Askanesthetician's Blog

An esthetician explores skincare issues and concerns

The Paraben Controversy – An Article Well Worth Reading August 3, 2010

Skin Inc. just published a great article about the paraben controversy.  The article, entitled The Truth About Parabens , does a great job of breaking down the controversy, the research, and the options consumers and estheticians have in regards to this issue.

Though I already covered this issue in a post back in February, once I read this article I decided that it was well worth sharing with my readers.  The authors of the piece, Carol and Rob Trow, succinctly and thoroughly go through the different studies that raised consumer fears about parabens, and the authors also cite the opinions of The American Cancer Society, the FDA, the Cosmetic Ingredient Review, and  the Scandinavian Society of Cosmetic Chemists about the paraben issue.

I found that the final section of the article did a great job of summing up the controversy and the options skincare professionals and consumers have when it comes to buying products with parabens:

A large number of consumer groups and environmental organizations are questioning the current research that attests to the safety of parabens in cosmetics. There is reasonable evidence that there is estrogenicity in parabens, both natural and synthetic, but the relevance of this link to breast cancer is tenuous without more research, which is urgently needed.

Spa professionals should educate their clients using the facts about parabens. After that, let clients make their own choices. Carry the best and most efficacious products, and consider carrying a line that does not contain parabens if you believe it will meet your clients’ needs.

There is no way to end the controversy about the safety of parabens without objective, controlled, double-blind research into the matter, which has yet to be published. The debate continues.


Obviously there will be much more to report about the whole issue of parabens in the future – stay tuned and stay educated.


The Natural, Green, Organic Skincare Fallacy March 3, 2010

Nowadays a lot of people think that “natural” or “green” or “organic” skincare products are better for them than “regular” skincare products.  But these terms are pretty meaningless.  “Natural” and “green” are label terms that are not regulated by any government or non-government body.  The only label term that has any real meaning is “organic”. In an earlier post I already addressed the issue of parabens in skincare and cosmetic products, but I’ve also been thinking for quite some time about how I wanted to address the issue of organic, natural, and green skincare products in my blog since it is very common to see the issue brought up in all sorts of media (magazines, TV, etc.) and you hear people discussing the terms as well. 

Lucky for me Skin Inc. published a two-part article series about just these issues.  The first article in the series addresses many important issues when it comes to “natural”, “organic”, and “green” products.  For example the article points out that there is no global definition for the term “green” in skincare and cosmetic products.  In addition, the article points out that marketing professionals are savvy enough to know how to play on people’s fears of parabens even if there is little real evidence to suggest that parabens cause cancer.  Another important point the article makes is to explain the idea of “greenwashing”.  This is when words such as “organic”, “natural”, or “botanical” are used in an effort to make the product you are buying seem better for you and the enviroment.  In reality you are probably buying a product that as a very low concentration, too low of a concentration to do anything, of these “green” ingredients.  Furthermore, while a product may have some organic ingredients it also has chemical ingredients in its composition, but this information is purposely left off the advertising and label claims.

The second article in the series goes into greater detail about just what “organic” means on a skincare or cosmetic product label.  Things are not as straight forward as you would imagine.  Companies still have a lot of room to legally play around with the term “organic” so while a consumer may think they are buying a product that is both better for them and the environment that is not really the case.

The bottom line is you can’t believe the hype and you need to educate yourself about ingredients before buying products.

Click on the links below to read the articles mentioned in this post:

Even more reading:  Are Organic Products Better for Your Skin?  – blog post by Dr. Leslie Baumann


Are Parabens In Skincare Products Safe? February 21, 2010

I have been asked more than once if it is safe to use skincare products that contain parabens.  My answer would be yes.  Let me explain why.

What Are Parabens?

Parabens are chemical preservatives that are used in food, cosmetics, and skincare products in order to prevent the growth of bacteria in those products.  Without preservatives products are very susceptible to contamination.  Not only are parabens the most commonly used preservative in skincare products, they also have the best safety record when it comes to preservatives, and have been used since the 1920s in skincare products.  Parabens are found in very low levels in skincare products, from 0.01% to 0.3%,  and usually a combination of preservatives are used in order to provide the best protection from bacteria, mold, and fungi.  But the safety of a few parabens – methylparaben, propylparaben, and butylparaben – have been called into question.

The Controversy Over Parabens

In recent years concerns have arisen over parabens.  The concerns include that parabens may cause allergic reactions, disrupt our body’s hormones (parabens are said to mimic estrogen in the body), and even contribute to breast cancer.  Theoretically it is thought that parabens build up in our bodies over time since so many products contain them.  Even if a given product contains just a small amount of parabens it is thought that this is enough over time to contribute to significant health problems. 

In regards to allergic reactions there are actually “natural” preservatives that are more likely to cause allergic reactions than parabens.  These include Vitamin E, tea tree oil, thyme essential oil, and phenoxyethanol.   If you do think that parabens are causing your allergic reaction than a dermatologist can do a patch test to check.

The greater concern over the use of parabens has to do with a link between parabens and breast cancer.  Starting in 2002 a number of studies looked into a possible link between underarm deodorants with parabens and breast cancer.  Though some of the studies found that there were high concentrations of parabens in human breast cancer tumors there has never been a conclusive link between parabens and cancer.  These studies for instance did not look at paraben levels in normal, non-cancer, tissues in order to offer a comparison.  In 2005 a study concluded that there was no way that the maximum daily exposure to parabens could increase one’s risk of cancer.

Paraben Safety

In 1984, 2003, and 2005 the Cosmetic Ingredient Review (CIR), an industry-sponsored organization which reviews cosmetic ingredient safety and publishes its results in open, peer-reviewed literature, investigated the safety of parabens.  All three times the CIR concluded that parabens were safe as long as they did not constitute more than 25% of a product’s content.  Once again let me point out that parabens are found in levels ranging from 0.01% to 0.3% in skincare products.  Additionally, the FDA has determined that parabens are safe for use in cosmetic products.

How To Determine If The Product You Have Has Parabens

Parabens are actually very easy to identify on your skincare product label since they all end with “paraben”.  You’ll find them at the very bottom of the list of ingredients.  Skincare products that are paraben-free usually list that somewhere on the front of their label.  If you do choose to go the paraben free route keep in mind that these products will spoil quicker than those with chemical preservatives in them.  Look for expiration dates, and if the product doesn’t have an expiration date call the manufacturer (by law the manufacturer’s phone number must be on the label) to find out the product’s shelf life.

Sources and Further Reading



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