One of the biggest beauty industry controversies happening right now is the safety of parabens. A preservative ingredient added prevent bacterial growth and increase the shelf life of a product, adding parabens means the company can keep the same product around for a longer length of time. This saves them in production and distribution costs. But how does this concern us? Parabens may affect the male reproductive system and have been known to mimic Estrogen hormones in the body.

According to the Environmental Working Group, the Centres for Disease Control tested the urine of 100 adults and found parabens in almost all of them. Although the debate still rages on regarding the link to breast cancer and parabens, studies have found measurable amounts of several different parabens inside of human breast tumours. Did the parabens contribute to the tumours or is it just a random coincidence? The jury is still out. But many people-myself included-see it as another sign that it’s safer to go natural.

A typical product will actually contain more than one paraben, which allows the company to use lower amounts each paraben that combine together to maintain the preservative level. They’re also a cheap ingredient, which makes them that much more alluring to cosmetic companies. Some of the parabens you may see on an ingredient list include: methylparaben, propylparaben, ethyl paraben and butylparaben. There are others but they’re all pretty easy to spot. Just like the ones I’ve listed above, look for ingredients that end in ‘paraben’. That’s easy enough, right?

And although using one product with parabens may not to any harm, think about everything you put on your body every single day. It seriously adds up. Yet there’s still the question, “If companies can go without parabens, why don’t they?” The answer is simple: no one is making them. Luckily, whether you want to avoid parabens for health reasons or simply because the harsh chemicals irritate your skin, there are more and more products available for you to choose from.

Consumers are tired of not having a say in what goes into products and are demanding safer, healthier alternatives. And so, companies have to respond. These days, finding “Now paraben-free!” on a product label is becoming more and more frequent. After all life is always about supply and demand. If we stop purchasing products with parabens, major beauty companies will take notice.

© Kirstin Wood, 2009