You’ve seen it plastered on your body care and skin care product labels, and touted as a benefit when browsing brands online — “No Parabens!” Here at Kobi, we also proudly call out in our product listings that our items are paraben-free. But you may have wondered what the heck parabens actually are, what they’re used for, and why all of a sudden everyone and their mom is avoiding them like the plague. Well wonder no more! Here’s the full scoop for you.
What are parabens?
Parabens are a family of synthetic preservatives that share a similar molecular structure (science nerd alert!). They’ve traditionally been used in cosmetic products such as body wash, shampoo, lotion, deodorant, makeup, and more to prevent the growth of bacteria, fungi, or mold, thus extending the shelf life of these products.
They’re easy to spot on a product label because their names all end in “paraben.” The most common ones are:
What’s wrong with them?
Despite decades of use, the paraben party recently got broken up when they were found to be endocrine disruptors. Okay…what does that mean? Well, our body’s endocrine system is a network of glands and pathways that produce and distribute the hormones that our body needs. This is an important job that requires just the right balance of hormones, because too much or too little of any particular hormone can be harmful and cause issues.
Parabens, as it turns out, act like the hormone estrogen when they enter the body. Since our endocrine system is already producing just the right amount of estrogen on its own, this influx of new estrogen disrupts the normal process and elevates our body’s estrogen level, which can result in some not-so-great things:
- Harmed reproductive organs and fertility
- Impacted birth outcomes
- Increased risk of breast cancer in women
- Lower testosterone levels and sperm production in men
Even though parabens have not been banned by the FDA, many brands now avoid them for the above reasons. We recommend that you do, too.
Should I avoid preservatives altogether?
No! Preservatives are still necessary to keep our personal care products safe and free of nasty microbes. It just so happens that this particular group of preservatives has some unpleasant side effects. But there are plenty of others out there that are perfectly safe to use, including the ones we use here at Kobi.
Be wary of body care brands that claim to be preservative-free (unless their products are completely dry, such as powders and bar soaps). Without proper preservation, their products will only be safe to use for about a week once opened.
Which preservatives should I look for in products instead of parabens?
There are tons of different preservatives used in personal care products, and most (besides parabens, of course) are pretty safe in the sense that they’re not going to cause lasting harm. But, some can definitely be a bit harsh on sensitive skin. For kids and teens, here’s a list of safe, non-carcinogenic preservatives that we’ve found to be gentle enough for most:
- Sodium benzoate
- Potassium sorbate
- Benzyl alcohol
- Sodium dehydroacetate
- Benzoic acid
- Sodium citrate
- Silver citrate