Published on April 22nd, 2016 | by Yashodhara Ghosh
Say the word paraben and purists shudder. And yet most if not all of what we use, contains them. Here’s the good, bad and ugly about parabens…
Make a quick trip to the shower cabinet. Check the long list of ingredients pasted on bottles of the longer array of products lined up on your shelf – all stuff that you’ve picked up over the months in hope of smoother skin, silkier hair, a fairer face. But are you paying too heavy a price? Here’s how you can find out. In each of the lists, look for the word ‘paraben’ – the word may be in conjunction with others like methyl (methylparaben), propyl (propylparaben), isopropyl (isopropylparaben), butyl (butylparaben), isobutyl (isobutylparaben), and so forth. Do the same drill for all products – shampoos, deodorants, conditioners, lotions, shower gels, face washes, scrubs. If you find any member of the paraben family tucked away in any of the lists of contents, set them aside for the moment. Read what we have to say and then decide whether you will retain them in your beauty closet.
Parabens are basically a family of chemical compounds that have a deadly effect on micro-organisms like bacteria and fungi which proliferate in stagnant water. Thus they are used widely by cosmetics companies as preservatives in water-based cosmetic products. To put it simply, parabens are chemicals that are responsible for attractively long expiry dates on the bottles. Chances are that the latter the date, the more the parabens used in the product. But when a chemical is harmful to microscopic living organisms, it stands to reason that they will also have some kind of toxic effect on living cells of the human body. And this is where we start sliding down a slippery slope.
Are they bad?
Over the years, there has been increasing suspicion that parabens are extremely harmful to the human body, especially the female body. Scientific studies have linked parabens to breast cancer, and though it’s still in the test-tube and microscope stages of lab experimentation, most of the research indicates that parabens wreak havoc on the body’s hormone system. The problem can be attributed to the fact that parabens have the same cell structure as that of oestrogen, a hormone that is all important for the smooth functioning of the female reproductive and endocrine systems. Parabens, which mimic oestrogens, are mistaken for oestrogen molecules by their receptors, leading to an escalation in oestrogen levels in the body. Herein lies the crux of the problem: excessive oestrogen predisposes women to breast cancer. One of the most clinching pieces of evidence on the toxicity of parabens came from a study conducted a few years ago, where the chemical was found in each of the tissue samples taken from 40 women with breast cancer in the UK. Of course, this does not imply that it’s the parabens that caused the cancer, but the discovery was unsettling enough to merit further investigations.
Should you stop using paraben-containing products? That’s a big question for if you do, you will end up throwing most if not all of your bottles. What you can do, is limit the use. Most cosmetics giants mass produce their stuff have to resort to use of parabens because its one of the cheapest preservatives around. But smaller niche companies which specialise in paraben-free cosmetics may charge the world for it. There are paraben-free alternatives that don’t cost the world, and in the bargain come with shorter shelf lives. You can always opt for these, and use them frequently and exclusively, so as to finish up your stocks quickly.
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