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Parabens in cosmetics, are they bad?


Parabens are chemicals used as preservatives in personal care products, such as lotions, shampoos, toothpaste, or makeup. There are six commonly used types and all of them slow down bacterial growth and extend the shelf life of those products.

If cosmetics did not contain them, they could quickly become contaminated by bacteria. But, on the other hand, according to some studies , applying creams or lotions containing these substances to our skin, eyes, mouth or any other part of the body can have harmful effects on our health.

60% of everything we apply to our skin is absorbed and enters the bloodstream . Therefore, it is important to use brands that are safe.

How to detect them

Looking at the label of the cosmetic that we are going to purchase is the best way to know if it contains these substances. We can read them with the following names:

In the European Union they have been designated with the following codes: E214, E215, E216, E217, E218 and E219.

However, in cosmetic jars they may also appear with the following names: Sodium, Sodium Benzoate, Ammonium and Laureate Sulphate, being their most used names in cosmetics:

  • Isopropylparaben.
  • Ethylparaben.
  • Butylparaben.
  • Methylparaben.
  • Propylparaben.
  • Isobutylparaben.

How parabens work

These substances have different ways of preventing microbes from breaking down a product .

Preservatives like methyl paraben puncture holes in bacterial cell walls or membranes. This means that bacteria cannot reproduce.

Others like propylparaben prevent the cell wall from forming properly, so the bacteria cannot shut down. That way, a second generation of microbes cannot form.

The effectiveness of each synthetic can be enhanced when two preservatives are combined that work in different ways. For example, one may act in a more offensive way, while the other deals with the more resistant bacteria.

Warning signs

For some time now, the labels that advertise beauty products free of this type of substances have proliferated.

Although they are the most widely used preservatives in personal care products and prevent fungi, bacteria, and other microbes (especially in the hot, humid environment of a bathroom), some brands are abandoning their use.

The reason is not only that they could be dangerous for our body, but also that a growing number of consumers demand natural products.

Used for nearly 70 years, these ingredients are now in question . From different points of the medical and scientific community, as well as from consumer organizations, numerous questions arise in this regard, such as the following:

  • Is the increasing incidence of breast cancer related in part to the fact that parabens have been found in tumors of this type and can be isolated from other body tissues?
  • Are the loss of quality of men’s semen and the increasing rates of male breast cancer and testicular cancer related to the fact that these chemicals can be absorbed through our skin, which could affect our endocrine systems?

Parabens and cancer

The truth is that there is still no conclusive evidence that has found a direct relationship between these compounds and cancer. And although there are studies that have detected them in 18 out of 20 tissue samples from breast tumor biopsies, a cause and effect relationship has not been demonstrated.

According to some specialists, lotions and deodorants applied under the arms or near the chest are especially dangerous, so they recommend using only soap and water.

Another significant piece of information is that, according to some statistics, approximately 55 percent of breast cancer tumors occur in the upper outer part of the chest, the section closest to the armpit.

However, there is no general medical consensus in this regard and international medical institutions refer to the need to continue with research to find out the true effects on health.

In addition, not only must individual product exposure be analyzed, but a way must be found to assess the cumulative impact of various products used over many years.

In fact, average adult consumers turn to nine personal care products per day (shampoo, gel, makeup, creams, lotions, toothpaste, shaving cream, etc.).

Organizations affected by cancer

Among the groups of people most active in their fight against the use of parabens in the manufacture of cosmetics are some associations of people affected by cancer, especially groups of women with breast cancer.

This disease, whose incidence has been increasing, affects young women, with a healthy lifestyle, who wonder where the origin of their disease is and who are putting all their energy into working for research. From organized entities, they demand studies to clarify whether these substances are harmful or not for the body and, meanwhile, they advise against their consumption.

Products for children and adolescents

It smells good, it feels good to our son’s skin and all his friends use it. But is it the healthiest option? When it comes to choosing shampoos, lotions and other personal products for our children, which ones are the most appropriate is not an easy question to answer.

This is because while much attention has been paid to chemicals such as phthalates, parabens, and formaldehydes found in many personal care products, it is not clear what the risks are, if any.

While some manufacturers are voluntarily phasing out many controversial chemicals, many others are still being found that contain potentially dangerous substances.

In these cases, the skins of children and adolescents are especially sensitive . The latter, for example, tend to experiment with new personal care products and receive even greater chemical exposure than adult women.

Even so-called “natural skin care products” can be harmful to our baby or child. The reason is that, in reality, they are not as healthy a choice as they appear, because they only need 1 percent natural ingredients to be called “natural”.

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This means that some may contain a combination of artificial chemicals and water to make up the remaining 99 percent.

Artificial preservatives are one of the main causes of irritation and allergic reactions. Some are also known to release small amounts of formaldehyde, which is irritant, carcinogenic, and neurotoxic.

The following ingredients contain formaldehyde, can release formaldehyde, or can break down to formaldehyde:

  • Diazolidinyl urea.
  • DMDM hidantoína.
  • Imidazolidinyl urea.
  • Quaternium-15.

Cosmetics with parabens

Between 75 and 90 percent of cosmetics can contain these components. They easily penetrate the skin and the European Commission has categorized them as level 1, for their endocrine disrupting capacity.

That is, they are considered endocrine disruptors, or what is the same, chemicals capable of influencing the hormone system and conditioning aspects such as the growth or development of their sexuality .

These are some of the main products in which they are:

  • Facial moisturizers. Used to moisturize the skin of the face, these creams are used by women and men of all ages. They work by creating a waterproof barrier on the face that gives the skin a soft and smooth appearance. Some experts recommend using petroleum jelly instead.
  • Anti aging creams. They are used to reduce wrinkles and firm facial skin. Although the effectiveness of these products is not really verified, their use is widespread among large sectors of the population and, in general, they are used once or twice a day.

Ingredients for anti aging creams are often these substances, as they are a common cosmetic preservative. Therefore, if after applying one of these products we notice side effects such as rashes, skin irritation or redness, we should consult a specialist.

  • Makeup base. Foundations are applied to the face to mask blemishes and make it appear smooth in texture and color. Liquids and powders often contain one or more types of these compounds to allow the product to have a longer shelf life.

However, some newer foundations on the market are free of these potentially dangerous ingredients.

  • Scented products. Something little known to consumers is that fragrances often also contain these elements in their composition. Manufacturers are not required to label the ingredients in a perfume, because the recipes are considered trade secrets .

Paraben-free cosmetics

Until a few years ago, consumers were hardly aware of the importance of the composition of cosmetic products. Little by little, that has been changing.

Many beauty brands have become familiar with the natural movement initiated by environmentally friendly consumers with a healthy lifestyle. Suddenly, we have realized what was in our bathroom closet and beauty companies have not been slow to respond to this new demand.

How to search

Fortunately, it is not difficult to find personal care products that do not include them. If we take a walk through any large-area cosmetics aisle, we are likely to find many products that do not carry them.

However, that does not mean that they are free of other potentially harmful elements. The regulations on those labeled as natural and organic are very lax, so it is important to do our own research before making a purchase.

Own elaboration

We can also consider making our own cosmetics using natural products. One solution is to opt for organic shea butter as a base for safe skincare products for the whole family.

This way we will rest more calmly, knowing exactly what is in each product. Plus, creating our own body lotions, creams, and oils is rewarding and fun.

New range of products

Cosmetic houses have started to work to bring new products to the market that are clean of substances that may be toxic. It is the so-called clean makeup, which refers to brands that have lists of effective ingredients, free of synthetic elements that can be irritating to the skin, such as parabens , petrochemicals, petroleum-derived compounds, silicones, sodium laureth or lauryl sulfate, phthalates or propylene glycol.

This new range differs from the other natural categories and does not necessarily have to be produced from organically grown plant ingredients.

They are kept for a time in perfect condition and can give anti-aging results as satisfactory as traditional products.

How to get rid of them

If we want to stop using articles that contain these components, we must look for those that include clear information on their labeling and read the ingredient lists.

Many manufacturers of natural and organic cosmetics have found effective alternatives to prevent microbial growth in personal care products. On the other hand, some companies have created preservative-free products that have shorter shelf lives than conventional products (six months to a year), but are just as valid.


The European Union has legislation that regulates the maximum amount of use of methyl paraben and propyl paraben by cosmetic companies. The level is decided in relation to the complete composition of a product. This means that 0.4 percent of a formula can be methyl paraben and 0.4 percent propyl paraben, according to EU regulation.

Europe has much stricter policies regarding preservatives in cosmetic ingredients than Canada and the United States. However, European regulations limit the maximum concentration that cosmetic companies can use of each preservative in a formula, but not the amount they can use in each product.

Let’s bet on naturalness

The best way to avoid chemicals is to reduce the amount of the ones we use. Each product represents an additional source of potentially harmful substances, so by using fewer cosmetics we reduce the amount of parabens and other unknown and unproven chemicals that come into contact with our bodies. Therefore, one way to prevent can be to evaluate our daily routine, check how many articles for hair and skin we use and ask ourselves how many we can or are willing to do without.


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Hello Readers, I am Nikki Bella a Psychology student. I have always been concerned about human behavior and the mental processes that lead us to act and think the way we do. My collaboration as an editor in the psychology area of ​​Well Being Pole has allowed me to investigate further and expand my knowledge in the field of mental health; I have also acquired great knowledge about physical health and well-being, two fundamental bases that are directly related and are part of all mental health.

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