Wednesday 2 March 2011

The Problem with Parabens

Those that know me personally know that for the past few years, I have been rather fussy about certain chemicals in food and skin care. The two main things 
I do my best to avoid are Parabens and Apartame, but everyone always asks me the Why question!

In this blog post I'm going to do my best to answer what my personal problem with parabens is!

Firstly, I'm no expert and everything I say is my own thoughts and opinions, I'm not telling anyone and everyone to do the same as me or any such like - just like to encourage you to have a little think about what exactly it is that you are using!

Parabens are in the majority of "skin care" and even food products - often hidden as E numbers. They are quite hard to avoid and are in products for babies too from bubble bath to Calpol would you believe!

They are there as microbial preservatives and sometimes as a flavouring. Some parabens occur naturally in Blueberries and Pineapples (Both me and my baby still eat these!) The problem I have, is with the synthetic ones - as far as I can tell, no natural parabens are actually used in our products - just the synthetic ones.

Parabens, short for “para-hydroxybenzoate have several names that I know of: methylparaben, ethylparaben, propylparaben, isobutylparaben, butylparaben and benzylparaben. E218, E214, E216.

In 1998 suspicions linking parabens to cancer first started to appear after 12 different scientific studies identified parabens as having estrogen-like inhibitors. Parabens were found in the body of men with low sperm counts and in 2003 a study carried out by reading university showed that parabens were in breast tissue in 18 out of 20 breast cancer sufferers.

There has been no conclusive study to say that either they do or don't cause cancer, it hasn't been proved either way so the cosmetic industry is free to keep using them until someone funds a team to investigate and prove otherwise.

Whether or not Parabens cause cancer - the proof is already there that your body can't get rid of them and they remain inside you and personally I see no good in this?!

I think its a bit worrying that the cosmetic industry can use ingredients that haven't been proven as safe and keep doing so until evidence shows otherwise! Surely common sense would suggest only using things that have been proven as safe?! I particularly find this worrying in products for babies and children.

I also think it's unfair and misleading that baby brands which have good national heritage and trust such as Johnsons, can bring out collections with names such as naturals when they are packed full of synthetic chemicals and chemicals which there is some fear over the safety of -regardless of if it can be proved either way or not, especially when the said chemicals are unnecessary.

 We automatically assume that if we can buy a product or food in the UK then it must be safe for us - unfortunately, it's more a case of if there's no proof to say it isn't safe then it can be used! Look at how cigarettes used to be sold as being good for you - until someone could fund a study to prove otherwise!

I always buy my little one feeding cups which are BPA free, I've always done this and I'm please to see that in November (2010) The EU announced a ban on BPA being used in baby bottles - sometimes it's nice to see that following my instincts were the right thing to do!

Cosmetic companies don't have to use parabens, there are a growing number of companies offering paraben free products. The difference is, if parabens are used there is an increased profit margin and extended shelf life. For example a paraben free shampoo may be ok for 12 months after opening whilst a paraben one would be ok for 18 months - but who really has an open bottle of shampoo for that long anyway? The logo on your product bottle that looks like a little open pot and has a number in it tells you how long it will last once open.

Denmark (part of the EU) has already banned parabens from products for children under 3 years old, I don't see why the rest of the EU hasn't followed suit.

In Bromley, I fully recommend Neal's Yard on East Street for Paraben free products - they have a lovely baby and childrens collection too, as well as make-up and skin care, all paraben free. Also, they have treatment rooms above the shop - great for pregnancy reflexology, massage, baby massage and other treatments. Incidentaly, for those of you who are mums to be - you can get your raspberry leaf tea here too!

Other brands I have bought so far for my toddler are, Nature babycare, Burt's bees, Weleda, Greenbaby, Sudacrem and earth friendly baby. (all either in Boots or Waitrose) Green people suncream is the only paraben free children's suncream I have found so far.

With Calpol - I have yet to find a liquid paracetamol alternative for babies so calpol have a monopoly on the UK market. If my little one is teething, I prefer to try Nelson's teething powders first and calpol (the sugary version) is a last resort.

For myself, I buy Neal's Yard in Bromley or I have to go further afield or online for Ren, Caudalie, Organic Pharmacy, Weleda (some bits in waitrose), and Yes to Carrots. (small gripe but none of the other brands are in Bromley - both Boots and Debenhams have identical cosmetic brands with none of the paraben free premium brands! why Bromley needs 2 counters each for clarins, clinique, chanel, benefit, estee lauder etc I don't know!

Hope that's not left you confused and has answered the big Why question!

Fact summary

  • There is no proof that Parabens cause cancer or any other harmfulness.

  • There is also no proof to say they are safe to use.

  • The body cannot get rid of synthetic parabens.

  • We absorb Parabens through our skin into our blood streams, and also through digestion.

  • Parabens are not a necessary ingredient - just a cheap one!

  • Parabens have been found in breast cancer sufferers

  • Parabens have been found in men with low sperm counts

  • Parabens are hormone inhibitors.

  • Denmark has banned parabens from products for children under 3

Emma in Bromley x


  1. Emma, this is a great and balanced post and even though I avoid Parabens myself (for my child, not for me) I didn't know some of the things you've mentioned in this post.


Thank you for your comments

Emma x