First of all, what are they? Parabens are a family of a food-grade, anti-microbial, preservatives that prevent the growth of bacteria and mold. Chemically they are parahydroxybenzoates or esters of parahydroxybenzoic acid; hence the name "paraben": "para" from and "ben" from benzoate/benzoic. Parabens work best when there are several different ones in the same product so you will often see two or more grouped together. Some of the more common names you will see on ingredient lists are:
From the FDA's website:
FDA scientists continue to review published studies on the safety of parabens. At this time, we do not have information showing that parabens as they are used in cosmetics have an effect on human health. Here are some of the questions we are considering:
- What do published studies show about the possible hazards of parabens, and on the effects of parabens on human health? For example, do experimental findings with various parabens also happen in real life?
- What are the hazards and risks of not using parabens? If we stop using parabens to protect cosmetics and consumers from harmful bacteria, are there safer alternatives for preservatives?
- If there are paraben-related health effects that are scientifically supported and documented, how do these effects relate to the use of parabens in cosmetics?
- Do the different kinds of parabens act the same or differently in our bodies?
The issue is that these products have some interesting links to the development of breast cancer tumors and parabens in under-arm deodorants. For full disclosure, I started to make my own deodorant as a reaction to this information; it isn't set in stone and I find the information interesting. The premise is that parabens are estrogenic when the compounds enter the body, but this premise is still under investigation. Either way, do you really want to use a bunch of products that are potentially disrupts the endocrine system?
But what does this all mean to us as a consumer?? First of all - just because something doesn't have parabens doesn't make it safe. There are other preservatives that are used in place of those chemicals - some of which can be just as bad. Secondly, the shelf-life of products without industrial strength preservatives have a shorter shelf-life so look at those sell-by dates. Lastly, DO YOUR OWN RESEARCH! Don't trust me, or the FDA, or anyone else. Do the research and make up your own mind!