As defined by the US Food and Drug Administration, Parabens are the most commonly used preservatives in cosmetic products. If you were not aware, every skin care and personal grooming product you use must have some sort of conservative system in place to keep your product from going rancid. They provide conservation against a broad range of microorganisms as well as being used for their bacterial and fungicidal properties. Parabens are esters of p-hydroxybenzoic acid, is produced commercially and is synthetic. The most commonly used are methylparaben, propylparaben and butylparaben. When a formula uses several parabens together it allows for a reduced percentage of use while increasing the preservatives efficiency.
But what does this mean for you?
We know that parabens are rapidly absorbed. In terms of skin care this is a serious consideration as your skin, being the largest organ of the body, absorbs between 60-65% of what is applied. Underarms and 'down below' can absorb even 100%. Yikes.
The effects by the absorption of parabens can be a range of skin irritations, contact dermatitis and rosacea for those with paraben allergies. However, this is a small percentage of the population and parabens are considered non-toxic.
The larger issue with parabens is their effect on hormones including a potential link with breast cancer. Simply put, parabens have been shown to imitate estrogen, which can disrupt the hormonal balance for both men and women. In relation to breast cancer, the presence of parabens have been found in tested breast tumors, but as of this writing, there is no direct link between parabens and breast cancer.
The Cosmetic Ingredient Review ( http://www.cir-safety.org ) reviewed the safety of parabens and decided they could be safely used up to a level of 25%, but most are used in levels not greater than 0.3%.
The other side of the issue is using a strictly “natural” conservative such as grapefruit seed extract, rosemary extract or alpha tocopherol (Vitamin E). The main issues with using this type of conservative system is that they are not powerful enough and may not protect against all variants of microorganisms. Using a skin care product with a weak or ineffective conservative can put you at serious risk for infection such as anti-biotic resistant MRSA and many other serious skin and eye infections. Plus, because of their weak preservation capacity, they need to be included at a higher percentage which increases the likelihood of skin irritation. In addition, the safest way to keep a skin care product that uses a natural preservative is to keep it refrigerated, which is most likely way to labor intensive for the average user.
Here's a list of why to avoid paraben-based preservatives and natural preservatives:
- are highly absorbable and can cause skin irritations
- show to imitate estrogen which can disrupt hormonal balance
- potential (but unverified) link to breast cancer
- not powerful enough to effectively kill bacteria, fungi, yeast and molds
- can potentially expose the user to serious risk of skin and eye infections
- can cause skin irritations
- most effective when refrigerated, which is labor intensive for most users
Although both of the above systems have their limitations, there are options for safely and meticulously maintaining skin care products without having to keep them in your refrigerator. One of the best options is a conservative system called Optiphen Plus which has a combination of both synthetic and natural preservatives, without using parabens or formaldehyde. It is globally approved and has an excellent safety and toxicological profile. Optiphen Plus is a broad spectrum antimicrobial which includes Sorbic Acid, a natural acid that protects from yeast, fungus and mold.
Whatever choice you make in skin care products, make sure you not only know but understand what is in your product so your choice will be informed. Synthetics have been given a bad name, and “all-natural” is not all it's cracked up to be. The goal is for you to choose a product that you find useful, effective and that meets your needs, while improving the quality of your life and health.