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Here’s what you need to know about parabens, including why you need to avoid them

Published on:4 March 2021, 16:53pm IST
Parabens can be found in most makeup and beauty products because they are chemical preservatives but many believe they can have an adverse effect on health.
Grace Bains
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Time to check the ingredient list of all the products you use. Image courtesy: Shutterstock
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There are so many times that you’ll hear ‘parabens are bad for you’ and ‘you should only use products that are paraben-free.’ But, so many people simply don’t explain why parabens are considered to be harmful and how exactly they can harm us. An even bigger question that goes unanswered is ‘what exactly are parabens’?

Many people might have even stocked up on paraben-free products without quite understanding the ingredient they’re avoiding or its effects.

So, what exactly are parabens?

You buy a bottle of shampoo and place it in the bathroom cabinet, knowing fully well that you can use it well beyond a month and it will work just fine. But, have you wondered what gives your beauty products such as moisturisers, conditioners, body washes and shampoos this longevity?

Well, you’re probably aware of the concept of preservatives, particularly when it comes to food products but not many know that even our beauty products contain them in order to prevent issues of bacterial growth and fungi, meant to protect not only the product but also the person using it. It is these preservatives that are known as parabens.

If you have been checking your body wash bottle but haven’t found the term ‘paraben’ and assume your choice of product is free from the preservative, then you’re wrong. The terms you might want to look out for are butylparaben, methylparaben, ethylparaben and propylparaben which are the most common parabens used in beauty products.

In fact, you might find more than just one of these listed on the products you’re using.

What kind of products will contain parabens?

The truth is that almost all beauty and makeup products you’re using might contain parabens simply because the function they perform is extremely important: preservation. The products you might want to check the ingredient list for include:

  • Moisturisers
  • Serums, for the skin and hair
  • Shampoo
  • Makeup
  • Hairstyling products such as gels
  • Shaving creams

Since this list comprises pretty much all the products we use, many recommend checking the ingredient list for each and every product you purchase.

So, why are parabens bad?

Over the years, there are many concerns that have cropped up around the use of parabens which include:

  1. Endocrine disruption

Some consumers are fearful that parabens might interfere with their endocrine system and cause grave illnesses such as cancer. Here, women are particularly worried because parabens are believed to mimic the function of oestrogen and alter cell formation in a way that causes breast cancer. In 2004, a small study from Britain found that paraben traces were found in the breast tissue of 19 out of 20 women studied. There was no proof that parabens cause breast cancer but it did become clear that parabens can penetrate into our body through our skin and remain in the tissue.

Scientists have not been able to establish any strong link between parabens and cancer or endocrine system-related illnesses, but given that it stays in the tissue while we don’t quite know of its effects on our long-term health means that we should probably steer clear of parabens till we know conclusively of its safety.

  1. Environmental impact

Parabens can prove to be harmful to our environment too. Experts believe that parabens find their way to water bodies and marine animals through the sewage that gets released out into the environment. In fact, laboratory tests published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives showed that parabens can have a devastating impact on coral reefs. In addition, a review titled ‘Occurrence, fate and behavior of parabens in aquatic environments: a review’ noted the presence of parabens in water bodies and fish.

The choice is obviously yours but till we know more about parabens and their effects on our body, we should try to use products free of them.

Grace Bains Grace Bains

Grace is someone who likes writing enough to make a living out of it. When she isn’t writing, you will find her having chai and reading a book.