What’s so bad about parabens anyway?

Parabens are on the HAN “Nasty List,” and compared to the other toxic chemicals we’ve included they’re probably one of the more well-known ingredients and easier to spot. It’s not new news that parabens are bad. HAN has never formulated with them, and there’s a growing, but visible, movement of paraben-free products. But have you ever wondered why parabens have received such a bad rap? 

Typically used as a preservative, parabens have been found to be able to penetrate the skin of humans and animals and are linked to cancer and hormone disruption. The four most common in cosmetics and personal care are methylparaben, propylparaben, butylparaben and ethylparaben
Parabens have their use in preventing mold and bacteria from forming on cosmetics, but there are lots of health concerns around their use. Studies have primarily involved animals with findings showing that parabens do affect estrogen pathways. Other studies conducted have shown that when these hormones are disrupted, humans experience decreased sperm count, endometriosis and insulin resistance. And some populations, including salon workers and African-American women, are exposed to the harmful effects of parabens more than others. 

The European Union has already banned parabens since 2012. In the U.S., however, the FDA’s current stance on parabens is much like its approach to almost all cosmetic ingredients aside from color additives. Regulation only occurs when products are “adulterated” or “misbranded” once they’re on the shelves. The FDA does not ban the use of parabens in products before they are sold on the market. The FDA also has not yet released a stance on parabens, instead waiting on more scientific evidence about their ill health effects. 

The FDA’s lack of response to parabens leaves brands and industries to develop paraben-free cosmetic alternatives on their own initiative. It’s always important  to look at ingredient lists on cosmetics products. All parabens, when they’re included, can easily be identified by the suffix “paraben” at the end of the ingredient name. It gets more complicated, however, when parabens are used in fragrance formulas. Fragrance formulas are allowed to contain dozens of chemicals while only being listed as “fragrance” on the ingredients list since fragrances are considered trade secrets. “Fragrance-free” and “Paraben-free” labels are your best bet to ensure that parabens don’t end up in your products. That’s why HAN describes itself as “paraben-free” for full transparency. 

Instead of parabens, HAN products contain vitamin E and grapefruit seed extract as our preservatives, and our grapefruit seed extract is certified to be free from parabens and other contaminants. This combination of vitamin E and grapefruit seed extract has been found to be an effective natural preservative to replace conventional synthetics like parabens. The more alternatives the clean beauty industry can find, the further away we can get from the nasty effects of parabens for good.