Beauty · Science

Paraben free?

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 Skล‚odowska-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.

This is Marie Curie. Does she look like she has time for “chemical free” nonsense? I thought not. She’s probably too busy winning Nobel prizes and being a general bad ass. (Image from Wikipedia)

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.

Spiders are “100% natural”, but I wouldn’t eat one or put one in my hair. Don’t fall for this kind of marketing nonsense. (Image from

There are alternative preservatives, notably grapefruit seed extract (sometimes listed as GSE on the back of bottles),ย  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.


13 thoughts on “Paraben free?

  1. So that’s why people are making a big deal out of parables? Lol I remember a few years ago scientists “linked” potato chips to cancer hahahaha… To prove a point I started eating more potato chips.

    I think a post about sulphate so would be great! Maybe a pros and cons comparison? Hmmm.. My brain gears are spinning.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Awesome… Lol I just noticed my typo, I meant parabens not “parables” lol sometimes my auto correct on my iPad changes things so quickly that I don’t notice it until it’s too late.

    Looking forward to that sulphate so post! โ˜บ๏ธ

    Liked by 1 person

  3. The parabens bit always rather confused me, mostly because I’ve honestly never did my work, and what I did hear was small bits on how it’s bad for natural hair on black women. Though, now referring to Laria, sulphates aren’t bad for hair exactly but it’s much like a strip to hair, the same working active ingredient in Dawn (the dish soap) and for those allergic to sulphur, the sulphate is much milder than it’s bigger sister but I also have eczema which worsens from the ingredient. I would love to read your comparison on it, Becky. Great read, lots to consider.


    1. That’s interesting. When I was reading I never found anything about parabens being harmful to natural black hair, although I do seem to remember that kind of thing about sulphates. I’ll dig a bit deeper when I do the sulphate research and I’ll see what I turn up. Thanks so much for the feedback!


  4. Interesting post. Noting that parables have been used since the 50s also coralates to an increase in cancer as well. Not to be combative nor implying that parabens cause cancer but I believe the over use of many synergetic ingredients has Increased the cancer rates.
    Keep up the good work. It’s always good to read different points of view ๐Ÿ™‚


    1. Thanks!
      This is a reasonable concern. It’s absolutely the case that it’s possible that parabens do cause cancer and that the ways of testing that just aren’t sophisticated enough yet. All we can really say so far is that none of the tests point to parabens causing cancer so far. Of course, what can be said, is that if they do cause cancer they’re significantly less carcinogenic than, for example, cigarettes, diesel fumes or barbecue food.

      That’s the nice thing about science. You can do a million tests and find nothing. You’d be smart to believe those conclusions too, because a million is a lot. But if just one test finds something you need to think about that carefully and revise your viewpoint. In some case that test can completely revolutionise modern thinking. For parabens, that test hasn’t happened yet and it might never happen. Probably because they don’t cause cancer, but just maybe because the test isn’t good enough yet.


      1. Another thing I thought of is what if we combine the cautioned parabens with other synthetics, like sulfates, fragrance (that could be a good study to do as well) and dyes? Does that then cause the parabens or something else to react in creating more abnormal (cancer) cells? I often have found in my own research that it is often not just one synthetic but the combining of so many with little research to the long term affect. And the many areas it can effect (reproduction, birth, organ cell regeneration etc).
        Thanks for the open conversation ๐Ÿ™‚


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