Chances are, if you’re a repeat Nutralegacy.com reader, you’re one of those rare bred consumers that plays it safe by stocking your household with natural and/or organic food and cosmetic products. That being said, we’re willing to bet you’ve had the following experience: You’re standing in the shower, letting the warm water rush over you, and your eyes glaze over. Eventually, the water turns cold or you realize you’re late for work, so you reach for your natural shampoo or conditioner to get on with your day. Before you squeeze the bottle, your eyes happen to scan a list of unpronounceable ingredients until you pause at a personalized message that reads, “Paraben-Free” or “Made without Parabens.” And, you think, “Well that’s great. Sounds like a plus. But, just what the hell are parabens, and why does the notification of their absence deserve such a large and exclusive section of my expensive shampoo label?”
Well, even if you haven’t had such a moment, it could still be quite beneficial to know about these pervasive little chemicals. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) describes parabens as, “the most widely used preservatives in cosmetic products. Chemically, parabens are esters of p-hydroxybenzoic acid. The most common parabens used in cosmetic products are methylparaben, propylparaben, and butylparaben. Typically, more than one paraben is used in a product, and they are often used in combination with other types of preservatives to provide preservation against a broad range of microorganisms.”
See, most cosmetic products like shampoos, conditioners, moisturizers and lotions contain some amount of water. And, if a water-based cosmeceutical is going to be sitting in your shower or on your shelf for weeks at a time, it’s susceptible to a wide range of bacteria. So, parabens have been added to approximately 85 percent of cosmetics since the 1950s. But, concerns started to arise in the 1990s when parabens were classified as xenoestrogens (agents that mimic estrogen in the body). This can lead to estrogen disruption, increased risk of breast cancer and reproduction problems not to mention other health risks attributable to cumulative build-up of parabens in the body.
Some studies offer a counter argument, and the FDA and World Health Organization consider parabens to be safe in small doses. But, how can we keep our paraben levels low when cosmeceutical and pharmaceutical companies are peddling lotions, scrubs, lipsticks and shampoos to insecure and aesthetically-conscious, first-world teenagers at every turn? If you share this concern, your first and best bet is to invest in oil-based shampoos and lotions that don’t require the preservatives.