What Does ‘Free-From Parabens’ Mean? And Who Cares?

16 September, 2019

Leather & Chrome aloe vera and avocado oil shampoo by ForCandles

Read Time: 4 minutes

You see it everywhere. It’s on shampoo bottles, bottles containing shower gel, jars of moisturiser. Everywhere. But what are parabens, and who cares anyway?

Once a product label becomes common-place, and it seems on everything, we lose sight of what the message meant in the first place. In fact, when we see a message so often we trick ourselves in to believing every product is the same. And, we certainly don’t remember what it is that the message is actually telling us.

This, it seems, is true; especially of ‘parabens’.

So, what are these already forgotten things that no one can recall ever having?

Bear with me while I spend a few moments explaining the what, where and how as far as parabens are concerned. They were first introduced in the 1930s as preservatives and were soon widely used in medicines, cosmetics and industrial products. It wasn’t until the 50s that these ingredients became widespread, becoming popular due to their low cost and the fact that they are both colourless and odourless.

Parabens are highly effective at preventing the growth of fungi, bacteria and yeast in your medicines and face creams.

So, if they are so good at what they do, and no one wants mould growing on their face mask, what’s all the fuss about?

There is evidence to suggest that bacteria can become resistant to parabens and this has contributed to serious cases of hospital infections, (1,2) Parabens are known to cause allergic and hypersensitive reactions in some people (3) and they may be linked to breast cancer (4). In 2012, the Cosmetic Ingredient Review Expert Panel (boffins asked to look in to this sort of thing) downgraded the allowable use of parabens in cosmetics by a whopping 76% (5).

Who cares? Well we all should. Not everyone will have sensitivity to parabens, but we should exercise caution considering the available evidence. If you want to steer a wide berth around parabens then you need to be on the look out for ingredients like methylparaben, propylparaben, butylparaben, and ethylparaben. Basically, anything ending in -paraben…

And, of course, look for the ‘does not contain parabens’ or ‘free from parabens’ product labels.

There are now alternatives companies can use instead of parabens. Phenoxyethanol (PE) is one. (Sorry, all the names are rather impenetrable.) Interesting fact: PE is found naturally in green tea. Cosmetic grade phenoxyethanol is made as what is known as a ‘nature identical’ chemical which means that it behaves just like the natural compound found in green tea.

Many companies now use what is called a preservative system to prevent the growth of mould and bacteria from spoiling your hand creams. Put simply, this means a number of compounds are used in combination to make sure you are not smearing fungus on your face. To achieve this, PE is often used in combination with sorbic acid, a chemical found in the berries of the mountain ash.

Now you know what all the fuss about parabens has been about. When you see the labels, you will know the story and be able to make an informed decision about what you are putting on your hair and skin.

None of the handcrafted products made by ForCandles contain parabens.

If there is an alternative, it just makes sense to use it. Style. Without. Compromise.


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