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02-08-10 | Posted by


Burt’s Bees Baby Bee

Baby Bee Dusting Powder by Burt’s Bees, is Phthalate- and paraben-free, Photo Credit: www.burtsbees.com

In recent years parabens have become a hot-button issue in the beauty world.  But what are they and what’s the big deal?  Here’s the lowdown.

What are parabens?  Synthetic parabens are used to maximize shelf life and kill microorganisms in makeup, skin, hair, and body care products. Parabens are made from ethyl, propyl, methyl, and butyl. 

Why care?  Scientific studies have shown that parabens can mimic estrogen and act as endocrine disruptors.  Rare cases of allergies and hypersensitivity have been reported, and there are debates in progress concerning a possible link between parabens and cancer.  The waters got very muddy when emails started circulating linking aluminum in antiperspirants and breast cancer.  The American Cancer Society issued a very informative press release in 2009 indicating that there is no scientific data to support this purported connection. 

While the FDA does not regulate cosmetics ingredients, it has issued some useful information on its website.  Of note, combining different parabens in a single product allows for lower levels with greater preservative efficacy.  A mid-80s study by the Cosmetic Ingredient Review (CIR) concluded that parabens were safe at levels up to 25%.  Most products contain levels of 0.01-0.3%.  When the CIR revisited those findings in 2005, the panel stood by the 1984 findings. 

What to do?  Whether or not to seek out paraben-free products is a personal and subjective choice.  If you have questions or concerns then your best bet is to talk to your physician, especially if you are trying to conceive, are pregnant or breastfeeding, or in the care of an endocrinologist.  While many companies are producing more paraben-free products, most manufacturers still do use parabens.  “Natural” does not always mean gentle, and some paraben-free products may use other anti-bacterial ingredients that can be highly allergenic or irritating.  Trickier still, organic does not necessarily mean paraben-free, and the fact remains that some of the best, most effective products on the market do contain parabens.  If you do decide to replace some of your old standards with paraben-free alternatives, here are some good starting points. 

Paraben-free products for you and your family

For hair care, check out options from Wen, Phyto, Giovanni, Korres, and Aubrey.  Paraben-free body care lines include 100% Pure, Yes to Carrots, Weleda, and Canyon Ranch Your Transformation.  For skin care, many products from La Roche-Posay, Sonya Dakar, Caudalie, Alba, and Boscia are formulated without parabens.  Everyday Minerals, Jane Iredale, and Tarte all offer paraben-free cosmetics. 

When it comes to kids, their skin and hair care needs are simpler than mama’s, and there is no shortage of wonderful paraben-free lines for them.  For little ones with allergies or skin conditions like eczema, it makes good sense to go for simple, natural products with minimal irritants.  In 2005, California Baby responded to consumer demand by removing parabens from all of their products.  Burt’s Bees Baby Bee and Method Baby are wonderful, affordable options for paraben-free baby care, from shampoo to diaper cream.  

Market trends suggest that more and more beauty brands will be turning out paraben-free options at all price points.  Look to credible news sources for the most recent information on parabens and count on the Bag Ladies to fill you in on the latest and greatest products.

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