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  5. What Are Parabens & 6 Reasons to Avoid Them

Not all skincare and beauty products are beneficial for your skin. In today’s age, where one is consciously aware of what is good or bad for health, it’s equally important to know about the harmful ingredients present in your makeup and skincare products.

One of the biggest culprits that you need to watch out for is parabens. Read on to understand why parabens are harmful for skin and health. Also identify a few natural and Ayurvedic alternatives you can use for a naturally glowing, beautiful, and healthy skin.

What Are Parabens & Why Are They Bad?

 laboratory with chemical substances

Parabens are a class of preservatives widely used in pharmaceuticals, food products, personal hygiene products, and the cosmetic industry. These chemicals successfully prevent the growth and development of yeast, bacteria, and fungi which may spoil and ruin the products. Hence, they directly affect the quality of these products by increasing their shelf-life, and making them effective for future use.

Parabens are extracted from para-hydroxybenzoic acid (PHBA) which is naturally found in various vegetables and fruits, like onions, blueberries, carrots, cherries, and cucumbers. It is also naturally produced in the human body when a few specific amino acids break down into smaller molecules.

Parabens which are utilized in the beauty industry are closely similar to those present in the natural environment. The human body swiftly modifies these chemicals into natural PHBA which is then finally eliminated.

With scientifically-proven reproductive systems and endocrine system disruption from long-term exposure, it is widely accepted that long-chain parabens should not be added in cosmetic or personal care products.

When you buy any haircare, skincare, or makeup product, always check whether it contains propylparaben, methylparaben, or butylparaben. These are the most common types of parabens used in the beauty industry.

The other parabens which you should avoid while buying skincare products include:

  • Isopropyl paraben
  • Isobutyl paraben
  • Ethyl paraben
  • Benzyl paraben

Even though the most abundant parabens in skincare and cosmetic products have the word ‘paraben’ in their name, such as propylparaben, methylparaben, and butylparaben, they can be sometimes labelled as ‘alkyl parahydroxy benzoates’.

How Are Parabens Harmful For Skin?

Parabens increase the shelf-life of products to several months, sometimes even a few years. But when you use such products over a long time, they may also penetrate your skin and enter your body.

When parabens get inside your body by skin absorption, the harmful ingredient continues to stay in the epidermal tissue. This is known to adversely impact the natural hormonal activities in your body. Parabens have the capability to mimic natural hormones of the human body. Due to this activity, your body may treat parabens in the same way as hormones.

Usage of parabens may affect your skin in different ways. These include:

  • With prolonged use, parabens may cause dry skin conditions in individuals.
  • The exposed skin may develop rash, swelling, pain, cracks, and various other issues.
  • Parabens may also lead to contact dermatitis, a severe skin inflammation accompanied with burning skin, blisters, and rashes [1].
  • Long-term exposure to parabens may also lead to the appearance of premature signs of aging such as wrinkles, fine lines, and age spots.

A British study, conducted in 2004, discovered trace amounts of at least five parabens in the breast tissue of women. The study findings didn’t conclude that the preservatives were responsible for causing cancer, but validated that they have the capacity to penetrate the epidermal layer of the skin and accumulate within the tissue.

Parabens are known to impact the hormonal function of your body by copying the oestrogen function. Excessive oestrogen may stimulate a sudden cell proliferation and development of breast cells leading to the appearance of tumours.

This is why prolonged usage of parabens has been associated with reproductive issues and breast cancer. But the amount of paraben required for these adverse health conditions is relatively high, and scientific evidence holding paraben responsible for cancer is minimal.

Parabens are known to quickly penetrate and get absorbed by normal, unbroken skin. The Center For Disease Control discovered parabens in at least 100 samples of urine which were tested in 2006, demonstrating extensive exposure to parabens in the majority of U.S. citizens. This also established that these excessively used preservatives get easily and rapidly absorbed into your skin, and may cause adverse effects with prolonged usage.

Common Side Effects Of Parabens

As the popular saying goes, too much of anything can be bad for you, and the same applies to parabens. With different types of parabens being commonly found in the skincare and beauty products, regular use of such commercial products may cause accumulation of parabens in your skin tissues, which does more harm than any good.

Here are a few known common side effects of parabens:

1. Allergic Reactions

Parabens may lead to a wide range of allergic reactions. The prolonged use of parabens may cause skin irritation in a few individuals. Also, they may lead to the onset of contact dermatitis, a severe skin inflammation specified by burning sensation, blisters, swelling, and rashes. This happens due to the fact that parabens enter the skin tissues and affect the normal hormonal activity in the human body.

2. Premature Signs Of Aging

Several skincare and beauty products formulated with parabens are also commercially labelled as anti-aging treatments. The irony is that parabens may cause the appearance of premature wrinkles, fine lines, and age spots.

A few specific types of parabens may also worsen the existing condition of sun-damaged skin. Hence, using an anti-wrinkle cream containing parabens may only increase your skin woes. It is imperative to always choose mild, natural, and paraben-free skincare and beauty products if you wish to have youthful, radiant, and beautiful skin.

3. Estrogenic Activity

It is evident that parabens may stimulate overproduction of oestrogen hormones in the human body, thereby increasing the likelihood of male infertility and breast cancer concerns [2]. There is an ongoing debate in the scientific community about these study results and findings.

4. Extreme Sun Damage

The side effects of parabens on the skin with prolonged usage is well-known. One specific type of paraben, methylparaben, is harmful to your skin as it increases your skin’s sensitivity to sunlight.

When you step outside in the sunlight after applying paraben-based skincare products, your skin becomes susceptible to faster cell deterioration due to the harsh UVA and B rays. A beneficial skincare product should protect your skin from sun damage, and not make it vulnerable to more harm.

5. Adverse Effect On Endocrine System

Parabens are known to interfere and disrupt the healthy, normal functioning of the endocrine system. The endocrine system in the human body regulates a wide range of bodily activities, including metabolism, mood, sleep, and overall growth and development.

When exposed to high levels of parabens, the glandular activity and hormonal activity get adversely affected. Unfortunately, despite the growing concern and scientific evidence, parabens continue to be a part of various commercial personal care and skincare products.

6. Prenatal Concerns

Research has shown that using parabens during pregnancy can prove to be even more harmful and dangerous [3]. Prenatal usage and exposure to these preservatives may lead to a wide-variety of issues. These harsh chemicals can be easily absorbed by the skin and enter into the bloodstream, reaching the developing fetus in the uterus.

Also known as endocrine disruptors, parabens can easily crossover to the placental barrier. It may lead to the onset of reproductive and developmental disorders in the growing fetus.

Apart from this, exposure to parabens may also lead to learning disorders and immune system concerns in children. Hence, you need to safeguard your unborn child by using skincare and beauty products which are mild, natural, and paraben-free.

Vedix Tip: We strongly advise you to check the ingredient list of your skincare, makeup, personal hygiene, and beauty products to avoid any adverse health issues. Try and replace the chemical-based products with mild, herbal, and ayurvedic skincare ingredients which are safe, natural, and effective.

Natural & Ayurvedic Alternatives To Parabens

herbal aroma oil bottle with various drugplant flowers

With conscious awareness and informed choices among consumers, the usage of metabisulphites, sorbates, benzoates, parabens, and various other toxic chemical preservatives are on the decline. Retailers and manufacturers are slowly becoming aware of the growing concern against the addition of chemical preservatives in cosmetics, beverages, and foods.

Nowadays, a growing interest is seen towards natural, herbal, and ayurvedic products which are considered as safer, beneficial, and effective alternatives. These natural extracts or substances are mostly plant derivatives.

Listed below are a few such examples of natural preservatives which are being used in pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, and food industry:

1. Honey

A natural sweetener, honey is a powerhouse of nutrients and antioxidants. Also, it has self-preservation properties which are extensively used to build your immunity and boost your energy levels. Honey acts as a natural remedy for various skin and health concerns. Honey is a popular natural ingredient which is extensively used in home remedies and Ayurvedic treatments.

2. Basil Extract

It is extracted from Ocimum basillicum (also known as tulsi), which is extensively used for its medicinal and therapeutic properties in Siddha and Ayurveda. Tulsi is a highly potent anti-microbial agent and antioxidant.

3. Neem Oil

It is derived from the seeds and fruits of Azadirachta indica, which is a potent anti-protozoal, anti-bacterial, and antifungal agent. Neem oil has detoxifying as well as rejuvenating properties. It is extensively used in formulating skincare and personal hygiene products. It is also used in Ayurveda to treat a wide variety of skin, hair, and health concerns [4].

4. Algin

It is a natural compound which is derived from seaweeds, such as Ascophyllum nodosum, Macrocystis pyrifera, and several types of Laminaria. This natural preservative is used to increase the shelf-life of various foods.

5. Grapefruit Seed Derivative

It is also called citrus seed extract which is the liquid extract of the pulp and seeds of grapefruit. The seed extract acts as a natural preservative which is widely used to inhibit or eliminate the growth of fungi, virus, bacteria and various other microorganisms. The seed extract must be used along with some other natural preservatives to be highly effective.

6. Rosemary Extract

Derived from Rosmarinus officinalis, the extract is a natural antioxidant which lessens the oxidation of natural molecules. The potent extract is known to increase the shelf-life as well as heat stability of natural oils enriched with Omega 3 fatty acids. These natural oils are susceptible to rancidity and spoilage. Also, the extract is used in pharmaceutical substances in 0.5% concentration.

7. Vitamin E Oil

A potent antioxidant, Vitamin E oil is extensively used in anhydrous products, pharmaceuticals, and cosmetics. It is commonly derived from safflower and sunflower oils as well as wheat germ oil.

8. Carrageenan

It is a natural compound derived from a type of seaweed known as Chondrus crispus (commonly known as Irish moss). It is extensively used in the food industry as food stabilizers which help retain flavour and colour.

9. Citric Acid

It is a naturally-occurring acid predominantly present in citrus fruits like lime, lemon, and oranges. It is widely used in the food industry as an acidifying and flavouring agent. Also, it is used in the skincare and beauty industry for addressing specific skin concerns.

10. Erythorbic Acid

Also called iso-ascorbic acid, it is derived from sucrose and extensively used in the food industry as a popular antioxidant additive. When used in conjunction with sodium erythorbate, erythorbic acid is also used in the nail and hair care products.

11. Guar Gum

A natural compound derived from the seeds of Cyamopsis tetragonoloba (commonly known as guar plant), it is widely used as a natural stabilizer in the food and pharmaceutical industry. It is a legume plant which is widely grown in India.

12. Sodium Aluminosilicate

It is a natural mineral which is commonly found in grated cheese, egg mix, and dried milk constituents. It is used as an acidity regulator in the food industry in less than 2% concentration.

How Do You Know If A Product Is Paraben-Free?

know your skincare product ingredients

Always look for products which are labelled as ‘paraben-free’. Also, carefully read the list of ingredients mentioned in the back to avoid buying any paraben-based product.

1. The most important point to remember is that parabens aren’t always clearly labeled as just parabens. You may recognize a few popular parabens like heptyl paraben, butylparaben, methylparaben, propylparaben, and ethylparaben. However, other less easily recognizable parabens which you should avoid include isopropyl paraben, isobutyl paraben, and benzyl paraben.

2. Another imperative point is that if a product claims to be ‘paraben-free’, it doesn’t mean that it won’t contain other harsh chemicals which may damage and irritate your skin. Hence, try and stick to only mild, herbal, and natural ingredients.

3. Most organic and natural skincare retailers have started using milder alternatives which inhibit and prevent microbial growth and action. A few such brands have also prepared products free of any preservatives which have a shorter shelf-life (6-12 months) when compared with commercial, chemical-based products.

The Last Word

While you need not panic if your favourite skincare product has parabens, it's always better to look for safer alternatives for your skin and hair. Try to opt for products that use milder, natural, and safer preservatives.

It is best advised to always stick to natural, herbal, and ayurvedic skincare and cosmetic products to prevent any chemical exposure, yet flaunt a healthy, radiant, and beautiful complexion. Choose products that are free of parabens, and suit the unique needs of your skin and hair type. As parabens bring in a host of negative effects, now is the right time to switch to safer alternatives.

Know Your Dosha Now

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