COTW: Parabens

Hi all, hope you are enjoying our Chemical of the Week posts.

Any feedback you could give us on them would be very much appreciated, particularly if you could let us know if they’re helpful and if you would look forward to reading more.

The previous two can be found here and here 🙂

Most people won’t have heard of parabens, which when you consider that 90% of cosmetic products contain them is a little worrying!

What are they?

They come in many forms (ethylparaben, methylparaben and less commonly isobutylparaben and many more) and if you read the ingredients of whatever product you have at hand you will more than likely find that it contains at least one.

They can be found naturally in foods such as blueberries and prunes but when used commercially they are always chemically made. They can be found in most cosmetics products including make up and facial creams, but also in toothpaste, gels and sometimes as a food additive.

It’s essentially a preservative, very cheap and easy to make and can fight away bacteria and fungus from whatever product it is used in, sounds great right?!


I wouldn’t be so sure unfortunately!

There has been a lot of scientific research into these chemicals recently, the usual realisation that something we thought was safe is now causing growing concern.

Research has been carried which shows that parabens cause an increase in the amount of oestrogen produced by the body, to an extent that men can have a low sperm count and a decreased level of testosterone.

Research has also shown that increased use of substances containing parabens such as moisturisers and creams that are left on for a longer amount of time can penetrate the skin and be absorbed into the body.

The ironic thing is, most anti-aging products contain parabens, particularly methyl paraben, when it has actually been linked to causing premature aging of skin.

Makes you question why you spend so much money on the latest anti-wrinkle cream with the latest advance in halting the signs of aging, when they still put in the parabens to preserve it!

Most worrying is the finding of an elevated level of parabens in women with breast cancer. I must make it clear that it is unknown yet whether the parabens cause the cancer, but an elevated level surely cannot be a good thing? There is a link between the two, it’s just a matter of time before the relationship can be established.

A particular worry, voiced even by the Daily Mail in January 2012, was the link between deodorants and breast cancer. Although not proven it has been notified as a factor for the increased levels of parabens in breast tissue due to the higher level found on the upper outer quadrant of the breast tissue closest to your underarm.

Previously methylparaben was also used in sun creams but was found to react with UVB rays to cause an increase in DNA damage and cause skin aging. I haven’t been able to check if there is any in sun creams now as I don’t have any to hand, but I would hope they’ve been removed!

What to do?

As research on this subject isn’t clear however, cosmetic and food companies can still add these chemicals to their products. It’s a really tough call and I would again err on the side of caution and avoid them if I could.

However this will be extremely hard due to the vast quantity of products that count parabens in their list of ingredients.

I for one will certainly be reading packaging more closely from now on, the more COTW posts I research and write, the more it worries me that the sheer volume of products I use that contain all manner of chemicals that are absorbed into the skin is something that should be closely monitored.

Future purchases:

For the future I would definitely look into more natural and organic products, however again, similar to SLS as parabens are found naturally, they can still be present in products that claim to be ‘natural’ or ‘organic’.

I find it odd that companies can get away with this, as the chemicals are man made and certainly treated in some way or another.

I don’t think finding products that are paraben free is going to be easy or anywhere near as glamorous as going into my local Boots or Superdrug and filling a basket full of beautifully packaged bottles, but I would aim to decrease my exposure to these chemicals at the very least.

Another question I thought of, why are companies so keen to produce products that are ‘sulfate free’ when chemicals such as parabens are clearly going to have a greater detrimental effect on your health?

Why produce a product free of an irritant, when they still contain a potential carcinogen?

Producing products that are sulfate free is clearly a step in the right direction and this I do not have an issue with, but why not remove or replace other chemicals too?

I get the impression they’re trying to create an image for customers after more people become aware of sulfates and their irritant effect.

Do these posts put you off buying certain products? 

Would you be more likely to read the back of the packaging now before buying something?

Hope you enjoyed the post 🙂

L xxx


  1. chazzehhh
    March 12, 2012 / 12:50 pm

    I honestly thought that parabens were a good thing until reading this post! Shows how T.V adverts telling you that parabens are good in creams can lead you astray, I just checked and both my face cream and my foundation have it in! Methylparaben seems to be the common one in my products. I'm a bit sad because I expected in it my make-up but not my skin cream. I think that when picking my Summer make-up I will definitely be more aware of what's in them, else what's the point of buying make-up with SPF built in if the other chemicals in it will cause damage with the sun?This was a really enlightening article :)Charlotte

    • C.S.I Beauty Blog
      March 12, 2012 / 7:27 pm

      Thank you Charlotte 🙂 I think its mostly a case of 'avoid when you can' but if it gets into your body by prolonged exposure putting them in moisturisers is the worst! Thank you for your comment, means the world knowing someone actually reads them and learns something from it 🙂 xx

  2. Denise
    February 17, 2013 / 3:48 am

    Really informative post!!!!! Good for you for doing these posts, they are awesome, although I have the impression there is still a big majority of girls who are totally unaware of all this and maybe prefer to close their ears haha and not be informed further more about it. Personally, I have managed to eliminate parabens in my face creams, but they are still in my shower gel and shampoo, in a million other things probably, too. I read labels very carefully now but not in a "paranoid" way; I like to know what's in the product I'm using, especially when it's on the face!Take care!

Leave a Reply