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Here’s why the jury is still out on parabens

Since parabens are in almost all beauty products, we did some digging to find out if they're actually dangerous.

So, by now you’ve probably heard a little bit about parabens. You’ve probably heard ads advertising products as being paraben-free or read the term on a label somewhere. But what exactly are parabens? And why do we all need to be concerned about them.

What are parabens?

Very basically, parabens are a type of preservative used in beauty products. They’re very effective, plus they’re cheap. As a result, parabens can be found in about 85% of beauty products. If you want to check for them in the ingredients label on the back of a product, look for methylparaben, ethylparaben, propylparaben, butylparaben and isobutylparaben.

Parabens are used because beauty products that contain water can turn sour without some kind of preservative keeping them fresh. No one wants to spend good money on a face cream only to find that it’s grown mould aor smells strange in just a couple of weeks.

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Should you be concerned about parabens?

You may have seen a paraben-free label cropping up on more and more products. This leads to the question, are parabens something to be concerned about and why? The answer to that is, we’re not really sure.

Some stakeholders are concerned about parabens because they are xenoestrogens. In layman's terms, this means that parabens can act like estrogen when absorbed into the body through our skin. And why does this matter? Well, an excess of estrogen has been shown to grow cancers - commonly breast cancer.

But before we start calling parabens out for causing cancer, it is important to bear in mind that parabens only very weakly mimic estrogen. Also, it is not clear whether ‘fake estrogens’ actually play a role in the development of cancer.

British scientist, Philippa Darbre specialises in studying the relationship between cancer and estrogen. In 2004 she examined malignant tumours and found parabens present in the tissue. This evidence could be considered damning if not for the fact that she did not compare with paraben levels in normal healthy tissue. So the link between parabens and cancer is still very unclear.

However, this study did teach us that parabens have to potential to be stored in the body’s tissue. This is what kick started the paraben-free movement. Some organisations began to worry that if parabens can be stored in our tissue, there could be a health risk as more and more parabens are stored over time.

Should I go paraben free?

At this stage there is no link between cancer and parabens and we are yet to see any concrete evidence that parabens are harmful to us.

What we do know is that parabens keep us safe from mould and bacterias that could grow in our beauty products. On the other hand, we also know that our tissue can store and retain parabens absorbed by our skin when we use beauty products. And whether or not this could have long term effects is unknown.

So, at this stage the decision to go paraben free is a personal one. If you’d rather not risk it, there are a whole host of beauty products that are free from parabens. Just remember that they’ll probably have a shorter shelf life and it’s important to throw them away once they reach the use by date in order to avoid the spread of bacteria.

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Looking for paraben free options?

If you’re on the hunt for paraben free products then a good place to start is Nourished Life. It’s an online beauty retailer that demands the strictest organic and all natural standards from the brands it stocks. Here are a few paraben free products that we love.

Pai BioRegenerate™ Rosehip Oil
Nourished Life
Acure Cell Stimulating Body Wash
Nourished Life
Tints of Nature Dry Shampoo
Nourished Life
100% Pure Black Tea Mascara
Nourished Life
100% Pure Lip Caramel - Truffle
Nourished Life
Inika Mineral Blush - Blooming Nude
Nourished Life

Nourished Life sales

Mia Steiber

Mia Steiber is a journalist at with a serious shopping habit and an addiction to gold jewellery. Her talents include tracking down one-off or almost sold out pieces and knowing the sizing charts for just about every brand.

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