Preservatives are a common modern-day way to make things last longer. We use preservatives in many of the everyday products that we use and consume. Beauty products are no exception. Keeping the products we use on our hair fresh from bacteria has evolved over the years. If you read the ingredients of your shampoo bottle, you’ll likely need an interpreter with a chemistry degree to help you understand what those huge words actually mean.
Parabens have found their way into your shampoo for years. Parabens can be identified on the ingredients list of your favorite shampoos using their chemical names, such as propylparaben methylparaben, propylparaben, isopropylparaben, isobutylparaben, Butylparaben, sodium butylparaben, parahydroxybenzoate. If you’re a chemist, you’d identify parabens as an ester, or a compound formed from an alcohol and an organic acid.
So, what are parabens non-chemist terms? As you may have already guessed, parabens are preservatives used to keep your products from spoiling, growing bacteria, and becoming riddled with fungus.
They preserve your products so they last longer, smell better, and stay safe for use.
Yay for parabens, then. Right? No one’s signing up for potentially harmful bacteria and fungus in their shampoo. Parabens must be awesome.
Like a lot of chemical preservatives, we’ve learned a thing or two to suggest that parabens are not, in fact, awesome. Back in 1990-something the use of parabens came under question in the largely unregulated beauty industry. Unfortunately, getting researchers to agree on whether parabens are good or bad as been rather u[p in the air ever since. While the paraben level in shampoo may not be enough to be harmful, it’s hard to determine what level of parabens are present in all of the beauty products that you use on a daily basis. With parabens present in everything from toothpaste to lotions and even your deodorant, the amount you’re using and possibly absorbing into your body could be higher than what’s considered safe.
The biggest and scariest concern with parabens is that they are xenoestrogens. Xenoestrogens are absorbed into the estrogen receptors in your body’s cells and have the potential to affect estrogen production. Many researchers on the issue are concerned that these effects could increase chances of cancer. A recent study of cancerous breast tissue found parabens present leading to the conclusion that parabens could play a role in causing breast cancer, but not enough research has been completed to determine that as fact. The true effect of parabens on our bodies, at least for right now, is rather inconclusive and require further research.
While researchers, and the public at large, don’t agree on whether parabens are safe in our beauty products or not, many cosmetic and hair product companies have taken the concerns seriously and developed product lines that are free of parabens. It’s a huge movement, and while you’re looking at the ingredients list of your favorite shampoo, you’ll likely notice that “paraben free” labels are prevalent on the front of the bottle if your products are paraben free.
I often wonder when beauty products get rid of one chemical, if they simply replace it with another chemical that’s equally harmful, just undetermined at this time. I guess time will tell. While I don’t personally seek out paraben-free products, most of the professional products that I use on a regular basis are, in fact, paraben free.
Iskra Banović is our seasoned Editor-in-Chief at BlueFashion. She has been steering the website's content and editorial direction since 2013. With a rich background in fashion design, Iskra's expertise spans across fashion, interior design, beauty, lifestyle, travel, and culture.