Parabens may sound like aliens from outer space, but they are actually ingredients in many cosmetic products.
Parabens can be found in almost all of our beauty products and are used to prolong their shelf-life.
However, they have potentially harmful effects on your health, so if you’re using a product such as a face moisturiser containing parabens daily, you may wish to opt for a more natural, paraben-free option.
Parabens are a widely used preservative in cosmetic products to prevent bacteria, mould and microbes from growing in them.
If you take a look at the ingredients on your moisturiser, shampoo or shower gel, you might find one of these in the listings:
More often than not, parabens can be identified by the ‘paraben’ suffix.
However, sometimes they are listed as Alkyl parahydroxy benzoates, so keep your eyes peeled.
These chemicals have been used for decades, but recent research has linked them to a range of health problems.
While more research still needs to be done, studies have suggested that certain parabens make exposure to UVB rays more damaging, and there are also potential links to breast cancer and male infertility.
If you are worried about the potential dangers that parabens could be wreaking on your body and would rather play it safe by using products with more natural ingredients, then there are some suggestions for replacing your daily moisturisers listed below.
Best Paraben-Free Moisturisers in the UK
1. Green People Vita Min Fix
This product is marketed as an anti-aging moisturiser containing only natural ingredients which includes no parabens.
While some products without parabens have a shorter shelf-life, Green People Vita Min Fix should still last 12 months from being opened which is generally more time than you would need if you are using it daily as suggested.
This moisturiser also doesn’t contain any alcohol, colourants or artificial scents that could also irritate the skin, making it very natural and suitable for those with eczema and psoriasis.
When used, it feels non-greasy and is advertised as reducing wrinkles by containing natural substances that extend cell life and reduce the skin aging process.
You can also rest easy that this moisturiser’s ingredients are almost all organic, fair trade and products are never tested on animals.
Be aware though, that this moisturiser does not have an SPF rating and therefore does not offer UV protection, so it’s better for using on days when you’ll be spending most of your time indoors.
Most people who use this moisturiser find that it leaves their face feeling smooth and not greasy.
2. Bulldog Natural Skincare Anti-Ageing Moisturiser (For Men)
This award-winning moisturiser has been designed especially for use by men, meaning it is fast-absorbing and does not leave grease on the hands or face after applying.
Bulldog also boasts a lack of parabens, no sodium laureth sulfate which can cause dryness, and no artificial colours or fragrances.
The product’s main ambition is to clear up dry skin and contains 8 essential oils with which to do so as well as other natural ingredients. The product has also been classed as “cruelty free” as the company do not test on animals and are suitable for vegans.
Bulldog Original Moisturiser is widely available in drug stores and supermarkets and is part of Bulldog’s large range of products, which includes shaving gels and beard oils.
Another good moisturiser for men to consider is ManCave Original Moisturiser, which is also free from parabens, sulphates and SLS.
One interesting thing about Bulldog Original Moisturiser is that the tube is made from 50% sugarcane plastic, which is intended to be a more sustainable alternative to regular plastic, though things aren’t quite that simple.
3. Weleda Skin Food for Dry and Rough skin
Weleda Skin Food is a popular paraben-free skin product that can be used on the whole body, including on the face.
This moisturiser’s ingredients include organic sunflower seed oil, beeswax, calendula and chamomile.
Some of the things Weleda recommend using this product for include face masks, moisturising elbows and knees and nourishing chapped lips. This cream is quite thick so it’s best for using on particularly dry skin rather than as a daily facial moisturiser.
One thing to note is that Weleda Skin Food has quite a strong smell of essential oils which some people like but others find overbearing.
Weleda is a Swiss company that describes its products as being 100% natural.
This product’s ingredients list lives up to this, and is free from parabens, SLS and other potentially harmful chemicals.
4. Aveeno Moisturing Cream with Natural Colloidal Oatmeal
Aveeno Moisturising Cream is popular among people who suffer from eczema. It features colloidal oatmeal, which means that it has small oatmeal particles evenly distributed throughout. Oatmeal has anti-inflammatory properties and can be used as a natural moisturiser.
Most people find that Aveeno Moisturising Cream is effective at moisturising dry skin and treating eczema.
One nice thing about it is that it’s unscented, so it doesn’t have an overpowering smell like some other moisturisers.
This moisturiser isn’t completely natural and does contain some potentially dodgy ingredients including paraffin and dimethicone (a silicone).
It also contains isopropyl palmitate which is comedogenic, meaning that it can clog pores.
5. Sukin Facial Moisturiser
This paraben-free moisturiser comes in a pump-style bottle rather than a pot or tube and uses lots of natural ingredients including sesame seed oil, rose hip oil, aloe vera and avocado.
It’s made by Australian brand Sukin, who offset all carbon emissions involved in making it, so it’s carbon neutral.
As well as being free from parabens, this moisturiser is also free from SLS, SLES and sulphates.
If you have a nut allergy, Sukin Facial Moisturiser is ideal as it contains no traces of nuts, unlike some other natural ingredient moisturisers.
It’s also free from animal derivatives and artificial fragrances. The cream itself is light and not greasy, meaning it is absorbed quickly and is good for sensitive skin.
What Are Parabens?
“Paraben-Free” has been appearing on many beauty products over the past couple of years, but is this simply a gimmick or something more? If it is something more, are there any dangers to products containing parabens?
If you read the details of many of your daily products, you will see it listed among the ingredients as the chemical is used as a preservative to make your goods last longer by stopping bacteria, fungus and other microbes from growing on your favourite creams, make ups and shampoos.
Over the past few years, scientists have started to question the safety of using parabens in our daily beauty routines due to several reasons such as a possible link to breast cancer, skin aging and its estrogenic activity.
Can parabens be harmful to your health?
Scientists have identified ways parabens could possibly cause health issues for those who use products with this ingredient. Results from some tests could indicate that parabens have a role in causing cancer.
Parabens can have similar effects to oestrogen on the body and oestrogen is associated closely with breast cancer – parabens have actually been found to be present in breast tumours.
As of yet, there is no scientific evidence to support the theory that parabens can cause cancer.
Researchers have, however, found parabens in cancerous tumours in breast cancer patients, but there is no evidence to say that these parabens are not also found in healthy breast tissue.
One example of the possible correlation between parabens and cancer can be demonstrated using deodorant. Deodorant is a product which often contains parabens and deodorant is of course applied under your arms.
Many cases of breast cancer show cancerous cells forming in the breast area nearest to the underarm.
Of course, the link between parabens and cancer has not been fully proven – tests are still ongoing. See the US National Cancer Institute’s page on it here for more info.
A Norwegian study found high levels of parabens in the blood of women who reported high use of parabens. This suggests that these chemicals can be absorbed and processed through the body before being excreted.
This could definitely show a link between paraben absorption and possible adverse side effects.
It could be said that if the body is able to process parabens and excrete them, they could pose a lesser risk than first speculated (as long as excessive amounts are not present in the body at one time).
By using fewer products containing parabens and avoiding them as much as is possible, your body will not become overwhelmed by the effects parabens may or may not have.
Parabens and sun exposure
Unlike the tenuous links to breast cancer, scientists have actually proven that a reaction between a paraben called methylparaben and UVB can cause skin damage and aging.
Studies have shown that this reaction causes a significant increase in cell death as well as cause oxidative stress that can lead to skin diseases such as cancer.
Is there any effect on male fertility?
In various studies, parabens have been discovered in the urine of healthy men which is a cause for concern as to the effects they may be having within the body.
There have been theories that the extensive use of products with parabens that takes place in our society is what has caused reduced fertility in men and an increase of male breast cancer due to the estrogenic activity, however nothing has been proved.
What are the alternatives?
Luckily, there are now lots of paraben-free products available.
These products instead tend to use natural preservatives; however these tend to be less successful in lengthening the shelf-life of a product and are generally more expensive too.
Items used include things such as grapefruit seed extract, oregano, rosemary, goldenseal root and thyme.
If you decide to buy paraben-free beauty products with natural preservatives in them, you can store some of them in the fridge to somewhat prolong their lifespan.
One issue with paraben-free products is that they could actually have other detrimental effects.
If bacteria and microbes are growing in these unpreserved (or not as efficiently preserved) formulas, this could pose a different health risk.
It seems that while there are many theoretical risks and potential links to health problems associated with parabens, very little has been proved in terms of scientific evidence and paraben-free products remain more expensive and less accessible than other products that contain the chemical.
The best advice is probably to use products containing parabens in moderation and buy products without them where you can afford to, or with products that you use a lot of.
Which products are parabens most commonly found in?
Cosmetic products often have parabens in them because of the environment they tend to be kept in.
Bathroom products are frequently in a warm, moisture-rich environment in which fungus and bacteria can grow readily; especially in liquid or gel-based products.
Some of the products in which you can expect to find parabens are:
- Shampoos – See some recommended paraben-free shampoos here
- Body lotions
Although the cosmetics industry is starting to create paraben-free products due to huge demand from consumers, it is interesting to point out that parabens actually replaced the use of formaldehyde in the 1950s!
Other Ingredients to Avoid in Moisturisers
When it comes to the moisturisers we apply all over our faces and bodies, there are certain ingredients which we are better off avoiding wherever possible.
Certain things just don’t need to be involved in our moisturising routines. These include the following.
This ingredient has been used in many products as a replacement preservative (an alternative to parabens) but could cause similar problems in the body to parabens.
This ingredient has actually been banned in cosmetics in Japan, whereas most other countries have just limited the concentration.
Used as a skin conditioning agent, propylene glycol can actually be an irritant as it does penetrate the skin. Some people may suffer from sensitive skin, dermatitis and even hives after using products which contain this ingredient.
Used to keep plastics malleable, this ingredient is often used in cosmetic products to regulate the texture. They have been linked to breast cancer, early breast development in girls and has also been speculated to cause reproductive birth defects. They may not always be visible in a products ingredients list, as they can be added to “fragrance” so they do not need to be specified (see below).
This ingredient is a funny one, as, by law, there is no specificity needed when it comes to listing “fragrance” in a product. Some fragrances can be harmful, possibly causing hormonal disruption, not to mention the many fragrances that are actual known allergens.
You might sometimes see ‘essential oil mix’, ‘aroma’, ‘parfum’ or ‘perfume’ in the ingredients list, these are the same as fragrance.
Many moisturisers are packaged in plastic tubs, however certain plastic containers still contain BPA which can get into the product over time. If glass is not an option, then check for packaging with a BPA-free label.
If we had to recommend just one paraben-free moisturiser to use it would be Green People Vita Min Fix.
It uses a gentle formula that’s free from dodgy chemicals such as phthalates, SLS and SLES.
The low levels of parabens in regular moisturisers could mean the amount of parabens we are exposed to is too little to cause issue, but the amount of products that we use over time which contain parabens could mean the adverse effects add up.
As yet, no one has clarified for sure whether the parabens in cosmetic products are actually detrimental to our health, but with a huge focus on natural products at the moment, a lot of companies are striving to go paraben free.
Paraben-free products might be a great way to go if you are worried about the possible negative effects they could cause.
If there are unnecessary chemicals being used in products that we use every day, then it could be best practice to avoid them where possible, at least until we have solid answers about the effects parabens can have on the human body and our health.
However, this could take a while… so you might want to set up a mini fridge in your bathroom for all of your paraben-free products!