Why are parabens bad for your skin?

As I’m typing this I’m STILL trying to get over GoT. Really? Really? What? and congratulations to everyone who figured out how to see some of the earlier episodes. Episode 3 especially, and special thanks to Melisandre for the best episode ever and literally lighting the way. Beautiful acting, beautiful writing, beautiful cinematography. Loved GoT. No spoilers. But this last season…………….

But that’s not why you’re here.

You’re here to figure out why parabens are bad for your skin.

Unlike silicones there a bit more evidence for removing parabens from our skin care routine. If you want to read my silicone background read it here. While I couldn’t find anything after hours of searching with silicones, it didn’t take me long to get hits suggesting parabens can have a negative influence on our general health.

Why do we include parabens in our skin care and personal care?

The ingredients list for MakeUp Revolution’s Liquid Highlight in Rose Gold. Follow the thumb nail and it points to propylparaben in the ingredients list.

Parabens are a preservative. They keep microorganisms from growing in your toner, lotion, deodorant, etc. Nobody wants to smear Aspergillus on their face. They don’t work like formaldehyde or formaldehyde releasing compounds, which is another preservative we have floating around in personal care although it’s use has plummeted.

In the very bottom right you see the symbol for the shelf life indicating after 18 months (18M) this product should be thrown away.

Everyone should know the shelf life of a product they are using for personal care (most of my makeups are way past their use by date). If you flip over and look at the back there’s a symbol that looks like a jar with a cracked lid and a number or number and letter in the center. That tells you how many months you can use the product safely before it has expired. Some are listed in days and others years but most you’ll see a number and an M such s 36M. That means the product has expired 36 months after it’s been opened.

Buzzwards to look for

Coty AirSpun face powder in translucent which contains both methyl- and propylparaben. The same powder beauty gurus have been raving over. I like it too.

If looking at the back of products, the most straight forward are compounds that end in -paraben. The most popular include methylparaben and propylparaben. You may also see them listed as methyl paraben and propyl paraben. There’s also ethyl- and butylparaben. I went through my entire personal care products and found one example of something containing a paraben.

Where do we find parabens in personal care?

According to one summary, parabens were found in approximately 60% of leave-in products and approximately 40% of rinse-off personal care items. The products surveyed included everything from sunscreen, deodorants, toners, and baby products.

In South Korea, over 90% of study participants had detectable concentration of paraben in their urine, which was noted as the highest in the world. One thing to note is only 71 persons out of 261 participants listed using skincare daily so skincare does not account for a majority of the exposures. Guess the infamous Kbeauty skincare routine isn’t as popular as we’re lead to believe in the US.

Methylparaben and compounds with a similar structure to methylparaben and propylparaben (the most commonly used parabens) have been detected in nearly 100% of Chinese swimming pools (N=37) although the exposure risk was negligible. Parabens are found in a large proportion of sunscreens.

In my arsenal of makeup and skincare, which we can all guess is EXTENSIVE, I found parabens listed in all my MakeUp Revolution products including all their eye shadows and liquid highlights, Coty AirSpun Loose Facial Powder, Olay Eyes Ultimate Eye Cream, and It’s A 10 Miracle Hair Mask. For my deoderant I use Secret Clinical and I didn’t see any paraben their. Toothpaste was clear, I use Crest. Sunscreen was also clear and I use LaRoche-Posay SPF 50

Estrogen mimic/ endocrine disruptor
Several studies in animals and human cell lines have found parabens to be estrogenic (estrogen mimic). One note on that is that the most active paraben (butylparaben) when injected into mice was 100,000 times LESS potent than 17B-estradiol. Estradiol is the primary estrogen formed following puberty by both men and women. It’s also significantly less estrogen than what we use for hormone replacement/birth control pills. Humans; however, are very responsive to hormones. Butylparaben is not used extensively in personal care, the most used paraben is methyl- or propyl paraben which were less active than butylparaben. It’s unclear how much paraben is too much paraben to result in an estrogenic effect that could cause issues especially evident in younger boys. Several years ago young boys were found to be growing breasts and it was tracked to a large use of lavender and tea tree oil. Lavender is also very popular is body lotions especially before night and is estrogenic. Fun Fact: Lavender has also been shown to aide in PMS symptoms when used in aromatherapy.

Cancer Risk
Parabens have also been indicated to cause an estrogenic effect that can result in cancer, particularly breast cancer. This is just theoretical at this time. I couldn’t find any epidemiologic studies in humans that looked at breast cancer and paraben concentration in urine or exposure in personal care products to see if this the theory has merit.

Environmental Impact
Parabens are now being found in aquatic environments including marine animals. Additionally, there is evidence that parabens are increasing the further up the food chain you look which is a process known as bioaccumulation. Marine mammals also produce estrogen similar to how it is produced in humans. The highest occurrence of parabens in aquatic environments are methyl- and propylparaben, which is also the most common paraben used in skincare and makeup as a preservative. From wastewater, we can remove approximately 90% of parabens before they enter the larger bodies of water. An additional review of personal care products in aquatic environments can be read here.

Final Thought

If you wanted to take a limited to paraben-free personal care approach it’s going to be nearly impossible; however, it seems reasonable given the limited evidence we have right now and the environmental risk. Parabens have been studied better as a chemical class than silicones but that doesn’t mean it’s extensive. In the last 3-5 years we’ve been publishing more studies that are getting closer to beginning to examine human risks more directly. As of right now we’re still using animal models and human cell lines which have several limitations, one of them being dosage response. South Korea and Australian scientists seems to be publishing the most regarding this topic.

I looked at everything I use on a regular basis and could only find parabens listed in my least expensive products, less than $10 for a full size product. They were also present most commonly in powder formulations. There are other alternatives in preservation which we’re using now but it does increase the cost. I’m getting a big order in from YesStyle shortly and I’m interested to see how many of those products contain parabens. A lot of the products I order are powder facial cleanser to use while I travel this year. I have Tatcha’s entire line of powder cleansers and they don’t contain parabens for those who use Tatcha.

The US market has moved into a very negative viewpoint on parabens. Parabens do remain a very inexpensive means of preserving products and will likely continue to be unless the FDA removes the ability to use them. Short of that type of federal response in the US or a similar response in the EU i doubt we’ll see them totally removed.

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