Parabens are synthetic chemicals used as an preservative to stop fungus, bacteria and other microbes from growing in your favourite creams and makeup particularly in the moist warm bathroom environment. It basically stops it from going off and the water and oil in the cream from separating.
You will find them in the ingredients list under names like methylparaben, ethylparaben, propylparaben, butylparaben and isobutylparaben and are found in a staggering array of products, from hand soap to toothpaste.
Parabens have been found to be ” hormone disruptors” This is a term coined in the 1990’s by scientists who became more aware that some synthetic chemicals were able to interfere with the functions of hormones. With this discovery ingredients previously considered safe where now being looked at as potentially dangerous because of their hormone disrupting potential and the effects it has on our bodies, particularly those that mimic the hormone estrogen.
A number of studies including one conducted in 2004 raised concerns that parabens may be linked to high rates of breast cancer, and reproductive problems in women and decreased sperm counts, prostate and testicular cancer in men. However, as it stands, the FDA, TGA and cosmetic community believe that there is no conclusive evidence to suggest that the use of products containing parabens is directly linked to the development of cancer and is therefore “safe” to use.
There are both natural and synthetic preservatives that companies can use as an alternatives to parabens. They include essential oils, honey, potasium sorbate, benzyl alcohol and phenoxyethanol just to name a few. Or you could go “preservative free” but you will need to store your creams in the refrigerator and it will only last a few days.
Larger companies continue to use parabens because it’s a cheap and effective preservative that can extend the shelf life of products for many years. This allows them to make huge quantities of your favourite cream and store it for a long time before its sold to you. It eases distribution problems and increases their profits. For smaller skin care companies like SKN Complex it is easier to make the change to paraben-free due to the lower volumes of product that it manufactures and sells at any given time.