Paraben is a common name of a chemical group including Propylparaben, Methylparaben, Ethylparaben, Isobutylparaben, Isopropylparabe , Benzylparaben, and Butylparaben. Parabens are widely used as preservatives in shampoos and other skin and hair care products. Recently there have been some concerns regarding using Paraben. Before we indulge on the discussion to determine whether Paraben is good or bad for your hair, we have to know where and why they are used.
Why Parabens are added to shampoos?
Parabens are common ingredient for many of the shampoos and skin and hair care products available on the market. Parabens are included in the formula of shampoos as a preservative. Before a shampoo is sold, it might have to sit on the shelves of a shop for several months. Even when a shampoo is bought, it might take several months for it to be used.
You might have noticed that generally there is a timeline given for every shampoo. Typically the timeline is 2 years from the manufacturing date. The shampoo is safe to use in this time frame. To make sure that the ingredients used in the shampoo are still functioning and haven’t started decomposing, different Parabens are used as preservatives.
Parabens prevent bacterial buildup in the shampoos. Bacterial growth is the major cause of a shampoo to go bad when stored for an extended period of time. Thus Parabens increase the longevity of the shampoos. Parabens are fairly inexpensive preservatives, and hence are popular in the cosmetics industry. Alternative natural anti-bacterial ingredients include –
- Neem oil
- Grapefruit seed extract
- Rosemary oleoresin oil
- Tea tree oil
These ingredients work just as well as Parabens in preserving the products but are way more expensive in comparison to Parabens. So shampoo manufacturing companies prefer using Parabens to minimize the cost of production.
Why should you avoid shampoos with Paraben?
The concern about using Parabens in shampoos and cosmetics rose during 2004. A study published in the Journal of Applied Toxicology stated that Parabens are linked to different forms of breast cancer. This study however is not very reliable since the validity of the study was questioned by the American Cancer Society. Several other studies have found a link between Paraben and breast cancer.
Another study conducted in Japan showed that when Methylparaben is exposed to ultra violet rays i.e. sunlight it can damage our skin and DNA. Different studies have showed that the longer Parabens remain in contact with our skin, the probability of them getting absorbed into our bloodstream increases.
Other health issues associated with the using of Parabens are skin cancer, premature aging of the skin and skin irritation. Sometimes products containing Parabens can cause rosacea, dermatitis, and other allergic reactions.
Some studies have shown that Paraben can disrupt the hormonal balance. Studies regarding the effect of Parabens showed that Parabens can increase the amount of female sex hormones, commonly known as Estrogen. An imbalance in the Estrogen level can lead to different hormonal problems including problems of male and female reproductive organs.
It is important to note, however, that some of the parabens are authorized for use, not only in cosmetics, but also in food products by the FDA. For example, propylparaben and methylparaben are authorized for use in Jelly & Preserves, and an extremely low concentration of Heptylparaben (up to 12 parts per million) is allowed in fermented beverages (beer).
Alternative shampoo preservatives
Now that we have established that the only function of Parabens in shampoos is to increase the shelf life of the product and there are so many risks associated with using products containing Parabens, do you think it’s a good idea to keep using shampoos or skin and hair care products that contain Paraben? We certainly don’t think so. We have already given a list of natural preservative ingredients that can be used safely instead of Parabens. You should be aware, though, that some shampoos that are marketed as paraben-free do contain other synthetic preservatives. Some of these may be harmful.
- DMDM hydantoin, Diazolidinyl Urea and Imidazolidinyl urea, release formaldehyde which is highly allergenic.
- Methylisothiazolinone and methylchloroisothiazolinone are skin irritants
- Sodium benzoate is generally safe, but is restricted in cosmetics use in some countries, such as in Japan.
- Potassium sorbate is a skin toxicant or allergen
- Phenoxyethanol is regulated in Japan and the European Union, as there is some evidence that it is a skin allergen or has nervous toxicity. Data are inconclusive.
- Dehydroacetic Acid is relatively safe preservative.
Recommended paraben free shampoo products
Neuma ReNeu Shampoo is a sulfate free shampoo with safe and mild surfactants, some organic plant extracts for increasing moisture, and pleasant scent, and the moisturizing panthenol. It does contain the synthetic conditioner dimethicone, which some people avoid, and the synthetic preservative in this shampoo is Phenoxyethanol. Users of this shampoo like the smell and the clean feeling of the hair after using. Although this shampoo is fairly pricy, you only need a little bit for getting the lather going. This shampoo is highly recommended for color-treated or chemically-treated hair.
Yes to carrots is another excellent product line that avoids sulfates or other strong and irritating surfactants, and based mostly on natural ingredients. The synthetic preservatives in their Nourishing Shampoo are the relatively safe sodium benzoate and potassium sorbate and the one in the Scalp Relief Shampoo is Phenoxyethanol. Both products also contain undisclosed fragrance ingredients that may be a concern. This is unfortunate, because even knowing the commitment of this brand to environmental and human safety, un-known ingredients always make me feel somewhat uncomfortable about a product or a brand.