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What are parabens and how can they affect your health?

What are parabens? Parabens are preservatives used to extend the shelf life of many types of products. They are used extensively in healthcare and beauty products. The most common paraben-based chemicals are ethylparaben and isobutylparaben. These chemicals can be found in many products and are interchangeable in terms of their use.

Reducing your paraben use

While parabens have shown to dramatically extend the shelf life of a product, there are several cons that make them something that you may wish to avoid. The main concern is that parabens have been found in some forms of cancerous tissue, particularly breast cancer, although the evidence for this is disputed.

Absorption can occur through the skin and there are concerns that parabens may affect the function of the endocrine system over time, although again this is the subject of some controversy. If you wish to reduce your paraben use, you will have to go through all products in your home and read the ingredients.

If you find chemicals on the labels with the words "paraben" at the end this will determine which products you may wish to replace; since ‘paraben’ is a portmanteau of ‘para-benzoic acid’, you should also look out for these chemicals as well. Don’t forget to check sunscreens and other products that may be used by children as well.

Finding healthy alternatives

When replacing products you should be aware that the term 'organic' does not mean that the product is paraben free, even if the base ingredients of the product are organic.

Additionally, not all products that are paraben free are labelled as such. Do a quick scan of the label if you’re not sure to check out the ingredients. Organic alternatives to parabens are becoming more common and should be able to be found easily in shops offering natural alternatives to healthcare and beauty products. Because parabens increase the shelf life of many products you should check the expiration date of these natural alternatives to determine the best amount to stock up on and keep in the home.