So, what are parabens? Parabens are essentially chemical compounds commonly used as preservatives in cosmetics. Known for their ability to prevent bacteria, they were commercialised in the 1950s. Today, they're found in most cosmetic products such as soaps, shampoos, toothpaste, moisturisers, creams and deodorants, only to name a few.
Why they pose a health hazard
So, here’s the thing about parabens.
Everytime you apply a skin or hair product containing these chemical compounds, they can easily enter the body through the skin. Till the last decade or so, this was thought to be safe as they were easily expelled from the body through urine and sweat. However, a 2004 research found traces of parabens in malignant breasts tumours, linking these synthetic compounds with cancer.
Parabens essentially mimic the hormone estrogen, which triggers cell division in the breast ultimately leading to tumours. This increased production of estrogen also wreaks havoc with the hormonal balance in the body and could interfere with reproductive and brain functions.
A fine balance
It's practically impossible to ditch all products that contain parabens. If you're picking up any cosmetic product off a shelf, it is likely to contain preservatives in the form of parabens. The key is moderation. If you're used to slathering on body lotion every day, you could consider reducing the amount that you use. Leave-in products like serums, hair sprays and lotions will transfer a higher concentration of parabens to the body. The body also releases toxins through sweat. Products like anti-perspirants that are high in parabens prevent the body from sweating and ultimately lead to a toxic build-up. Such products are best avoided.
Alternatively, you can look for products that contain natural ingredients. However, do keep in mind that just because something is labelled as 'paraben-free' doesn't mean that it doesn't contain other synthetic compounds that are just as harmful.
Do your homework before you go to the chemist or departmental store. You can compare the quantity of parabens present in different products and choose those with a lower concentration.
Read between the lines
Labels like ‘natural’ and ‘organic’ can often be misleading as they might contain other preservatives that can cause irritation in the skin. So which are the ingredients that you need to red flag on your next trip to the chemist?
The buzzwords here are parabens, methylparaben, propylparabens, ethylparaben, benzylparaben, isobutylparaben and butylparaben.
Remember, it’s important to have a basic awareness about cosmetic labels. Instead of blindly choosing products that are trending, always read between the labels. Choose wisely and you’ll be safe and not sorry!