To Paraben or Not to Paraben: Are Chemicals in Cosmetics Really That Bad For Us?

If you're anything like me, the only time you'll have really noticed about parabens being an ingredient in cosmetics are when they're labelled 'paraben free.' My view on that is always 'well that's good...I think' and I rarely pay much more attention beyond that. Some companies pride themselves on this fact, and it seems that one of their major selling points is that by not including these chemicals they're a step up from their competitors. But do we really care? Would a product sway you towards buying it over another similar product just because of this? I've never had too much of an opinion on chemicals and additives in cosmetics, with the opinion that if products are approved for general sale to the public then surely they're safe enough. With millions of people using them, wouldn't anything be noticed quickly and the products be removed? I'm just a typical consumer, and am a bit ashamed to admit that although issues like animal testing bother me massively I'd probably never switch to purely cruelty free cosmetics unless they were readily available. Not because I don't agree with the cause, but simply because convenience, price and choice of products are more likely to be deciding factors in what I choose to buy. The same applies with the issue of parabens and chemicals in cosmetics, but with rumours of being linked with cancers and other terrible afflictions I thought I'd look into the topic myself so I'm able to make a more informed decision. I suppose it makes sense that what we put onto our skin is just as important as what we consume, the skin is our largest organ and chemicals put onto it can be absorbed and end up in our bloodstream in the same way as unhealthy ingredients in food.

What Are Parabens/ What Are They Used For
The first question is what are parabens, and what are they used for? Parabens are used as preservatives, as they have anti bacterial and anti fungicidal properties in a range of different formulas. That seems fair enough, right? We all know the importance of keeping cosmetics clean, and how they can harbour germs and bacteria when not used or stored properly. We need preservatives in our cosmetics and certain consumables to give them some sort of a shelf life, I wouldn't want to have to throw my makeup away every few weeks because it had expired. I think when most of us buy makeup we see it as a bit of an investment- £25 on a high end blush or a lipstick might seem a like a lot, but we generally justify it when we know it'll last us for a long time. I have to question how well makeup companies would do if the shelf life of their products was cut short, I know I'd be a lot less inclined to buy makeup (especially higher end) for a start.

Do We Really Need Parabens?
One of the arguments against using these types of chemicals in our cosmetics is that they're unnecessary; claims have been made that products made from high quality organic ingredients can have a shelf life of approximately two to three years. Personally though, I have to question this. When it comes to the expiration dates of cosmetics, although there doesn't seem to be anything written in stone the general consensus is that makeup does expire after a few years and that's even with these chemicals added. So surely without them the shelf life would be even shorter? There's also been no valid research done to prove or refute this claim, and I can take a guess that these claims are being made by the organic companies themselves. In this case I think we have to question to what extent they might be trying to push their own products. Even if it's true and that highly organic ingredients make products that last on the shelves for two to three years, what sort of price would we be looking to pay? And how would it affect the range of products that were available to us?

Undesirable Effects
One of the worrying rumours about parabens is that they're able to slightly mimic the female hormone estrogen which has been shown in some studies to play a role in the development of breast cancer. I think that you'd all agree that this is a pretty terrifying claim, however at present there is no solid evidence that directly establishes this link. That's not to say that there isn't truth in the claim or it shouldn't be taken seriously, but there has been no direct evidence to show this. However parabens have been shown to cause skin irritation and dermatitis in people with allergies to parabens, although this is only a small percentage of the population. The majority of individuals (even those with sensitive skin) seem to go completely unaffected. Considering the low levels used in cosmetics, “FDA believes that at the present time there is no reason for consumers to be concerned about the use of cosmetics containing parabens. However, the agency will continue to evaluate new data in this area.”

My Views on Parabens in Cosmetics
I'm not denying that these chemicals may have adverse health benefits somewhere along the line, even if it's a minor reaction in the small minority of people. But seems that there isn't enough solid evidence out there to either confirm or deny any major health implications they might have, and as with anything a negative reaction might occur in some individuals. At the moment I'm not going to worry too much about parabens in cosmetics. We're exposed to chemicals every day; we breathe in things like car fumes and cleaning products and there are even chemicals in the water we drink. It doesn't make it okay but I suppose it's just a way of life. Without these chemicals we wouldn't have the fuel to power our cars, the aeroplanes to take us on holiday. We wouldn't have cleaning products that keep harmful bacteria and viruses from thriving in our homes, hospitals, shops and restaurants.

I think when it comes to food and cosmetics there are enough restrictions in place with the FDA and other organisations, which means that the chance of any harm occurring is minimised. I completely understand why some people would want to go all natural in their cosmetics, because the threat of cancer is always scary. For me though there isn't enough research to prove that it's worth switching to paraben free products just yet. I remember back when I was in secondary school and mobile phones were starting to become widely used, that there were rumours they could fry your brain in the same way as a microwave. Fifteen years later and there's still little evidence to support that theory, and so it goes to show that sometimes you can't believe everything you hear in the media.