Noticed a sudden increase in the number of ‘paraben free’ labels in your local salon? Keen to know more about this emerging trend? We’ve got you covered.
Parabens are found in most hair and beauty products. They’re a powerful preservative, and they’re normally added to prevent the build-up of mould, fungus and bacteria in long-life products that are expected to last for 6+ months.
Recently, scientists have highlighted some fairly alarming links between parabens and a variety of hormone-related illnesses, leading to a sudden spike in the number of paraben free products. If you’re keen to find out more, this guide sets out to provide a good overview of the various health risks associated with parabens.
At the end of this article, we’ve also put together a little buying guide that’s designed to help you pick the best alternatives, so if you’ve already decided to make the switch, simply skip ahead and browse our top recommendations!
What are the health risks?
It’s always good to see cosmetics companies working to remove harmful chemical additives from their products, and we’re a big fan of the general movement towards cleaner, healthier beauty products.
That said, it’s important to understand the debate around parabens, and not get caught up in the hype. At present, most of the health concerns center on the fact that parabens can mimic estrogen in the body. This allows them to interfere with the endocrine system and cause fairly profound hormonal imbalances.
Since estrogen levels have an impact on everything from your menstrual cycle, right through to your fertility and the speed at which you lose weight, this is quite worrying. To make matters worse, scientists have recently found that breast cancer cells often contain quite a high concentration of parabens.
This has led some experts to conclude that parabens are actually increasing the risk of breast cancer, by promoting abnormal growth and encouraging the body to mass-produce cells that are prone to going rogue.
In the wake of these revelations, some scientists are now calling for people to make the switch to paraben-free products, particularly if the product is a deodorant or cream that’s designed to be used on the skin around your armpits, breasts or throat.
However, it is important to remember that nobody actually knows whether the parabens are responsible. In 2008, the European commision that oversees cosmetic regulations ruled that research into the potential interactions between cancer cells and paraben compounds had been inconclusive.
Other research bodies have also stressed the fact that there are plenty of other chemicals in our food, water and air that could be responsible for the increase in cases of breast cancer. If you’re looking for more reassurance, it’s worth noting that a lot of different compounds do also tend to accumulate in cancer cells, irrespective of whether they’re actually causing their growth.
It’s important to remember that parabens are used in varying concentrations too. There are creams, body scrubs and shampoos out there that contain concentrations of around 1%, but there are also plenty of cosmetics that contain parabens in microscopic amounts, depending on the intended shelf life. It stands to reason that these, while technically not paraben free, would pose less of a health risk.
On balance, we don’t think it’s worth throwing away your old collection just yet. That said, it is important to weigh up the pros and cons according to your own, individual priorities. If you are concerned about the potential side effects, it might be worth considering the switch to paraben-free products in the future. There’s certainly no better time to do it, given the huge amount of alternatives currently on offer.
Identifying Paraben Free Products
If you do decide to start buying paraben-free, you’ll need to learn how to spot a whole host of ever-present preservatives. You can just rely on the presence of a ‘paraben-fee’ shout-out; it’s certainly something that a lot of brands are keen to stick on relevant products, but you might still miss some good options. Particularly if they’re not labelled properly. It’s always good to know what you’re buying too!
The most common parabens are methylparaben and ethylparaben. You should also keep your eyes peeled for any mention of propylparaben; butylparaben; and iso-butylparaben. There are a couple of other, less-common parabens (including iso-propyl and phenylparaben) but their use is restricted and you’re much less likely to find them in your toiletries.
Choosing Paraben Free Products
Before you dive in and kick off your first paraben-free shopping spree, it’s important to remember that there are many different ways to remove parabens from a cosmetic product, and not all of them are desirable.
In the best-case scenario, parabens are replaced with safer preservatives like phenoxyethanol or sodium benzoate. These compounds are both natural, and completely safe. They also do a very good job of killing the same bacteria, fungi and mould strains that parabens are designed to target.
However, parabens are often replaced with chemicals like formaldehyde, which are far worse. Formaldehyde is known to cause skin irritation and is actually the preservative that parabens were designed to replace, which means that opting for a formaldehyde-heavy product is essentially taking a step backwards.
Preservative-free cosmetics are a bit risky too. They’re much better for your skin, but the hot, humid air in your bathroom is exactly the sort of environment that harmful bacteria thrive in, and a preservative-free cream, lotion or face mask can quickly become contaminated as a result.
This means that you have to choose paraben-free products quite carefully. To give you a helping hand, we’ve pulled together a list of our favourite paraben-free products, as follows:
Lathering up should always be risk-free, which is why we’re really happy to see some of the big brands rolling out a special selection of paraben-free shampoos. The products that we’ve chosen for this selection are all gentle, nourishing shampoos that aim to detox your hair without the use of harsh chemicals or preservatives.
They don’t compromise on quality either – The Label.M age-defying shampoo that we’ve picked actually uses extracts of white caviar to hydrate and nourish hair of every type, and Fudge’s powerful, paraben-free detox shampoo is definitely a top-pick if you’re trying to repair damaged hair.
Paraben-Free Shampoo for Coloured Hair
It’s not just gentle, revitalizing shampoos that are going paraben-free either – as demand for clean hair products grows, brands like Chill*ed have also rolled out really great everyday options for coloured hair of all varieties.
There’s no point using paraben-free shampoos if you’re not going to follow up with an equally healthy conditioner. Fortunately, there are plenty of fantastic options out there, including a great conditioner from Morrocanoil, a purifying, cool-mint conditioner from Fudge and a conditioner from Matrix Biolage that’s specifically designed to treat damaged hair.
All three of these conditioners use gentle, safe preservatives and a whole host of nourishing natural ingredients to protect and revitalize your hair.
Paraben-Free Hair Treatments
When it comes to treating your hair, you’ll also find a plethora of paraben-free options. If anything you’re even more spoiled for choice here, as there’s always been a push to make hair treatments as clean as possible.
For best results, we’d recommend exploring options from some of the brands we’ve already profiled. Moroccanoil, Label. M and Matrix Biolage have all gone out of their way to replace parabens, sulfates and other chemicals with much less damaging alternatives, and that means that their hair treatments are an ideal pick for those of us with delicate or damaged hair.
Paraben-Free Fake Tanning
Most deodorants and creams are now paraben free by default, but the world of self-tanning is often overlooked when it comes to health and safety. This is a problem because, unlike shampoos, tanning lotions are often applied to your whole body which increases your exposure to any harmful contaminants.
Luckily, Fake Bake do have a selection of paraben-free tanning lotions, which is great for those of us that want sun-kissed skin without the risk. They also make a really good oil-free moisturizer that’s completely paraben-free too:
And if you’re still looking for the perfect product, you can use the ‘paraben-free’ filter on all of our shop pages to find clean cosmetics & shampoos.