If you purchase health, beauty and skincare products even reasonably regularly, then the chances are you'll have heard about some controversial ingredients called parabens. These are in hundreds of the products we use on a day-to-day basis and the reason why they're so contentious is that they could be harmful to our health.
However, many people are unaware of this, assuming that they must be safe if they're used by so many brands. To address the problem, we want to go back to basics and provide a little more information about parabens so you can make an educated decision about whether or not to avoid them.
What are parabens?
Parabens are a type of man-made chemical that have been used since the 1950s as a form of preservative for skincare and beauty products. Manufacturers realised they could create a longer shelf life for what they had made if they included a preservative to prevent the growth of bacteria and fungi in the warm environments of people's bathrooms.
Because they are so cheap and effective, the use of parabens quickly began to spread from company to company. Now, in the 21st century, we are in a situation where they are present in everything from shampoos, moisturisers and shaving creams to toothpastes and deodorants.
Should I be worried about them?
You might wonder why this is a bad thing if they prevent potentially harmful bacteria from colonising your anti-ageing cream while you sleep. However, the controversy behind parabens lies in what effects they might be causing on our health, not the issues they are preventing.
In the 1990s, research found that parabens have a xenoestrogenic effect - that's to say they mimic the hormone oestrogen in the body, throwing off your normal chemical balance.
Oestrogen disruption has been linked to breast cancer growth - indeed, in 2004, a study by Philippa Darbre at Reading University found parabens present in malignant breast tumours. It must be added at this point that this discovery doesn't mean parabens caused the cancer, plus it's not known if parabens can be found in non-cancerous tissues. But statistics show that breast cancer incidence rates are rising - could there be a link here?
A recent Danish study also discovered that parabens can be found in the blood and urine of men without cancer just a few hours after they apply body lotion containing the preservatives - again, there's no proof of a causative effect, but the concern is that parabens could be having a cumulative, damaging impact on our body tissues, especially since we're using so many.
Can I avoid parabens? Should I?
Officially, there is no regulatory law on parabens in skincare and cosmetic products because the World Health Organization deems them to be safe at low levels. Research is continuing into their safety and the public will be alerted if this changes.
However, experts are calling for limits before a discovery necessitating this change is made - after all, isn't it better to err on the side of caution?
And if we're waiting for the big cosmetics brands to take a stand and remove parabens, then we'll be waiting a long time; it's difficult to create products if you take preservative parabens out of the equation, which eats into profits and puts them off.
It's up to you whether you attempt to limit your exposure to parabens, but we'd recommend it as an alternative to covering your body with chemicals. Of course, it's going to be hard to eliminate them completely, but cutting down is a great start.
You can do this by checking the labels of the products you buy for names like ethylparabens, propylparabens, butylparabens and methylparabens and swapping to those that don't feature them wherever possible.
At Heyland & Whittle, we've got decades of experience in manufacturing skincare products and all of our soaps, lotions and washes for the hands and body are completely paraben free. Instead, we use natural ingredients such as lavender oil to act in a preservative manner.
This means they will start to alter and break down eventually - but we believe this is a good thing, as you know you're always getting something freshly made and pure when you buy from us.
However, don't think that means our products aren't as good as those from the big brands that do use chemicals. On the contrary, they lather up beautifully, feature fantastic scents and add moisture to your skin as you cleanse.
Try one of our classics like the lavender bar to see what we mean, or swap some of the things you usually buy to a small collection of our products. For example, the Neroli & Rose handwash is a perfect scent for the summer, while the Wild Lemongrass variety is ideal for anyone who spends a lot of time in the kitchen, as it's tough on food smells but gentle on your skin.
We'd also recommend our Green Tea & Grapefruit body wash as a staple for the shower, since it's just as invigorating as offerings from other brands but is naturally moisturising as opposed to abrasive and drying.
Hopefully, these tips can help you to begin your journey towards reducing your exposure to parabens.