‘Paraben free’ appears on a lot of products, but what does it mean? Discover what parabens are, why they’re commonly used in both skin and hair care products and why many people choose to avoid them with The English Shaving Company. We stock a huge range of grooming products from all the leading brands.
What Are Parabens?
Not all grooming products are created equal, so it’s important to know what it is we’re putting on our skin or in our hair.
Parabens are synthetic, preservative chemicals. This means that they’re a chemical that doesn’t occur naturally but instead has been created in a lab to prevent bacteria from growing in products from cosmetics and soaps through to food.
They were first manufactured and used in the 1950s to increase the shelf-life of beauty and grooming products, but a lot has changed in the last 70 years so parabens are no longer as prized as they used to be...
While parabens are synthetic, they are manufactured identical to chemicals that occur in nature. All parabens are based on a chemical called para-hydroxybenzoic acid (PHBA). This is found in lots of different fruit and vegetables, including blueberries and carrots, and is also found in our own bodies as a result of the breakdown of certain amino acids.
The fact that they’re a synthetic chemical, doesn’t make them bad in and of themselves; there are lots of synthetic chemicals in the world that are really important and useful. However, parabens do have certain traits that mean they might not be that great for our skin.
Are Parabens Harmful?
Many people think it’s common knowledge to avoid parabens in your skin and hair care products, but few people actually know why this is.
Our Skin And Bodies
We don’t have to ingest parabens for them to be present in our bodies: when we use a product that contains them, they can enter through our skin.
A small amount of parabens in our body won’t have any effect -- our bodies often make them when breaking down amino acids anyway -- but when all the products we use contain parabens, then the amount in our bloodstream increases.
So why is this something to worry about?
Firstly, there’s no conclusive evidence that parabens are something to be concerned about at all. However, there are claims that parabens are carcinogens. This means chemicals that could cause cancer.
It’s still widely disputed and various studies have been completed without being able to conclusively prove that parabens could cause cancer. However, some scientists claim that they believe parabens are carcinogens, while others argue that it might only be some parabens that are harmful.
Parabens, Oestrogen and Cancer
Parabens are thought to be what’s called endocrine-disrupting chemicals. This means that they mimic various hormones that we have in our bodies and our bodies might react to them as they would the hormone.
One hormone in particular to which this is thought to relate is oestrogen. Both men and women have oestrogen, but women have significantly more. It’s thought that some parabens can mimic oestrogen and therefore result in the same effect as if the body had too much of the hormone. It can trigger cell division, increasing the likelihood of developing a tumour.
This hasn’t been conclusively proven, but the discovery came about in a 2004 study. Tissue samples were taken from 20 women with breast cancer and parabens were found in the samples of 19 of the women. A second study looked at 40 women with breast cancer and found at least one paraben in every sample.
This doesn’t prove that parabens cause cancer, but it has led to increased awareness of the possibility that parabens might be carcinogens.
If parabens are carcinogens, then it’s not just us they might be affecting. A study on marine life off the coasts of Florida, California, Washington and Alaska found parabens present in samples from a wide range of different marine animals including otters, polar bears and dolphins.
While there is not conclusive evidence that parabens cause cancer, many people still choose to avoid the chemical in their skin and hair products.
In actuality, products that use parabens will have very small amounts of the chemical in them to the extent that they’re unlikely to cause a build up of the chemical in your system. However, there are now lots of alternative preservatives that can be used in skin and hair products; there are loads of products easily available that are paraben free so there’s no need to choose parabens when you can easily avoid them.
What Am I Looking For?
If you choose to avoid parabens, then how do you know what to look for? The easiest way to find the right products is to look for ‘paraben free’ in the product descriptions or on the packaging.
However, not every paraben free product will say this on its label or in its description. This means you’ll have to check the ingredients list.
It’s not too hard to spot parabens on your product ingredient lists as every kind has ‘paraben’ at the end of its name.
The most common kinds of parabens are:
(The parabens in bold are the ones most commonly found in grooming products.)