Parabens, use and effects

In the latest decades, people has been devoting more attention to taking care of their body and appearance, and this has involved an increased use of cosmetic products for daily application.

At the same time, the search for natural product has also increased, i.e. with no ingredients that might be potentially hazardous for our health. Today consumers are, in fact, more careful about the quality of the products they use and pay more attention to the indications reported in the labels.

As far as cosmetic products are concerned, a European regulation regulates this matter and provides for specific indications regarding the composition. There is a list of banned ingredients that is continually updated, while concentration restrictions are provided for other ingredients, or it is required that specific warnings to consumers are included in the label.

Over the years, many ingredients have been held responsible for causing more or less damage to human health. Such is the case of PEGs and parabens that have been the subject of information campaigns pointing out their potential negative effects on humans.

More and more consumers are therefore in search of paraben-free products: this wording is also reported in the labelling and advertising. It is therefore important to understand better the meaning of parabens and their role inside the products.

Parabens are a class of organic chemicals, and are used as preservatives as they have high anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties. Due to these activities, parabens are widely used in food, and above all in cosmetic products.

Parabens have been used for more than 70 years as they are able to ensure long storing of products, especially after the first opening of the packaging.

When a cosmetic packaging is opened, in fact, the spreading and proliferation of germs or fungi is very likely. These contaminate the product causing an irreparable damage to the cosmetic product, that cannot be used anymore. To deal with this issue, product formulations are added with ingredients with a preserving function, such as parabens, helping to maintain the cosmetic product under optimal conditions even after its opening.

It is therefore clear that in formulations containing parabens good storing of the cosmetic product is ensured also after a long time after opening, thus ensuring efficacy in time.

However, only after many years of use, several investigations by experts in the field have highlighted a possible relation between the repeated use of parabens and possible harmful, even hazardous, effect for human health.

Following further deep researches, the authorities have therefore established that some parabens expose consumers to very high health risks, and now some of these chemicals are included in the list of ingredients banned from cosmetics.

For other parabens, on the other hand, there are restrictions in their concentration. Moreover, special attention is given to children below 3 years of age. In order to protect this group of more vulnerable consumers, some parabens cannot be used in products without rinsing to be applied in the nappy area; for these products a relevant warning should also be reported in the label.

This also applies because a prolonged use of parabens on the same area might cause an allergy, especially on the skin of young children that is very delicate and sensitive.

Some parabens can therefore be used in compliance with specific conditions, but many consumers might want to avoid any cosmetic products containing parabens; so how to recognise them?

The main tool available to consumers is the label of the cosmetic products, that should report some minimum mandatory information, including a list of ingredients indicated by their INCI name.

Moreover, the wording “paraben-free” will make the identification of cosmetic free from these ingredients even more immediately detectable.

The company responsible of the cosmetic product is therefore responsible for marketing safe and effective products, correctly labelled in order to allow consumers to choose consciously and according to their specific needs.

Written by: Federica Montozzi