Ingredient Breakdown: Parabens

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Ingredient Breakdown: Parabens

You may have heard skincare and wellness companies use terms like “clean,” “nontoxic” or “all-natural.” Wondering what it means? You’re not alone.

Currently, this type of terminology is not regulated by the FDA for skincare and beauty products, so anyone can slap them on a product label to appeal to consumers avoiding unnecessary additives. To make things even more confusing, just because a product is “natural” or plant-derived doesn’t mean it’s risk-free (for example, would you put poison ivy on your face?). Today, we’re going to discuss parabens.

What are parabens?

Parabens, derived from para-hydroxybenzoic acid (PHBA), are a group of commonly used antimicrobial ingredients that act as preservatives within personal care products and cosmetics. Any product that contains water has the potential to be spoiled by the growth of bacteria and fungi that can lead to nasty problems like mold, discoloration and a degradation of the product. Parabens are added to formulas because they prevent the growth of these microorganisms and enhance the shelf life of personal care products across a wide range of cosmetic categories.

Since they’re gentle, easily absorbed and naturally derived from plants, parabens used to be the most commonly used type of preservatives for cosmetics. Some research indicates parabens are safe in cosmetics and are preferred over other preservatives to keep a formula stable. These studies claim that parabens — especially when used in small doses, as they tend to be in cosmetics or personal care products — did not have any effect when compared to natural hormones in the body. Additionally, the FDA has classified parabens as GRAS, or Generally Regarded As Safe, but is evaluating new data and will advise the public if they are deemed hazardous.


General chemical structure of a paraben (Wikipedia)

So, what’s the problem?

You’ll notice we said parabens “used to be” the most commonly used type of preservative. You may have also noticed an increasing number of skincare and personal care products now touting “paraben-free” labels. What happened?

Despite the FDA’s safety classification, some researchers have questioned if parabens can disrupt the body’s endocrine system or whether they have an estrogenic effect, interfering with the hormonal balance in the user’s body. While we noticed these studies are perhaps carried out in a way that is unrelated to what happens when parabens are applied to the skin, we think the potential of parabens presenting as harmful ingredients is something to take seriously (the EU does, for example — they’ve banned five types of parabens for use in cosmetic or personal care products).

Of course, it’s your choice to whether or not you should use parabens in your skincare routine. At Skin Pharm, we do not use parabens in any of our products. For transparency, we list all ingredients on individual product pages and packaging and our team is always happy to help.

If you’re trying to avoid parabens, check your labels for the following common ingredients: benzylparaben, butylparaben, ethylparaben, isobutylparaben, isopropylparaben, methylparaben and propylparaben.

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