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What are Parabens?

Yingdee, MPharm

24 Nov 2017

Our goal at SkinNinja is to ensure you have all the information you need about the chemical ingredients in your cosmetics to make informed decisions about what you apply to your body. Some ingredients you see listed on your skin care product labels may as well be in another language for all the information their name gives you – so we’re here to give you the lowdown on common ingredients and their potential effects in plain English. In the first of this regular series, we look at parabens… 

What actually are parabens?

The dictionary definition of parabens is

“A group of compounds used as preservatives in pharmaceuticals and cosmetic products as well as in the food industry” [1].

Doesn’t really tell us much other than we know they’re a common skin care product ingredient and they make these products keep for longer. But next question is, how?

What do parabens do?

Parabens make your cosmetics last longer by preventing microbial growth within the product (meaning they stop a variety of microorganisms growing in the product).

Sounds good, right? Perhaps, in principle. Yes, things not going mouldy is good. But if something is able to stop microbial growth, it’s possible it’s something we need to remain wary of – and indeed, many health experts and governments have raised concerns over parabens.

Making sure things don’t go off

Which means a longer shelf life and more efficient retailing

Are parabens banned in Europe?

No – but in 2010, the government of Denmark became the first in Europe to ban two particular parabens, propylparaben and butylparaben, their isoforms and their salts in all personal care products for children under three. Why? They recognised the potential of parabens to disrupt endocrine activity – that’s hormones to you and me – meaning these ingredients could severely impair children’s development.

The European Commission have completely banned isopropylparaben, isobutylparaben, phenylparaben, benzylparaben and pentylparabesome for use in cosmetics and skin care products, while placing restrictions on the amount of most remaining parabens that can be added. The official reason for this ban was “the lack of data necessary for reassessment”.
Sound fishy to you? Proposing, writing, amending and passing legislation is a pretty time-consuming process, so why would governments go to the effort of banning or heavily restricting the use of a chemical compound for a non-reason like a lack of data?

So are parabens bad for you or not?

The jury is out on whether or not parabens can lead directly to health problems – but there’s no smoke without fire, and you deserve to know whether or not a product contains an ingredient which concerned the Danish and European parliaments enough to restrict or ban it.

Which products contain parabens?

That’s where SkinNinja comes in. Just download the app, scan your product’s barcode and you’ll get a full breakdown in plain English of what the products contain and whether those ingredients have health concerns associated with them. If you’re concerned about parabens and you find your product contains them, SkinNinja will give you the low-down on which paraben-free alternatives are available

For more information on skincare product ingredients, and terms associated with cosmetics and skin care products, head to our cosmetic ingredients glossary, and stay tuned to the SkinNinja blog for more deep dives into just what those terms you’re always reading about really mean.

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