Toppik looks into 'parabens' - a group of compounds commonly found in hygiene and cosmetic products of all descriptions. Are concerns about them justified?
What are parabens and why all the fuss about them?
From shampoo to body-butter, mascara to moisturiser, many of the hygiene and cosmetic products commonly found in bathrooms and makeup bags contain a range of substances collectively referred to as 'parabens'. These compounds are used to stop bacteria and mould growing on various products, thus prolonging their shelf life. Parabens are cheap, effective and have been in use for well over 60 years, replacing formaldehyde which was used previously.
While their inclusion in bathroom and beauty products means they'll last longer so you're less likely to have to throw them out, these ubiquitous preservatives are suspected to have some dangers associated with them too. Leading to more and more people rejecting products containing these chemicals.
A Synthetic Hormone?
Parabens have been identified as 'xenoestrogens' and potential endocrine disruptors, having been observed to mimic the effects, however marginally, of the hormone oestrogen. There has also been a suggestion that as a result of this, there may be a link between these compounds and fertility problems in both men and women.
A potential carcinogen?
Of particular concern is the ability of parabens to be absorbed into the body and remain there unaffected by the metabolism. In particular, it's been noted that they have been discovered in some breast cancer tumours. It's worth noting that cause and effect between these compounds and cancer haven't been established at this time.
An Ocean pollutant?
With so many hygiene products containing parabens, it's no great surprise that they end up being washed down the plughole along with the bathwater and there have been reports that these compounds have been found in the environment and more worryingly, in marine animals too.
How do I know if a product contains parabens?
We mentioned earlier that parabens are a group of chemicals, so you won't see the word 'paraben' by itself on a product (unless the manufacturer has listed 'paraben free' on the label). What you will see are ingredients with paraben as part of the name of an ingredient.
Butylparaben, Ethylparaben, Isobutylparaben, Methylparaben and Propylparaben are all names you might spot.
What are the alternatives?
Given the understandable and increasing caution amongst consumers with regard products containing parabens, it's good to know that there are plenty of cosmetics and toiletries on the market which use alternative methods of keeping microbes at bay or even have no preservatives at all.
Also, because many of the organisms they keep at bay thrive in water, a product which contains little to no water is less likely to be hospitable to them and therefore won't need parabens, or any other preservative to keep them at bay.
Toppik's own hair care products are packed full of ingredients nourishing for your hair, but you won't' find any parabens amongst them. While parabens may be getting more negative press than they deserve given that they're suspected of more harm than has actually been proven, there's nothing wrong with being cautious. If you're at all concerned, keep an eye on the ingredients of your favourite products and consider an alternative.