Parabens are like marmite – many products on the market contain them but others, like those made and sold by Tiempe, are happy to proclaim them to be paraben-free. But are parabens really that bad and don’t we need them?
Parabens are preservatives and they are incredibly ubiquitous; you will find them in cosmetics and all manner of skin care personal care and hair care products. They are esters of para-hydroxybenzoic acid and common parabens include: methylparaben, propylparaben, butylparaben. Less common are isobutylparaben, isopropylparaben and benzylparaben. Methylparaben does occur naturally in blueberries and strawberries but let’s be clear here, when you see parabens listed near the end of your product’s ingredients, the methylparaben it refers to is NOT A NATURALLY OCCURRING product derived from fruit, it is a synthesised product derived from petrochemicals that is intentionally added to work as a preservative. There is nothing natural about the parabens in your products. So what is the problem with them? Well, the fuss started when a 2004 study linked parabens in deodorant to breast cancer. Parabens are thought to be an endocrine disruptor. Because parabens mimic human oestrogen and it is known that oestrogen stimulates cancer, the link seemed plausible. The 2004 study has since been discredited as it whilst it showed the presence of parabens in breast tissue it didn’t prove any cause and effect. Hence, the American Cancer Society has concluded that there is insufficient scientific evidence of parabens increasing breast cancer risk. In 2010, the EU’s Scientific Committee on Consumer Safety (SCCS) released a thorough analysis of research on parabens, examining the chemicals’ role as endocrine disruptors, their contribution to breast cancer, and absorption levels of the chemical from consumer products through human skin. They concluded that the data were insufficient and incomplete, finding that parabens should not be regulated until more conclusive research is conducted although they did stipulate a maximum concentration for use:
“The SCCS considers the use of Butylparaben and Propylparaben as preservatives in finished cosmetic products as safe to the consumer, as long as the sum of their individual concentrations does not exceed 0.19%. This conclusion is based on the lack of scientifically sound data on the pivotal link between dermal absorption in rats and humans, in particular with regard to the metabolism of the parent compound in the skin. The latter can only be addressed through additional human data.”
Six years later, the jury is still out on whether parabens are entirely safe or if they should be regulated but the EU saw sufficient risk to regulate the concentrations of parabens that can be used. In 2010, Denmark’s environmental ministry announced that it was banning parabens in lotions and other cosmetic products for children under 3. The ban affects two types of parabens: propylparaben and butylparaben.
Research continues and more recent studies suggest that even at low concentrations parabens interact with other molecules to create risks hence parabens may be more potent at lower doses than previous studies have suggested. (source). Another study by SUNY suggests a link between parabens and birth defects. The discredited study carried out in 2004 by Dr Dacre was repeated in 2012 when she researched a larger sample and claimed that she not only repeated her 2004 results but found that paraben levels in the samples were now four times higher.
Many environmental health groups continue to advocate the removal of parabens from consumer goods. According to the David Suzuki Foundation:
“Parabens can mimic estrogen, the primary female sex hormone. They have been detected in human breast cancer tissues, suggesting a possible association between parabens in cosmetics and cancer. Parabens may also interfere with male reproductive functions. In addition, studies indicate that methylparaben applied on the skin reacts with UVB leading to increased skin ageing and DNA damage”. If the latter is true, then it seems to be a paradox that so many anti-ageing skin creams contain parabens.
So if there is insufficient evidence to prove that parabens are carcinogenic, and they are an effective preservative, what else do we at Tiempe have against them? It is generally reported that allergies to individual parabens are rare, but there is a higher incidence of cross-reaction so a combination of parabens in one product increases the likelihood of a reaction. Many cosmetic and hair products contain up to four or five parabens. Lots of us at Tiempe are allergic to parabens, as are our families. We could tell you some toe-curling stories about these allergies that would have guys in particular squirming in your seats, but it is better if we don’t go there – this isn’t that kind of website. Suffice to say that products containing parabens are banned in our houses. Another reason to avoid parabens is environmental damage. According to the US Environmental Protection Agency: “the continual introduction of these (parabens) into sewage systems and directly to recreational waters from the skin leads to the question of risk to aquatic organs.” (source) So be nice to fish and use alternatives where possible. We at Tiempe love to scuba dive so we aren’t taking any chances and why would you? There is no need to use parabens – our fantastic product range proves that.
Ultimately, we just don’t see the need to take any chances and because we manufacture our products in small batches and use effective packaging then the need for preservatives is minimised. Where a preservative is necessary we can use an effective alternative.