: a company’s avoidance of parabens may indicate a larger overall dedication to your safety.

Our advice is always to play it safe. When it comes to controversial ingredients, there are always options that take the issue off the table altogether by excluding those ingredients that could be problematic.

As always, your skin is your choice. In the interest of protecting your safety, though, we do believe the safest effective option is always best.

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