Parabens prevent contamination of unwanted microorganisms: Parabens are a subgroup of preservatives used in formulations to prevent contamination, also called colonization, of unwanted microorganisms - including bacteria, mould and fungi. Whenever a formulation contains water, it becomes a suitable environment for microbes that can be potentially harmful for your skin and health. Therefore parabens can actually be beneficial to keep the balance of helpful and harmful bacteria in check.
Parabens have a natural origin: Labels stating, “free from parabens” are nowadays added to products which fuels consumer fear. Despite the fact that many “Natural/Organic” brands lead consumers to believe parabens are synthetically derived compounds, they actually have a very “natural” origin as they are formed from an acid (p-hydroxybenzoic acid) found in raspberries and blackberries, among others. As an alternative to parabens, essential oils have become popular substitutes, but many of these oils are in fact perfumes, and account for an increased number of perfume allergy and contact dermatitis.
- Parabens are safe based upon over 30 years of investigation: In 2014 the European Commission prohibited the use of five types of parabens due to their suspected effect as endocrine-disrupters. This means, that products available today are only allowed to contain four different types of parabens. Methyl- and Ethylparaben are concluded to be safe to use in cosmetics in concentrations up to 0.4%, while Butyl- and Propylparaben are safe to use in cosmetics in present concentrations of 0.19%. These different concentration limits are based upon 30 years of investigation and safety assessments to make sure that products only contain concentrations which are not endocrine disrupting. Parabens have been re-evaluated six times in response to new findings and increased data material, latest in May 2017.
So, to summarise...
Truth be told, parabens have a much more negative perception than is perhaps justified. Preservatives such as parabens are needed in formulations to avoid contamination from microbes that could potentially cause adverse effects upon your skin. The four types of parabens found in formulations nowadays have a natural origin, and are assessed as safe to use based on more than 30 years of investigation. In fact, the essential oils that are used as a replacement may actually be more harmful to sensitive skin as they are perfumes.
The guidance in this post is based on the safety assessments made by Cosmetic Ingredient Review. The background for the CIR Expert panel’s evaluation are studies and toxicology rapports from 1984 until now.
Title of publication: Safety Assessment of Parabens as Used in Cosmetics
Date and journal: Cosmetics Ingredient Review, May 19, 2017
Link to article: http://www.cir-safety.org/sites/default/files/paraben_web.pdf