Parabens are preservatives that protect against the growth of bacteria and fungi in cosmetics, body and hair care products. According to one report, parabens are found in more than 75% of all beauty products. While parabens are naturally found in foods such as strawberries, blueberries, and carrots, the levels are low and are easily metabolized and expelled quickly–not so with beauty products.
According to Bill Baker, owner of Consonant–a Canadian skincare line that’s all natural and free of parabens, sulfates, petroleum ingredients, and phthalates–the parabens found in cosmetics, while easily absorbed into our bloodstream (what goes on your body goes in your body), are not easily metabolized. “Once absorbed they are known to disrupt our endocrine systems by mimicking estrogen. Elevated levels of estrogen are linked to breast cancer in women, low sperm counts in men, undescended testicles in male infants, and early onset puberty in adolescent girls.” They can also lead to DNA damage and skin aging.
Parabens are already banned in Sweden, Japan, and Denmark and the European Union restricts the concentration of parabens in cosmetics. However Canada and the US lag far behind. According to Health Canada there is no direct link between parabens and breast cancer. They say the concentration of parabens used in Canada isn’t strong enough to cause any health risks. But Baker counters this argument, saying the statistic is skewed because women may use a dozen or more products containing parabens during a typical day. “Day after day, this can result in exposure levels that exceed levels generally accepted as ‘safe.’”
Healthier alternatives to parabens are available but tend to be more expensive. Consonant uses a combination of naturally derived preservation ingredients that, when combined, eat the oxygen that sits on the surface of a product. Since bacteria cannot grow without oxygen it’s a safe yet effective alternative to parabens. Still, until every brand gets on board your choice of paraben-free products may be limited. If you’re concerned check product labels for ingredients like methylparaben, butylparaben, propylparaben, ethylparaben, and isobutylparaben.
Text: Kate Murphy