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Why is paraben bad for skin?

People worry about parabens. They’ve gained something of a reputation as a devil amongst skincare.  All these rumours swirl around them. It's all about what effect they can have on your skin, in your body and even on the world around us.

One solution that I and many others have found, is to go paraben-free. Cosmetic companies and beauty brands are following, offering ranges that cut out these controversial chemicals completely.

But what is the truth behind the rumours? Do you even know why you’re trying to avoid them?

I think it’s important to make informed decisions when it comes to the products you place on your skin. So, beyond simply leaving these synthetic nasties out of the products we stock, I thought I’d take some time to explore why we’ve done it. So here’s my post on the thorny question of parabens and the effects they have.

What are parabens in skincare products?

Parabens are a type of chemical preservative. 

In the past, they’ve been widely used across all kinds of beauty products. From shampoos to serums, foundations to moisturisers, these synthetic preservatives are used everywhere. Not just in skincare.

Strangely, considering they’re the scourge of the clean beauty world, parabens are actually derived from a natural chemical. One found in fresh fruit and vegetables. 

But these all-natural roots have been twisted. Parabens found in modern skincare formulas are synthetic - created in a lab to be injected into other products.

The name paraben actually covers a lot of different chemicals. The most commonly used include propylparaben, butylparaben and methylparaben but you can usually pick out any paraben in an ingredient list. Helpfully, they almost always have the word paraben in them somewhere.

Why are parabens used in skincare?

So parabens are preservatives. They are used to prolong the life of skincare and cosmetic products. 

They do this by stopping bacteria and other harmful microorganisms from growing in liquids, lotions and creams. 

Stopping your skincare from breeding bacteria is a pretty important job.  Especially when they come in jars or pots, open to the air and regularly prodded by grimy fingers. 

But parabens are not the only way to do it. They are just the cheap, easy way that the beauty industry has relied on for decades.

So exactly why are parabens bad?

If you like to treat your skin with love and care, just the concept of adding a cheap synthetic chemical to your products probably lights a red flashing warning sign of avoidance.

But there is actually evidence that suggest parabens are more than just undesirable, unpleasant visitors on your skincare shelf. It has been said that they could actively harm your health as well!

One particular study even found traces of parabens in tumour cells, leading researchers to ask: "do parabens cause cancer?

Now, no definitive causal link was found between the proportion of parabens commonly used skincare and cancer. 

But one thing this research showed for certain is that if you apply a product to your skin that contains these chemicals, they can pass through that barrier and remain in your body tissue for some time. And, once absorbed, it is possible that parabens can interfere with your hormones, mimicking oestrogen. This could, again potentially, cause cancer growth.

Many regulatory bodies (including the FDA) have cleared parabens for use in cosmetics. As long as they are in small doses, there is insufficient evidence to show they can cause any serious harm to human health.

But many people still choose to avoid parabens. 

This cancer link is not fully established. But there are many other questions about the damage parabens can do.

Are parabens harmful to skin?

No one wants a product designed to care for your skin, that actually damages it instead. And yet it is not unreasonable to ask the question, what does paraben do to the skin? 

Again, there is no clear answer. 

What we do know is that preservatives have a history of irritating and inflaming delicate or sensitive skin. And we know that parabens are chemical preservatives.

If you’re spending your money on a cream to comfort and moisturise your skin, choosing one which contains parabens might feel entirely counterproductive.

And that isn’t even the most pressing consideration when considering the question of are parabens safe?

How do parabens affect the environment?

Turns out, human cells are not the only ones that have been found to contain parabens. 

One scientific study discovered parabens in the bodies of marine mammals. This worrying research, published in Environment Science & Technology journal, found traces of these chemicals in dolphins, sea otters and even polar bears.

Many of the products we use on our skin end up entering the water system, one way or another. Whether we’re washing away excess product or passing it through our bodies, they end up in the sewage system. From here they pass into the water and then on into the wider environment.

If those products are damaging our health, that’s bad enough. How can we let them damage the health of our wildlife as well?

Where can I find paraben-free skincare products?

The rise of clean beauty means that paraben-free products are easy to find now.

Many big brands are cutting down on the use of harsh chemical preservatives in their own products. And smaller, artisan skincare creators are leaving behind harmful and unnecessary ingredients in favour of all-natural products.

Here at La French Maison, we’re proud to supply only clean beauty products

This means all our cosmetics and skincare are made entirely from natural ingredients and are free from harmful chemicals. As well as parabens, we won’t stock anything made using palm oil or sulphates (another family of skin-stripping chemicals you often see in mainstream beauty products).

Is paraben in cosmetics safe?

The debate over the safety of parabens in skincare has raged for decades. It’s probably not going to stop anytime soon, unless conclusive proof shows the danger they pose. 

But, while the debate may continue, one thing is easy to know for certain. There is never an excuse for poisoning the planet. With such a variety of eco-friendly natural alternatives available, there is no call for feeding such unpredictable chemicals into the environment.

So instead of investing in preservative-laden products, why not choose ethical, eco-friendly ones instead. Then you can care for your skin and for our planet equally.

À bientôt,