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Parabens: What Are They And Are They Actually Dangerous?

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There is a lot of discussion surrounding skincare ingredients, and particularly a big debate around parabens. Are they safe? Should we look for products that are 'paraben free'? We break down what they are, what they do and ultimately if they are harmful.

What are parabens?

Parabens are synthetic preservatives used since the 1950s in pharmaceutical and cosmetic products to stop mould, fungus and bacteria growing in them. They are ubiquitous chemicals used in most cosmetic products, including deodorant, shampoo, makeup, toothpaste, self-tanners, sunscreen, shaving gels, moisturisers, food additives and drugs, and without them your favourite products would become overloaded with harmful bacteria that would cause irritation to your skin and eyes. Parabens also allow beauty products to be safe to use and survive in your bathroom cabinet for long periods of time.

The most common types of parabens found in cosmetic products are called methylparaben, ethylparaben, propylparaben, butylparaben and isobutylparaben. Parabens are esters of para-hydroxybenzoic acid - chemicals with pleasant smells – used as solvents in cosmetics. Parabens are derived from natural origins; they are naturally occuring ingredients produced by fruits and vegetables, namely raspberries and blackberries.

Are parabens bad for you?

Parabens have been the subject of intense vilification by the media over recent years due to their connection to breast cancer: parabens display estrogenic properties and have been found to mimic the activity of the hormone estrogen in the body’s cells, which links them with breast cancer.

However, many studies have refuted that parabens are harmful, and in the study Concentrations of parabens in human breast tumours their toxicity was misunderstood and a media frenzy branded them as unsafe. This scare then possessed consumers to begin seeking paraben-free labels on shampoos and deodorants.

Bottom line: there is a chance that they're harmful but as of yet it hasn't been proven. However, if you'd rather be safe than sorry, shop the gallery below for paraben-free alternatives.

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