What are parabens?
Parabens are a category of synthetic preservatives used in cosmetics since the 20s in order to prevent microbial growth.
The types of parabens you will most often find on a product label are methylparaben, ethylparaben, propylparaben and butylparaben and they can be used alone or in combination with each other as well as with other preservatives.
Why are preservatives needed in water-containing products?
Before diving deeper into the subject of parabens, we feel it is essential to note that preservatives in skincare products containing water are not only necessary but also obligatory by law.
Products containing water are susceptible to microbial growth and without a preservative they would quickly spoil and turn mouldy. Regulations therefore impose the use of preservatives to prevent spoilage and most importantly to protect the consumer from applying contaminated products on their skin.
That being said, every cosmetics producer has the opportunity to choose between a diverse array of commercially available preservatives for their products.
In the EU, most types of parabens are allowed for use in cosmetics with certain restrictions in terms of their concentration. As parabens are allowed and deemed safe by the EU, cosmetics companies are actually not allowed to claim their products are “free of parabens”. Nevertheless, we would just like to express our personal opinion on the matter and explain why we do not use them in our products.
Parabens & Health concerns
The main concern about parabens is that they closely mimic the activity of the estrogen hormone.
As parabens are absorbed through our skin and metabolised in our bodies, their estrogenic activity has raised a lot of questions.
Studies have found parabens to be endocrine disruptors and negatively impact the reproductive organs in both males and females, hampering fertility, affecting birth outcomes while some parabens may also accelerate the growth of cancer cells 1, 2, 3, 4.
Studies in the US have found a significantly higher concentration of propylparaben in the urine of adolescent girls wearing make-up everyday compared to those that never do so, raising concerns about their impact on a period of such important reproductive development 5.
Parabens have also been detected in the urine samples of nearly all adults tested in a 2005-2006 study in the US 6. As parabens can bioaccumulate in the body, prolonged exposure to them through cosmetics or even food and beverages raises questions about their long-term impact.
The Danish Centre on Endocrine Disruptors has officially categorised butyl and isobutylparaben as endocrine disruptors 7 . In 2011 the Danish government went so far as to ban the use of propyl-, isopropyl-, butyl- and isobutylparabens in products for children up to 3 years old as young children may not be able to quickly metabolise and get rid of the parabens entering their body 8 .
EU restrictions on parabens
Since 2015, the EU has banned isopropylparaben, isobutylparaben, phenylparaben, benzylparaben and pentylparaben in cosmetics while restricting the use of some parabens in childrens’ products 9, 10.
Most other parabens are allowed, albeit with restrictions while the SCCS (Scientific Committee on Consumer Safety) has acknowledged that more studies are needed to determine the impact of parabens on products for young children, especially those applied on the nappy area.
Even though parabens can be used safely when adhering to the EU’s allowed thresholds for each paraben, we opt to use preservatives which we deem to be safer alternatives.
Which preservatives do we use in our products?
You will only find preservatives in our water-containing skincare products* or in products that will likely be splashed with water** in order to inhibit microbial growth.
We use benzyl alcohol and dehydroacetic acid which are approved for use in natural and organic cosmetics by ECOCERT and Soil Association (organic and natural cosmetics certification bodies).
Benzyl alcohol is a liquid (aromatic alcohol) commonly found in plants or fruits that can also be synthetically produced to be the same as that found in nature ("nature identical"). It is widely used in natural cosmetic product formulations in small amounts as a preservative against bacteria growth. Dehydroacetic acid is an organic compound which is also widely used in natural cosmetics formulation as a bacteria and fungi growth inhibitor.
* Ylang Ylang Body Cream, Evergreen Face Cream, Lemon Myrtle Shampoo
** Morning Coffee Face Scrub, Cranberry Spice Sugar Scrub
1 What are parabens, and why they don't belong in cosmetics? , Environmental Working Group (EWG)
2 Darbre, P D et al. “Concentrations of parabens in human breast tumours.” Journal of applied toxicology : JAT vol. 24,1 (2004): 5-13. doi:10.1002/jat.958
3 Okubo, T et al. “ER-dependent estrogenic activity of parabens assessed by proliferation of human breast cancer MCF-7 cells and expression of ERalpha and PR.” Food and chemical toxicology : an international journal published for the British Industrial Biological Research Association vol. 39,12 (2001): 1225-32. doi:10.1016/s0278-6915(01)00073-4
4 Pan, Shawn et al. “Parabens and Human Epidermal Growth Factor Receptor Ligand Cross-Talk in Breast Cancer Cells.” Environmental health perspectives vol. 124,5 (2016): 563-9. doi:10.1289/ehp.1409200
5 Berger, Kimberly P et al. “Personal care product use as a predictor of urinary concentrations of certain phthalates, parabens, and phenols in the HERMOSA study.” Journal of exposure science & environmental epidemiology vol. 29,1 (2019): 21-32. doi:10.1038/s41370-017-0003-z
6 Calafat, Antonia M et al. “Urinary concentrations of four parabens in the U.S. population: NHANES 2005-2006.” Environmental health perspectives vol. 118,5 (2010): 679-85. doi:10.1289/ehp.0901560
7 List of Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals, Danish Centre on Endocrine Disrupters
8 Parabens used in Cosmetics, European Scientific Committee
9 Consumers: Commission improves safety of cosmetics, European Commission
10 Commission Regulation (EU) No 358/2014 of 9 April 2014 amending Annexes II and V to Regulation (EC) No 1223/2009 of the European Parliament and of the Council on cosmetic products Text with EEA relevance
OJ L 107, 10.4.2014, p. 5–9