Facts are, green beauties, that about 60% of what goes on your skin (your body’s largest organ) goes into your body’s internal organs, not to mention the environment. With that in mind, let’s take a hard look at parabens, one of the main synthetic cosmetic ingredients that’s come under justifiable fire, as well as some natural cosmetic ingredient substitutes that can do the do.
- What it is. Parabens are used as preservatives in cosmetics, personal care products, pharmaceutical products (even in children’s medicine), and food. They prevent the growth of harmful microorganisms, especially molds and yeast, and extend a product’s shelf life. There are six commonly used parabens, including Methylparaben, Ethylparaben, p-Propylparaben, Isobutylparaben, n-Butylparaben, and Benzylparaben. Because parabens are created from benzoic acid (a naturally occurring chemical in plants), you may even find them in so-called “natural” products.
- Why steer clear. Reports that parabens demonstrate estrogen-like activity in rodent tests and in human breast cancer cells in the lab have given folks reason to reassess this ingredient. Estrogen is a necessary human hormone, however, it has its bad side, namely, in promoting certain types of cancers, including breast cancer. So anything that mimics estrogen and can pile up in your body the way parabens have been shown to do is not a good thing. This is especially true in moms-to-be and infants. Many environmental-health scientists say parabens cause hormone levels to go crazy. The extensive evidence makes a compelling case. Parabens are absorbed by your intestinal tract and blood, metabolized, and exit your body in urine (but not completely), where they do damage to marine life when they enter the ecosystem via sewage. Studies also show they can also stick around in your fat cells, and you can accumulate more parabens in your body over time, like a shelf that never gets dusted.
- Choose instead. Any water-based product has to have some kind of preservative to stop uninvited little microbes from growing, but it doesn’t have to be parabens. Some natural substances that, when used alone, offer limited antibacterial benefits can be boosted when used together in the right combinations. For example, sugar and milk enzymes (glucose oxidase or lactoperoxidase) both absorb bacteria-causing oxygen. Vitamins A (retinyl), C (ascorbic acid), and E (tocopherol) all help slow down the natural oxidation process, keeping oil-based products fresher longer. Honey is bound by high levels of sugar, an organic compound that acts as a preservative, so it can protect cosmetic products from spoilage. And essential oils—such as violet, lemon, juniper, lavender, cinnamon, peppermint, clove, sweet orange and thyme—all can kill harmful bacteria, as well as heal and nourish skin, without damaging your immune system.
So there are answers in nature, not only to your beauty dreams, but also to ensuring the cosmetics you use are safe–not just from nasty little microbes but from unwanted effects of the ingredients themselves.