Thursday, 29 January 2015

FAQs - Parabens

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I am asked almost on a daily basis for my views on parabens.  I am met with outrage by some commenters who are mortified that I am recommending something that is 'toxic' and can 'give you breast cancer' (erm, no).
In short my response to those comments is always polite and explanatory but my response to websites spewing out this nonsense would really be 'bollocks' if I was being honest. Goop and the EWG have a lot to answer for. For example, in this article, Goop rages about how untrustworthy the beauty industry is because it uses the term 'non-toxic' because it means 'absolutely nothing'. And then in this article, not only uses the term openly and frequently, but puts it in the title. Confused.com?

I have no problem with parabens. I don't see them as toxic. I'm really beginning to hate the way that websites and some brands use that word for scare tactics or to make sales.
The word toxic is always dose-dependent. If a venomous snake bites you, you could die. If you take a little of that venom and use it to make an antivenom, it could save your life. It's no longer 'toxic'. It's absolutely 'toxic' in large doses. But the word is not appropriate in the latter situation.

Yes parabens have been found in breast cancer tumours.
They are also present in breast tissue that has no tumours or cancer present.
They are also present in your wee.
That's because you mostly break them down and pee them out.

I'm not a doctor, I'm not a cosmetic scientist, but tellingly, I have yet to work with one who has a problem with parabens.

Whilst it's true that the USA do not do a good enough job of regulating the ingredients of beauty products, the FDA have done research on parabens and found them to be 'completely safe for use in cosmetics'. Similarly the EU and Canada's governing bodies. I'm even in agreement with Paula's Choice website which has some great links to documented research if you want further reading.

Honestly? It will always come down to your personal feeling but I would just do your own research, try not read the Daily Fail, and the next time you go to a counter and say 'Is it paraben-free?' at least know why you are asking the question.

45 comments:

  1. Try not to read the Daily Mail is th best advice ever LOL

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  2. But why risk it? Health = wealth and i would rather put all the chances on my side and use safe products like Tata Harper. Plus the EWG is an amazing resource. Again given the many options we have, I would much rather do my research and use the safer option.

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    1. I completely agree with you. Why risk it? That's why I prefer to use parabens because they have been proven to be the safest preservative to stop your products turning poisonous and rancid and have a 20 year track record. Unlike everything being used now because of the scaremongering. And no-one loves Tata Harper more than me. It's amazing. And the EWG IS an amazing resource - that's why it has a responsibility to its readers to report facts. Scientific fact. Not hearsay compiled by companies selling an alternative to parabens.

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    2. The price of Tata's products are beyond the reach for many. It is unfair to expect that a population is dismissive of their health because of their budget.

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  3. My previous comment mysteriously disappeared :(
    Caroline, when you get a chance could you please tell if we can use Sunday Riley Luna while breastfeeding?

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  4. Didn't Gwyneth recently recommend getting your ladybits steamed "to remove toxins"?

    Sure love, whatever works for you.

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    1. *sits quietly protecting lady garden*

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    2. She did. If you need your vagina steamed, you have problems I'm not even going to ask about.

      I was pretty unsure about parabens as well because my take is always "Well, you can't prove it does any harm. But can you prove it doesn't?" And as a layman, half the time you're scared because of clever marketing and not because of research. It can drive you nuts. I've come to the conclusion that a) using certain "harmful" ingredients in your skincare can be no more dangerous than living in a big city and breathing that air and b) Goop needs help. But she seems happy with her steamed vagina so who am I to judge.

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    3. Steaming the ladybits actually has been done for years and years in where I live (Java Island, Indonesia). Google it if you want, it is called "Ratus" here. it is very common in our culture. We mix the water with some herbs. And the benefit of it has been proven by the women here :-)
      I know this is really strange, especially for women from Western countries. but it truly works hahaha :)

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    4. Steaming the ladybits actually has been done for years and years in where I live (Java Island, Indonesia). Google it if you want, it is called "Ratus" here. It is very common in our culture. We mix the water that is used to steam with some herbs. And the benefits of it have been proven by the women here :-D
      I know this is really strange for you, especially for women from Western countries. But it really works :-)

      **Please do forgive me if it's a double post. I am not sure my previous post was posted**

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    5. Thanks for that Anonymous, I thought it was just Goop being Goop-y! Still sounds kinda scary though ; )

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  5. I like Parabens, they are so cute, you can train them so easily as well. They live SUCH a long time though.

    Oh, sorry, I thought you said parrots.

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  6. Hi Caroline, I am DYING to ask you about something that has nothing to do with parabens...hope you don't get cross with me...I am reading a lot about the super elixir Welleco. It would be wonderful to hear your view on this elixir since you also write about vitamins/chia seeds/ubiquinol (thanks for recommending Natur's best). It seems it is a hype in NY but not here....Obrigada!
    http://www.welleco.com/

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  7. Couldn't agree more. The real question we should be asking is: If it´s paraben free, what preservative ingredient have they added instead? Sorry for my bad English, but I hope you got my point. I love your blog Caroline! /Swedish beauty blogger

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  8. Interesting post - I have followed this subject for ages and have moved from being really concerned to being much less concerned. However, I'm not sure about your second point Caroline. It doesn't make sense as it reads (breast cancer tissue with no tumour or cancer present) so I think it must be a typo and perhaps what you meant to say is that parabens have also been found in breast tissue with no cancer or tumours present? I would be interested to know your source here, because as I understand it that's where a lot of the criticism of the studies comes from - that there has been no control sample testing of healthy breast tissue. Would be grateful if you could clarify. Many thanks.

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    1. Hi Jane! Yes indeed was an autofill blooper thank you so much for pointing it out. I read so many reports leading into this post that I honestly cherry picked and didn't take notes of specific articles (this being a blog not a medical paper - thankfully!) :) However, if you are interested in further reading I would start with the links from the Paula's choice site and go from there. They also have links to external papers/reports that you will find interesting.

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    2. Or just go on the international medical library report ( Google for pubmed) and seek for parabens, you have access to many abstracts, although you should check the value of the review on Google as well. As a bad or orientated study will still be published but maybe in some papers!
      Caroline next time you gave a talk with any Dr (Zelens being my personal fave) could you ask which review are the best skin wise? Thx

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  9. They are also present in breast cancer tissue that has no tumours or cancer present.

    I think you probably meant to say in this sentence, that it's present in breast tissue otherwise the sentence makes no sense at all.

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  10. Parabens occur naturally in many foods including blueberries apples and vanilla extract. I would recommend the sense about science website for lots of information regarding similar apparently deadly ingredients.

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  11. But there are ingredients outside of parabens we are still encouraged to worry about: dyes, synthetic fragrances, sulfates, phthalates, etc. Just because Parabens are "okay" doesn't mean other things aren't. Also, can you skin react negatively, but not noticeably to irritating ingredients? Is it possible that over time ingredients you didn't think were harming your skin could end up kicking you in the bum later?
    Honestly so confused about this subject. Thank you for the direction, Caroline. :)

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  12. Great article Caroline,good you clarifed that.Always
    Abit confused with parabens

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  13. Hi Caroline. I adore your blog all the way from South Africa. Please do a FAQ on alcohol in beauty products. Thanks.

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    1. that would be great!! glad someone already asked as I just wanted to do the same here

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  14. thanks for this post Caroline, I have recently read somewhere that although a product could claim that it is "paraben free", some of its ingredients could contain parabens as preservatives on an individual basis ...
    let's not get crazy...

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  15. TheCerealMonogamist29 January 2015 at 16:10

    Thank you! I'm so glad you addressed this because so many people make out parabens, among other things, to be some sort of horrific evil. Ingredients like parabens have been well-tested and are used for a reason. They even occur naturally as noted by the the Anon at 13:37. Bigger companies, i.e., those that manufacture drugstore brands, are particularly thorough with testing. These companies are far from perfect for a host of reasons, but as a former biochemist, their personal care products are tested six ways to Sunday and then some before they enter the market.

    As you said, nearly anything can be dangerous in large quantities, including water. The peer-reviewed studies are a dry read, but well-worth the trouble to find out what's really up with the ingredients that make their way into personal care products. It's important to note, if reading a study, be sure to understand what levels/dosages are being tested. Just because something is less than stellar for rats at a disproportionately high concentration and dose, it does not necessarily mean that it's bad for humans at a small concentration in conjunction with other ingredients.

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  16. I stopped using parabens in my skin care but only because I wanted to go more natural with essential oils and the like – ingredients I can recognize and understand. Parabens naturally started to fall away from those lists – ditto dyes, fragrances and synthesized ingredients. I hate that companies use parabens like a buzzword and agree that it's up to the customer to be informed about what parabens are and whether they want to have them used in their products.

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  17. Thanks for this, Caroline. I was recently in a London-based store in Leeds which sells 'remedies', and the sales assistant slated a rival company for 'now using parabens' and how 'dangerous they are' to secure a sale. I was appalled, and said so - and she tried to start a debate about how toxic parabens apparently are (rather than address her dodgy tactics). The company in question has always used parabens and has a clear policy on why. To hear this sort of sales technique was frankly appalling, in my opinion. Everyone should read this article! Best wishes, Bev

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  18. I would like to address all the concerns of the sort "It hasn't been proven to do any harm, but has it been proven that it doesn't?". In short: this logic makes no sense. Similarly, you cannot prove that witches do not exist (HOW exactly would you do that?). However, there are no proofs that they do exist, from which we draw the conclusion that they probably don't. ONE CANNOT PROVE NONEXISTENCE. You cannot prove Zeus, Athena and the whole Greek mythology lot do not exist. However, you can say that there are no proofs that they do. I hope this clears things a bit.

    Second, I would also like to point out that it is not as if scientists are SPECULATING that they don't think parabens are unsafe. Speculating in science was the practice that died around the end of the middle ages (though apparently EWG and similar still feel a strong connection to it). Afterwards an idea called SCIENTIFIC METHOD caught on - yes, this thing thanks to which you can watch TV, send a message on your mobile, or read this post for that matter. Using scientific method basically means that scientific claims are checked by making an experiment. Example: in the middle ages everyone thought the Earth was flat, but no one checked. Then came Columbus, Copernicus and the whole lot, checked for the experimental facts and basically said "Well, that's bollocks. All the evidence points that the Earth is round." Scientific method is also what is used when checking for safety of products. For example, you can try to see whether parabens do any harm, perform thousands of experiments and come to the conclusion, that in none of them parabens, as used in the amounts present in cosmetics, caused any harm.

    And the last thing: let me tell you something about scientists themselves. In short, they are not puppets employed by the cosmetic industry. Some of them are working in control agencies and at universities. They are not paid to please the cosmetics brands, they are paid to do experiments and find new scientific facts. It is the biggest dream of every scientist to find something new and spectacular. Well, I don't know about you, but I have a feeling that if some of these claims about hazardous properties of parabens were close to being true, a scientist from Oxford, Yale, Harvard or Beijing would find out and BOAST ABOUT IT INDEFINITELY. The fact that they don't means there is nothing to boast about.

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    1. Amen! You said everything I wanted to say and beyond. Most of what you said, especially the scientific method, are included in the high school science curriculum yet everyone seems to have forgotten it. Schools should do better job at teahcing science so that people don't regard science as something suspicious and nonsense.

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  19. I try to get as many "free" products as possible, since the jury is out on how much is too much, I just avoid it whenever possible. If there is a product that is absolutely amazeballs with them in it I'll use it anyhow because 90% of my other products are paraben free.

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  20. Every now and then claims surface for an ingredient or another causing cancer. I've researched parabens (because I wanted to see what's the big deal) and of course came up to the conclusion that the claims are unsubstantiated! What bothers me though is that ingredient witch hunt never stops. The other day I was reading about coal tar being carcinogenic. I apply coal tar lotions on my body for over 15 years because it's the only ingredient which actually does something for my psoriasis. I've tried homeopathic ointments and body lotion with Dead Sea salts, but nothing worked. Only coal tar does....and I don't even want to think what will happen when I get pregnant and I won't be able to use it!
    Anna

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  21. In the dictionary Common sense should be re-named Caroline Hirons x

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  22. I love you and your research, so much. As a scientist (and I kind of cringe at myself for saying that) but I always cringe when people bring up these things with claims and 'evidence' despite having a) never read the papers they are citing and/or b) picking research from terribly untrustworthy sources. I like parabens, they stop my skincare growing mould and bacteria that hasn't been thoroughly researched or worse, has been proven toxic. The FDA needs to take more care yes, but even they aren't in the habit of actually trying to kill the population.

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  23. Thank you, thank you and thank you some more for this post! As a scientist I find it so frustrating how scientific work is often misinterpreted and OVER interpreted. I have been going blue in the face explaining that parabens do not cause cancer (or at least there is no current evidence to suggest that they do) for year. Rant over.
    By the way I lol'd on the 'Daily Fail'. I'm still laughing.

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  24. For anyone wondering just what the heck parabens are, why they're so popular, why alternatives aren't necessarily better, etc., Caroline did a fantastic video with Lush explaining all this. It's on YouTube, called The Great Preservatives Debate, posted by Lush - a quick search will lead you there. VERY highly recommend watching it!

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  25. We have this debate in Sweden too, For me, the most important question when I'm told that something is paraben-free is What did you use instead?

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  26. Thank you Caroline for some common sense on this subject. Parabens are some of the most researched and stable preservatives in the industry. Many brands are being forced to re-formulate out of them because of mis informed consumer pressure that in the long term may not be to the benefit of the consumer. I'm so glad you've had the guts to come and and say this....as the old adage states, a little knowledge is dangerous!

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  27. Thanks Caroline for clarifying this

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  28. I agree if we were talking about just one product used daily in your routine . That the dose is too low too cause harm but what you didn't mention is chemical loading . Where a build up of possibly harmful chemicals build up in the body from not one item . But if you think about it the numerous hair bath body makeup perfume and the list goes on of products that we use daily . It's then there could be a concern about how much of these products are remaining in the body . I personally don't cut out all paraben and other ingredients but I cut out as many as I can to lower my chemical load .

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  29. I think Phenoxyethanol is supposed to be a lot more toxic than parabens but is now appearing in all sorts of products. At the end of the day if you want the surface of your skin to feel/look less dry/spotty/uneven you tend to use whatever works best - this could be a pure rose hip oil or a cream full of mineral oil, propylene glycol and parabens. It's your choice just as much as having a couple of glasses of wine too many or eating a processed ready meal.

    With skincare you need to enjoy using the product as much as anything else.

    However if you want a guarantee that what you are rubbing on your skin isn't going to potentially make you ill stick to olive oil!

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  30. Thank you for your lovely self and your regular doses of common sense. Why is it that the poor quality studies always get the publicity? I mean who doesn't have a control in a scientific study? That's not even GCSE science level. There is nothing to show that their results are statistics significant and all these companies have just jumped on the band waggon.

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