Disclaimer: This really isn’t intended as an attack on anyone or on any company who prefers natural products. There are good reasons to use products described as natural, especially when environmental concerns or animal welfare concerns are taken into account. This is only really intended to make people think twice before discounting ingredients they might not properly understand. With me? Ok.
I was originally going to write a post about my continued obsession with a certain brand of skincare but that’ll have to wait for next week because I have a Bee in my Bonnet*.
Thing is, I keep reading about things being “free of chemicals.” These things are often foods, drinks or beauty products and it’s extremely frustrating. I don’t mean to be a pedant, but if you can eat it, drink it or even touch it then there’s no way it’s chemical free. Everything you encounter is made of chemicals, I guess with the exception of dark matter, but unless you’re some kind of extra-dimensional alien being you’re not going to be eating dark matter.
Don’t even get me started on “100% natural.” Got a smartphone? Ever been in an aeroplane? I assume you’re accessing this via the internet? We have long since made compromises on things not always being 100% natural and the benefits far outweigh the drawbacks.
Fruit is made of chemicals. Water is a chemical. Soap is a chemical. Quinoa is full of them. So are avocados. Do not fear them. As Marie Skłodowska-Curie said, “Nothing is to be feared, only understood.” She’s the only person who ever won two Nobel Prizes – one was in Physics and the other in Chemistry, so there’s no doubt that she’s an individual worth paying attention to.
In the interest of understanding, I decided to do some digging and properly educate myself about one group of chemicals: Parabens. I’ve heard time and time again that I should avoid products which contain parabens but do I know why? No. Do you? If not, read on.
Parabens are preservatives and they’re used in everything from food to toothpaste and from shampoo to lube (yep). They work well as preservatives because they reduce the spread of bacteria and fungi but they’re also cheap and people have been using them for a long time, since around the 1950s.
So what’s the big deal? Well, it turns out that there probably isn’t one. There was a bit of a scare a while ago because parabens can mimic the behaviour of oestrogen and one scientific study went on to link it to breast cancer. However, that study was a big naff because it basically said that they found some parabens in some breast cancer tissue. That doesn’t mean the parabens caused the cancer, that there were no other chemicals present, or that all cancer tissue samples will have parabens in them. Needless to say certain scaremongering parts of the press went wild anyway.
There are alternative preservatives, notably grapefruit seed extract (sometimes listed as GSE on the back of bottles), but they don’t work as well. So if you’re still a bit alarmed by parabens then I’d recommend looking at ingredients lists, choosing products that don’t list them, and then keeping those products in the fridge. Otherwise they just don’t last as long. However, the general scientific community currently sees no problem with paraben use. It turns out that on this count, Madame Curie was right.
I’m interested to know what people think of this. Is it helpful? Would you like to see more like this? The next set of chemicals I might read about it sulphates – would you want to know what I find out?
*For anyone outside the UK, this is expression means that I’ve got stuck on something. I need to talk about it, because it is suddenly very important to me, and I probably won’t stop any time soon. A bonnet is a hat – I don’t really have one and if I did I wouldn’t let any bees into it.