Should I care about Parabens?

When I do some “Ethical ” shopping on-line, especially for make up and toiletries, I always see the label “paraben free” and think “ohhhhhhhhhhh, that sounds good!” But, I admit I have no idea what a paraben is and why it matters anyway. So I thought I’d collate the headline “facts” or at least the big opinions out there. Another dummies guide…



What are Parabens?

  • For the last 70 years parabens have been used as preserving chemicals in toiletries and make-up and in most products you find in a steamy bathroom. They’re added to stop things going mouldy.
  • They are hard to spot on an ingredients list. The common names end in “-paraben” but watch out for synonyms. I get the impression pharmaceutical companies might be trying to hide them? If my A-level chemistry serves me correctly any ingredient containing the letters “benz” or talking about “esters” is likely to be a paraben in disguise.

Why Should I Care?

Some folk question if it’s a good idea to cover our bodies in parabens. They are known to be absorbed into the body. Parabens are a little like oestrogen hormone and increasing oestrogen in our bodies might have negative effects including…

  • increased risk of breast cancer (in men as well!)
  • lower sperm count and other fertility issues


Why Shouldn’t I Care?

  • There is no scientific evidence parabens in cosmetics cause a problem.
  • Parabens have passed all the necessary safety checks needed by the pharmaceutical industry.
  • Only very small amounts are found in the our cosmetics so the level of paraben exposure would not be significant enough to cause a problem.


My Feelings

It’s impossible to know if parabens are as bad as people say. There is a lack of scientific evidence but then there is a lack of scientific evidence for a lot of things we take for granted! Doing proper randomised control trials involving people is very difficult and often limited by ethics.

Generally in life, I tend to air on the side of caution. I wear a helmet when I ride a bike and don’t use my phone when driving. But I do understand the flip side. I’ll happily drink a few glasses of wine at the weekend and if I was hit by a bus tomorrow I’d probably prefer to be wearing deodorant when they haul me off to A & E.

I think aiming for paraben reduction in my life is probably achievable. Especially in the area of kids who will be most susceptible if there is a problem.

On the plus side, I don’t feel quite so silly now I vaguely know what it is I’m avoiding:-)