You’ve undoubtedly heard of these nasty guys – they’re probably the most widely known ingredient group to be avoided when it comes to personal care products. They can have some pretty scary impacts on our health, but let’s start with the silver lining first; parabens are already banned across the European Union and a growing number of U.S. companies have jumped on the paraben-free wagon to keep up with consumer demand. How awesome is that? Do you see what’s happening here? If we get loud enough, the industry WILL listen!
You may have read along the way that you should avoid products with parabens, but do you know why? It’s the details that are truly going to get this movement going, so let’s dive in.
What are parabens anyway and what are they doing in my products?
Parabens are actually several distinct chemicals that all have a similar molecular structure. You’ll see them listed on your products as Methylparaben, Butylparaben, Isobutylparaben, Propylparaben, Ethylparaben, and others ending in -paraben.
They’re most often used as preservatives in products that contain a significant amount of water (think: lotions, body washes, shampoos and conditioners) to control the growth of mold and bacteria and to increase shelf life. While there are a number of safe ways to preserve a product (and we’ll get into that is a later post) parabens have been the go-to preservative of choice since the 1920’s because they’re cheap and easy; and that’s not ok with us.
So why should we be concerned about parabens in our products?
Parabens are suspected endocrine disruptors, meaning that they can mimic the body’s hormones (like estrogen) and derail some of the body’s most essential functions. The complex network of our endocrine system relies on seamless communication of our body’s hormones, and when these foreign chemicals are let in the door to cloud things up, it has been shown to lead to many hormone related abnormalities.
Parabens are potential carcinogens and recent studies have shown that small doses of these chemicals may have a larger impact on our health than was originally thought. Parabens have shown up in breast cancer tissue in numerous studies and are thought to speed up the growth of cancer cells. When sunscreens containing parabens are applied to the skin it can actually encourage UV damage to skin cells, and when combined with other endocrine disruptors, can lead to the growth of malignant melanoma. A sunscreen that can boost the growth of skin cancer cells sounds pretty darn backwards to us!
Parabens can cause reproductive and developmental toxicity in both men and women. To be specific, some member of the paraben group can decrease sperm count and testosterone in men when applied consistently. Other parabens have been shown to reach unborn babies during gestation, altering the development of their reproductive organs.
We don’t think any of this is reasonable. That’s why Follain exists - to educate and empower, and to ignite our collective energy to create positive change. It IS working. Companies are listening to what their customers are saying and the positive shift away from parabens that we’re already seeing is just the very beginning of massive change. Check back for more restricted-ingredient deep dives each month to armor yourselves with the facts so that you can make safer choices for you and your family.