Remove Parabens in sunscreens? 

What will it take to remove parabens in sunscreens? Or better still, from all cosmetics?

There are those that believe that parabens are better than all other preservative options. Lets take a look

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7 week fetusParabens can affect the reproductive system, or foetus,

I do find it amasing how many cosmetic products out there still use parabens in abundance even though information about their wide ranging toxic effects is very available to us, the consumer.

It is believed, having started in the 1920's, that there is an estimated 13,200 cosmetic and skin care products using parabens as artificial preservatives. These include makeup, moisturisers, shampoos, toothpastes, lubricants, gels and sunscreens.

Research shows them to have hormone-disrupting qualities that mimic estrogen, potentially  disrupting your body's endocrine system, harming fertility and reproductive organs, affecting birth outcomes, and increasing the risk of cancer. They are also known to be the cause of skin irritation.

Added to this is the potential for repeated lifelong exposure, promoting bioaccumulation.

Many 'organic' and 'natural' labelled cosmetics still use these potentially harmful ingredients in their formulas. Historically, as well as traditionally, they have used natural preservatives that include such things as grapefruit seed extract. However, increasingly new technologies are gaining acceptance.

The parabens used most commonly in cosmetics are methylparaben, propylparaben, butylparaben, and ethylparaben. However, many products will list a combination of parabens as well as additional preservatives for protection against a broad range of microorganisms.

However, if products can be made without these synthetic chemicals, the question is - is it not obvious that they should be avoided in personal care or cosmetic product manufacture?

Remove parabens - what's the alternative status? 

So if we are pushing for the removal of such toxic preservatives, where are we at in establishing credible alternatives?

Replacing parabens in cosmetics, as well as similar synthetic ingredients, have had various challenges that relate mostly to performance, costs, safety and stability.

Battling to find a solution has been at the forefront of many natural, pure and organic based cosmetic manufacturers and ingredient formulators for the last 20 years and more. But it is only in the last 5 years or so, that consumers have started to really push for, or in many cases insist on, less synthetic chemicals, including less toxic preservatives - and more specifically no parabens. This trend in cosmetics is being termed "clean beauty".

As a result of this building pressure being applied on the cosmetic industry, but especially on the big corporations, to remove all parabens in cosmetics formulations, there has been some interesting progress. This Technical insights report:

  • Evaluates preservative options available to replace parabens and similar synthetic materials, including other contentious ones like formaldehyde donors, phenoxyethanol and halogenated preservatives, plus "milder" ones such as benzoic acid/ sodium benzoate, formic acid and salicylic acid.
  • Provides insight to new or novel preservative ingredients, including such things as hurdle technology and surface active membrane disruptors, plus ingredient blends that provide a preservative quality
  • Addresses technical formulation issues for those manufacturing cosmetics
  • Reviews some of the preservatives approved by natural and/or organic standards. Included in natural preservatives are Ethyl Lauroyl Arginate HCl, spice & citrus extracts, blended botanical extracts and grapefruit seed extracts
  • Highlights the difference between natural and synthetic preservative systems
  • Lists the leading producers of alternative preservative options, including some ingredients that have a preservative enhancing effect 

Organic Monitor, the publisher, is a specialist research, consulting & training firm that regularly hosts seminars, workshops, and summits on technical issues associated with natural & organic cosmetics.

Remove Parabens in sunscreens as well as many cosmetics

Paraben use in cosmetics varies enormously - from sunscreens, to body and face lotions, to hair products and makeup.  They will usually contain combinations of the different parabens.

There are six types used most commonly:

  1. methyl-paraben
  2. ethyl-paraben
  3. propyl-paraben
  4. isopropyl-paraben
  5. butyl-paraben
  6. isobutyl-paraben

The so-called shorter-chain parabens, methyl- and ethyl-, are commonly used in combination, whereas butylparaben is often used alone.

The longer-chain parabens, propyl- and butyl-, are linked to stronger estrogenic activity (Blair 2000 and Vo 2010).

The branched structure has been shown to increase estrogenic activity as well as sensitization potency (Darbre 2002 and Sonnenburg 2015).

Banning of parabens in sunscreens

Various global authorities acting to "protect the health and welfare of consumers" are challenged with:

  • How relevant to real life are the published studies showing the hazards of parabens to human health?
  • What are the alternatives to parabens?
  • How do scientifically proven paraben-related health effects relate to their use in cosmetics?
  • Do all parabens act the same or differently in our bodies?

Some retailers have started actively banning products containing parabens.

The EU and some Southeast Asian governments have banned isopropyl- and isobutylparaben.

The use of propyl- and butylparaben is restricted in the EU, ASEAN and Japan.

It must be time to restrict their use a whole lot more comprehensively, never mind in sunscreens alone?

Beyond parabens to asbestos

While researching parabens, I came across this interesting site detailing the use of asbestos in cosmetics. Another example of how consumers can trustingly use cosmetic products that contain ingredients that can have extraordinary effects on our health.

In fact, its quite extraordinary that we should ever entertain the use of such a toxic element on our faces or bodies every day? Never mind the use of this in baby products such as the hugely commonly used talcum powder - where long term use is known to cause mesothelioma and ovarian cancer. 

Asbestos is the primary cause of mesothelioma. Repeated exposure to asbestos-contaminated products, such as talc and older construction materials, increases the risk of developing mesothelioma.

Malignant mesothelioma is a rare type of cancer that develops in the mesothelium, a thin layer of protective tissue that lines many internal organs, including the lungs, abdominal cavity, and heart. Mesothelioma progresses quickly and has no cure. Early treatment helps people live longer, fuller lives.

Besides avoiding talcum based products, don’t assume brands that claim to be asbestos-free, organic or natural are totally free of asbestos.


EWG The Environmental Working Group

Danish Centre on Endocrine Disrupters 2018

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