Is this skincare ingredient dangerous?

Our resident skin guru, Zoe Foster.


Parabens: you’ve asked about them, so it’s time I answered (as best I could.)

What is parabens?
I think you mean what are parabens. Parabens are a group of chemicals used as preservatives to stop bacteria growing in food, cosmetics (from shampoo to toothpaste to foundation) and therapeutic products. You’ll see them in the ingredients list under names like methylparaben, ethylparaben, propylparaben, butylparaben and isobutylparaben. Some great options in there for those looking for a truly unique baby name.

They get a bad rap, why?
A study in 2004 launched concerns that parabens were a contributing factor to breast cancer. However, as it stands, there is no conclusive evidence to suggest that the use of products containing parabens is directly linked to the development of cancer. And with parabens used in everything from cleaning agents to food and pharmaceuticals, blaming beauty products alone – underarm deodorant in particular – is unfounded. (Also, the research linking them to cancerous cells is unsatisfying, as it didn’t compare results with paraben levels in non-cancerous cells, i.e., there was no control group.) All of that said, obviously more investigation is justified and necessary.

Those with allergies may be affected by parabens.

Should I be concerned?
We’re lucky in Australia (some cosmetic companies may not share this view) to have one of, if not the most, rigorous regulatory system in the world for cosmetic chemicals: the TGA.

As it stands, the TGA have stated there is not enough evidence to substantiate that parabens are hazardous, especially when used in small doses in cosmetics. On a different note, if you are prone to allergies, sensitivity or irritation (from cosmetics, not Lana Del Ray’s music) you may be reacting to parabens, in which case it’s best to avoid them, and other things than can cause flare ups, like fragrances etc.

These days, there is plenty of paraben-free skincare about and some of these brands are listed below. I personally am not concerned about parabens due to the lack of conclusive evidence, but remain mindful. That said, since there are people who are concerned, and more importantly do get reactions from parabens, and it makes sense that more companies would look for substitutes that are as well-tested and safe as parabens.

Anything else?

If you’re concerned about parabens in your skin care, I can recommend Jurlique, Dr.Hauschka, REN, Trilogy, Korres, Weleda, Origins, Akin and Sodashi as alternatives.

Also, remember that ‘natural’ doesn’t always mean safe, and ‘chemical’ doesn’t necessarily mean hazardous. Some “natural” brands use synthetic preservatives to avoid using parabens, for example, so be sure to look at all ingredients thoroughly.

*Disclaimer due to highly-polarizing hot topic-ness: Obviously I am a beauty writer, not a scientist. This post is a response to the many times I, in my capacity as a beauty writer, have been asked by women about parabens and like all of my posts, it is opinion. If you want more information on this topic, as a starter here is some, here is some, and here is some more. Keep in mind there is both a lot of hysteria and a lot of science to wade through, and that the reason I refer (and ultimately, defer) to the TGA is because its their job to do the research for us, they are the regulatory body put in place to look out for consumers.

Zoe Foster is an author, columnist and porridge fan. Her books include the beauty bible Amazing Face, dating and relationship guide Textbook Romance, and three novels, Air KissesPlaying The Field and The Younger Man. Find more info on Zoe Foster here, or supervise on her daily procrastination here and here.

Please understand that Zoë Foster cannot respond to ALL your questions – but never fear, there are readers that are bound to know the answers, so don’t be afraid to ask.

Do you use skincare products that contain parabens? Are the chemical ingredients in beauty products something that you consider before you purchase?

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