A Parable Of Parabens

As you step closer to your nuptials with an extensive beauty regimen, take a moment to acquaint yourself with what goes inside those pretty little jars.

UNDERSTANDING PARABEN

“Parabens are a group of commonly used ingredients that act as a preservative in cosmetics and personal care products. They are highly effective in preventing the growth of fungi, bacteria, and yeast that can contaminate and degrade personal care products,” explains Patrick Liew, regional retail and education director, L’Oréal Group Luxe Asia Pacific. There are six types of parabens commonly used in personal care products—methyl, ethyl, propyl, isopropyl, butyl, and isobutylparabens—and they all work to help curb bacterial growth and extend the shelf life of these products.

DIG DEEPER

Naturally, you may think, parabens are the ‘goodguys’. You can imagine what introducing a product devoid of protective agents like parabens would do to your skin, eyes, mouth, and hair—all the places that we use personal care products—and could have some detrimental effects. So, why are we suddenly banishing an ingredient that has existed since the 1950s in our cosmetics and the that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), USA, thinks consumers shouldn’t be concerned about either?

While keeping bacteria at bay is of utmost importance, parabens come with harm that is unavoidable—they are considered as possible endocrine disruptors, which means they meddle with your hormone system, which drives all the functions of our body. “Parabens were found in breast cancer tissue, so it is theorised that they may be implicated in breast cancer, especially since they are known to be endocrine disrupters. They bind estrogen receptors, causing more estrogenic activity, which can promote breast cancer. The link has been shown but causality has not been proven,” explains Delhi-based dermatologist and wellness expert Dr Kiran Kaur Sethi. And that is reason enough for you to look at the printed label of a product (which should have no more than 0.1-0.3 per cent of parabens for every 100 grams of the product) before you start reaping the surface benefits.

A NEW WAVE

Aware of the existing conversation about parabens, cosmetic brands have taken note by making changes in their formulations without compromising the experience. “Due to a growing demand for products that do not include parabens, in the mid-2000s, we made the choice to develop all-new formulae without parabens,” Liew tells us about Kiehl’s whose portfolio will be completely paraben-free by the end of 2019. Starting with their top seller, the “Ultra Facial Cream that has won over 70 international awards, and undergone 114 formulations over five years to achieve parity in texture, application, experience, and performance,” shares Roberta Weiss, head of product innovation at Kiehl’s. Aware of the existing conversation about parabens, cosmetic brands have taken note by making changes in their formulations without compromising the experience. “Due to a growing demand for products that do not include parabens, in the mid-2000s, we made the choice to develop all new formulae without parabens,” Liew tells us about Kiehl’s whose portfolio will be completely paraben-free by the end of 2019. Starting with their top seller, the “Ultra Facial Cream that has won over 70 international awards, and undergone 114 formulations over five years to achieve parity in texture, application, experience, and performance,” shares Roberta Weiss, head of product innovation at Kiehl’s.

THE ALTERNATIVE

Bacteria grows on water and using products that use anhydrous (containing no water) formulae could be a choice but, on their own, these formulae can’t address every skin concern, hence preservatives become important. A variety of natural synthetic preservatives are the obvious substitutes. “Combinations of benzyl alcohol, salicylic acid, glycerin, and sorbic acid have been shown to be broad spectrum—meaning effective against bacteria and fungi. There is even a mix of specific fragrances called naticide that is used similarly,” elaborates Dr Sethi. All said, ‘natural’ doesn’t necessarily mean ‘good’ as there are many chemicals found in natural ingredients that we shouldn’t rub on our skin, like poison ivy. It’s the dosage of parabens that makes them poison. Therefore, leave-on products like lotions give you a larger dose than rinse-off products like shampoos. Also, the lower the concentration of parabens in any product, the lesser the risk. So, when you’re searching for a solution, look beyond parabens or natural and synthetic preservatives, and look at what they actually do and how well the ingredient suits your skin. Unless you’re a toxicologist, Skin Deep by Environmental Working Group, a non-profit environmental advocacy organisation, should be your go-to to understand the long, almost-Greek list of ingredients on your beauty elixirs.

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