I Scream, You Scream, We all Scream for a Paraben-free Cream!

Why are we all in a race to get rid of preservatives and parabens in our skincare?  Is it because beauty companies are educating customers on the perils of parabens?  Or are we reading too many anti-paraben blogs, such as the one re: the woman getting breast cancer purportedly from parabens in a cream that she was using?  Or do we even know why we want to get rid of parabens?  Well, let me give you the skinny…..

I was working in product development in a skin care company several years back when this whole ordeal transcended.  Raw material suppliers were scrambling to come up with paraben replacements.  Customers were calling incessantly demanding to know why we still formulated products with parabens.  The negative media frenzy surrounding parabens stemmed mainly from a study done in 2004 which detected parabens in human breast cancer tissue.  Ever since the study was released, parabens were known as a potential carcinogen and nobody wanted to touch the ingredient with a 10-foot pole.

What exactly are parabens?  Parabens are a group of preservatives, found to be most effective in fighting off harmful bacteria in your skincare.  You may recognize these ingredients on your label listed as methylparaben, propylparaben, butylparaben and/or isobutylparaben, which are the most common parabens used in cosmetics and skincare.  Even at very low percentage levels (usually only added into products at 0.01 – 0.3%), parabens have superpower abilities in preserving your creams and lotions.

You may wonder why you need any kind of preservatives at all.  Well let me ask you this.  When you apply your face cream, do you stick your finger inside the jar?  Did you know that the moment your finger touches the cream, you are introducing bacteria into the formula?  If there were no preservatives in your formula, bacteria will start to grow (after all, your formula is made up mostly of water and fats which the bacteria can feast on!).  Before long, you will notice that your cream is becoming rancid (ever seen creams that separate or smell funny?).  Obviously you don’t want to put this contaminated product on your skin!!

However, in response to tremendous customer demand, the beauty industry is rapidly reformulating all their products to be paraben-free.  While it’s not that I disagree with this approach, I will leave you with this food for thought.  There are many new paraben alternatives available on the market today.  However, most of these preservatives must be used at levels 6 or 7 times higher than parabens in order to have the same bacteria-fighting abilities.  What does this mean?  Well the higher the preservative content in your creams, the greater the potential for skin irritation.  In addition, using higher level preservatives often has a negative impact on the overall feel and texture of the creams.  As you can see there are tradeoffs for paraben alternatives as well!

So, for those of you are indifferent about parabens, you will be happy to know that FDA still deems parabens to be safe for use in cosmetic products even after evaluating additional studies performed as a result of this controversy.
However, for those of you who choose to ban parabens, please make sure that you are still purchasing products that are adequately preserved!  Preservatives in any beauty formulas that contain water are ABSOLUTELY ESSENTIAL!  Skincare should enhance, not ruin your skin!!

That’s all I have for today!  Bye for now dolls!

Yours truly,

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  • genienep

    So, what are the safe alternatives? Have they been tested, tried & true as safe? One has to wonder how much testing for safety or tracking for consumer irritation really goes on in the industry.

    How long have parabens been on the market? Why all the fuss?

    Great blog! Keep it up! :)

  • http://www.thebeautynerd.com Connie

    All paraben alternatives that are currently being used are technically safe (as far as we know from the studies performed to date). In North America and the EU, all ingredients must be passed through toxicity and dermatological testing before we can use it in our cosmetic formulas. Paraben alternatives have definitely been tested to effectively kill unwanted bacteria in our skincare, so they have been shown to be effective at preserving our formulas (all new products are tested for preservative efficacy to ensure that the preservative system is sufficient). However, people with sensitive skin may find themselves more irritated with paraben-free formulas, simply because the paraben alternatives must be added at a much higher % level.
    Parabens have been on the market since the 1920s. Keep in mind that parabens are not only in skincare (all the controversy seems to be centered around beauty products). Parabens are actually used as a preservative in many cough syrups as well.
    Whether you decide that you are ok with parabens, or you want to go the paraben-free route, it is completely up to you, but just keep in mind that there are pros and cons to both!

    Keep asking those fantastic questions! :)

  • http://colinsbeautypages.co.uk Colin


    I am happy to put your mind at rest about the amount of work the industry does on safety. It is a lot. To get a flavour have a look at the EU opinion on parabens.


    If you don’t want to read the whole thing, I think Connie comes to pretty much the same conclusion. But it does give you the idea of just how seriously this kind of thing is taken.

  • http://www.inmare.be francoise benoit

    Hi Connie,

    I like your site.
    Safety is absolutely one of the essential criterias for development high quality cosmetics products.
    Consumers must be aware about the exact role of the preservatives using in their cosmetic products and when they choice for a 100% natural product, they have to use them properly taking in account of all the preservation criteira’s associated to each specific product.
    Despite me those preservation criteria’s are not always mentionned on the packaging!

    Kind regards,

  • http://www.thebeautynerd.com Connie

    Thanks Francoise and Colin for your comments! You are absolutely correct – it is crucial that consumers understand the safety behind their products. It actually scares me when I walk by many completely natural products, and they are separating or smelling rancid!

  • http://www.marywozniak.myarbonne.com Mary

    Great blog. In my business, we have removed parabens, but I tell people there are still preservatives….there has to be, otherwise you would have to refrigerate all of your skincare products and it would only last a super short while. As it is, our products only have a shelf life after opening of only 6-12 months. blog away, great one!

  • http://twitter.com/DotandLil anne dardick

    It is so rare for beauty bloggers to grasp this, and pass it on the way you have, in a balanced manner! It is often all too easy for people to jump on the scaring-consumers-bandwagon. THANK YOU for this post. Will definitely be following your blog from now on.

    • http://www.thebeautynerd.com/ Connie

      Aww shucks – thank you so much Anne!  I think it’s important to represent all the facts – especially since I have a chemistry background, I feel it is necessary to provide people with accurate information.  And let me personally welcome you as a new follower!! xo

  • Carly_L

    Thank you for this. Finally an article about parabens from someone who understands their chemistry and that speaks with common sense. Cheers!

    • http://www.thebeautynerd.com/ Connie

      Thanks Carly!  I wanted to make this piece as unbiased as possible, so that people can make more informed decisions about their beauty purchases!