Fear of the unknown… About parabens

Cosmetic products are inseparable part of our lives. Milions of soaps, shower gels, creams, moisturizers and make-up are used daily. We might not even notice how often we reach for cosmetics every day but it’s a normal thing to do in this world where hygene and body care are really important. Most of us heard of parabens at least once in their lives, what more, some of us are afraid of parabens. But do they know what parabens are? I bet in most cases the answer would be “no.” I’m gonna change this state today and educate you a little.

Parabenens is the general name for the group of organic chemical compounds based on para-hydroxybenzoic acid. If we replace hydrogen H in -COOH group with an alkyl or organic ring R we obtain esther, para-hydroxybenzoate, thus paraben. Many different parabens are known as R can be a methyl, ethyl, propyl, butyl… group. What is the main purpose of adding parabens into cosmetics? It fulfills a role of preservative and antimicrobal agent so that our creams, gels etc can stand on shop or bathroom shelves and stay in good condition for many months.

But why are people afraid of them? I believe it’s the fear of the unknown, they just don’t know what parabens really are. These substances not only appear in cosmetic products but they can be also found in cakes, juices, jams or even fresh blueberries. Many people think that parabens are toxic and that they need to be avoided. They’re not right. Studies show that parabens are rapidly absorbed, metabolized and then they leave our organisms, causing no harm. Nothing to be afraid of.

Although parabens seem to be neutral for our bodies there’s one thing that eventually can happen. Parabens can cause skin allergy reaction, rosacea or contact dermatitis. As always it all depends on the skin we have and personal predispositions. Some people have more delicate, allergy prone skin comparing with others. Part about might sound scary but applies only to a very small percentage of population.

Few years ago people started to panic when news around the world appeared stating that higher concentrations of parabens in our bodies can cause mutations in body cells and cause cancer. Many cosmetological, pharmaceutical and medical researches were conducted – all had the same conclusion – there’s no link between parabens and cancer. It was a false alarm but still many people live thinking of parabens as of something that will slowly kill them. They could use some education in this topic and finally learn that they’re fooling themselves which is not a solution of a problem.

Highest amounts of parabens are used in deodorants, still it’s less than 0,5% in the product. During the last few years eco cosmetics became very popular. They’re environment friendly, contain more natural essences and are paraben free (so they have to be used faster.) Once in a while new ecological cosmetic brand appears and existing ones add new products to their offers. If you’re still afraid of parabens give those cosmetics a try, if you’re not afraid of these chemical substances you can always try some eco cosmetics and see if your skin can notice any differences between regular and eco product. I’d love to hear about it if it will!

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24 thoughts on “Fear of the unknown… About parabens

  1. Interesting. thanks,
    Portia x

  2. Tatiana says:

    Thank you for posting this article. Being on the far side of 50 years of age, I’m at the point where I don’t worry too much about what ingredients are in what products anymore. I figure at this point if there is damage done, it’s done. I also try to live by the motto “all things in moderation”.
    That said, I have mild rosacea which has occasional flare ups. I noticed that some brands of cleansers make it worse and others don’t. I just checked the on-line ingredient lists and coincidentally, the brands that cause the flare up contain parabens. Hmm. I will now try to keep an eye out for parabens in my facial cosmetics and see if there is any improvement in my skin.
    I hope you have a very successful school year.

    • lucasai says:

      I’m glad I could help. I guess that you’re right. At some age it’s too late to turn back time or prevent some things from happening.
      Sorry to hear about your rosacea (thank God it’s just mild). This really is interesting that parabens containing cosmetics make it flare up.
      Good luck in searching good eco friendly products. If you need any help let me know and I could give you few suggestions.

  3. poodle says:

    I love your chemistry posts. Thanks for the information. It’s funny the things that people believe about certain ingredients. Some people avoid things and don’t even know why.

    • lucasai says:

      I’m happy you LOVE them 😀 Sometimes it’s good to know what you unconsciously apply to your body and face. It’s definitely better than having a fear of an ingredient.

  4. Christos says:

    Thanks for sharing this with us. Your inside views are always welcome

    Interesting little trivia: parabéns in Portuguese means “congratulations” 🙂

  5. Christos says:

    I personally find all this safety insanity a bit ridiculous. I have yet to hear of a person dying of cosmetic and perfume!

    • lucasai says:

      It might be ridiculous to us, who have the general knowledge of the industry. But people seriously don’t know much about how it works from the inside and they’re afraid of some things.

  6. I had not heard of parabens prior to your article. Now I can look at my beauty products to see if they are there (and of course not worry). When you get to be my age, you rely heavily on creams and other preservation tools 🙂

    • lucasai says:

      Well, now you’ve heard of them. I guess you’ll find some on your beauty shelf.
      Yep, you can’t turn back time but you can make it slow down a little bit, at least for the outside.

  7. shellyw says:

    I too love the chemistry approach to your articles. I seldom use cosmetics, perfume is where my dollars go, but it is useful information. Thanks.

  8. hajusuuri says:

    Great post, Lucas! It is easy to get swayed with the pronouncements of celebrity doctors (e.g Dr. Oz) or the alarms spreading like wildfire via the internet. With so many media channels competing for attention, the one with the loudest or most frequent “substance to avoid” news get noticed and attract advertisers that claim to be x-substance free. Also, while I can’t think of anything cosmetic that flip-flopped between good and bad for you, there are many examples of foods that in one study was deemed bad for you (DRINKING COFFEE RAISES HIGH BLOOD PRESSURE) to the best thing since sliced bread (DRINKING x-CUPS OF COFFEE A DAY LOWERS CHOLESTEROL) and on and on. Now excuse me while I go check out the origin of my brown rice because despite all this talk of brown rice being better, it is now worse than white rice because it tends to retain ARSENIC.

    • hajusuuri says:

      Of course I just now realized I may have just spread another myth 😉 without meaning to….

    • lucasai says:

      Glad you like it. Media seriously try to control our minds and it is so easy now to get fooled and start believing in something not true.
      When it comes to chemistry and myths about certain substances being harmful I rely only on real lab researches rather than a colorful magazines

  9. kelly says:

    HI Lucas, I always wondered what parabens were. We go to the beach a lot and the sun block I use says paraben-free. So of coarse I’m thinking parabens must be a bad thing. I’m glad you cleared up the myth. I really liked this article because it was educational and interesting to. Thank you!

    • lucasai says:

      This phrase “paraben-free” on packaging is one of the reasons people think they’re bad and dangerous.
      Glad I could clear the situation for you.

  10. Amy (PerfumedLady) says:

    I think you’re right, marketers have been able to profit from our natural fear of the unknown where parabens are concerned. I was exposed to them (and all sorts of other chemicals) constantly, day after day for years while working at the salon and cosmetology school, as you well know. Far more than the average consumer would be! And I suffer no major health ills, especially none that can be blamed on those years of exposure. I did try once to switch to all-natural cosmetics (except for perfumes, lol) but with a few exceptions, was not happy with the results. Of course, those who are prone to allergies must always be careful with the cosmetics they choose, so I’m not implying there isn’t a place for paraben free products. Very well done article, Lucas!

    • lucasai says:

      They can easily turn our disadvantages into their advantage on us.
      As you mentioned you’ve been working with cosmetics (and parabens at the same time) and nothing really happened to you.
      People that are prone to allergies must be always careful when it comes to body, hair, makeup products.

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