Ask a Scientist: What Do Parabens Do For My Skin?
It seems like everyone is talking about parabens. And how they might affect our skin. But what are they? What do they do? Are they a bad thing? Do we need to be worried? We asked scientist Chris, technical editor of Personal Care Magazine to give us the lowdown on parabens. We love how Chris breaks things down for us, and gives us accurate and relevant information about the science behind skin care. We have heard a lot said about parabens but we want to get to the truth, and what we need to know to keep our skin healthy.
What are parabens?
Chris explains it simply, “Parabens is a term for a class of preservatives. Their role in life is to preserve products.
"It might surprise you to know that parabens aren’t just found in cosmetics. Pharmaceuticals use them. But they’re also found naturally in foods, so as Chris says, we consume a lot of parabens without knowing about it."
Parabens have been used basically forever. This is because they’re widely regarded as very effective preservatives and don’t have many side effects. In skin care products, parabens will be listed in the ingredients, they end with paraben, for example, ethylparaben.
If they’ve been used for a long time, why the sudden bad press?
Chris tells us a story about a couple of scientific papers published about fifteen years ago. That’s when it all changed for parabens.
Chris tells us the papers explored “the potential of parabens when applied to the skin to have an estrogenic activity, kind of a hormonal activity in skin cells. That kind of activity has links to cancer.”
“The world went mad. Suddenly parabens were going to kill you. Never use them ever again. That’s the background of it.”
That seems like a fair response?! If they are dangerous?!
Not exactly. There’s more to the story, explains Chris.
“The whole background of the attack on parabens was due to its potential to get into breast skin cells through using antiperspirants. The irony being, if you can find me an antiperspirant that has any preservative in it let alone paraben then you’d be doing well because they’re so full of aluminum. 99.9% of deodorants or antiperspirants just do not ever contain this ingredient. They just don’t need preserving. So the whole basis of the scientific argument was nonsense but, of course, mud sticks."
How The Skincare Industry Responded to Parabens
Consumers wanted to buy products that were paraben free. Despite the valid arguments that we consume parabens, and that actually parabens are safer than some potential alternative preservatives, scare mongering was very effective.
This is why a lot of products will now be labelled ‘paraben free.’
But surely it’s just better to use paraben-free?
It depends on what the alternative is. Skin care products will normally use preservatives. So when you read paraben free – you aren’t reading preservative free. So you need to look and see what ingredients they are using instead, Chris advises. How are they preserving the product if they aren’t using parabens?
The thing is with parabens, there are different types. Some parabens are still to this day, proven to be completely safe. as in possibly the safest preservatives you could possibly use. We consume them in foods.
Chris asks, do you eat blueberries? Super-fruit? Antioxidant? Contains parabens.
“Just looking at it dose-wise, you would consume 10 times, 20, 50 times more just from a dish of those kinds of berries than you would put on through using a cream, applying it topically. Of course you’re consuming it. You’re not just putting it onto the skin with the off chance that some are actually getting through the skin.”
Why Chris Is OK with Parabens
Your skin care products will contain preservatives. Chris says he’d rather use a safe paraben as a preservative, that’s got a proven safety track record, than try out a new or natural preservative that we don’t know yet. If we don’t know it, we won’t know what the long term impacts might be. And actually some of the replacement chemicals being used have caused increased allergic reactions and have had their own bad press.
But what about that scientific study?
It’s not that Chris is dismissing the study. But as a scientist, he wants people to understand the research in context. Which he feels hasn’t often been reported right.
“The link they made was in certain cells. So those breast cells, it can have this estrogenic hormonal activity. It is correct, that can be a precursor to cancer. The basis of the science was true. It’s more the relevance of the science that wasn’t true.
“It would only be true if you were using an antiperspirant containing a specific type of paraben which you will never do anyway. That data is completely irrelevant to what happens when you use a product on the face for instance with the parabens that are used."
“The tissue is different. The way things would respond is different. Obviously, the hormonal effects around the breast tissue and the likelihood of cancer in that tissue are obviously more likely. It all adds up that really the data is just not relevant … just not presented in the right way.”
The European Commission’s View
And it’s not just Chris who has this opinion. The European Commission has scientific committees, made up of people at the top of their field. They exist to explore controversial subjects, just like the argument about parabens.
So what do they say? Well, the Non-Food Scientific Committees have done extensive research and still say using parabens in skin care is safe.
Chris thinks it’s important we know these kinds of independent views. If we are going to make the right choice for our skin. “We need that kind of confirmation. It’s not just my view or an industry view. Independent experts are saying, yes, you should, you can, you could use these certain parabens and they’re completely safe.”
So… Paraben or Paraben Free? It’s your choice
At Jersey Beauty Company we are here to help you choose the products you feel most comfortable using. To make choices that are right for you.
If that’s paraben free, we have products for you.
If you are happy using parabens, we also have products for you.
Like any choice for your skin, it is a unique choice to you. Your skin is unique – we want you to have a skin care routine that works for the unique you!
So, some of the ranges we stock are completely paraben free – like Mary Cohr. This is a decision they have made as a company, as part of a wider commitment to natural products that are GMO-free, paraben-free, chemical filter-free and made with skin-compatible scents.
Other ranges, such as Dermalogica, do contain parabens in some of their products. If you have any questions about a specific product you might want to use, we are always here to chat to you! You can also check out the ingredients list of any product you use, for xxx-paraben, to see if they contain parabens.
At Jersey Beauty Company, we think it’s important we have the facts about issues in skin care. Especially when we are told they may potentially be harmful! We’re really grateful to our scientist Chris for dispelling some of the myths around parabens, and how they affect our skin. By getting his expert advice, we can see what parabens actually are, why people are worried, but also what the scientific community really think about the safety of using parabens.
You can shop for all of the ranges mentioned and many more at Jersey Beauty Company.