As many of us begin our journey into the world of natural beauty we start to scrutinize many of our everyday products and regular purchases and ask ourselves, “what’s actually in this?” Things like body wash, moisturizers, sunscreens, and makeup seem to be innocuous enough but most of these products contain a chemical called parabens. I’m sure you’ve heard the term “paraben-free” advertised on some skincare products but what are they really and what do they do to our bodies?
To put it simply, parabens are preservatives. Many of our skincare products are made with natural ingredients that can go bad so parabens help preserve a product’s shelf life by preventing the growth of mold and bacteria. The use of parabens in cosmetics began 100 years ago in the 1920s and in the 1970s the CDC deemed the chemical to be “generally recognized as safe.” Recent studies, however, have shown just how harmful parabens can be to our bodies.
In more recent years the U.N. Environment Program has deemed parabens an endocrine disruptor which was corroborated by the Danish Centre for Endocrine Disruptors. (Endocrine describes our body’s hormonal system.) Specifically, parabens harm our fertility and reproductive organs, and can even affect birth outcomes. Parabens act like the hormone estrogen, disrupting our body’s natural hormonal balance and cycles – and not just for women. Men with parabens in their system also see a decrease in testosterone levels and sperm production.
How prevalent are parabens in our bodies? Personal care products are the highest contributors to paraben exposure. Since the chemical exists in products we use daily - and multiple products at that - the prevalence of parabens in our bodies is actually quite high. A 2006 study showed that parabens were present in almost all urine samples of U.S. adults regardless of demographic. Parabens have been detected in infants, older children, and pregnant women, suggesting our exposure starts very early and continues throughout our lives.
Unfortunately for people who love beauty, makeup is a high contributing factor. In a study of adolescent girls it was shown that girls who wear makeup daily had 20x more parabens present than girls who wore makeup rarely. And when the makeup-wearing subjects stopped wearing makeup their paraben levels decreased by 45%.
This is not to say we should all cease our interests in beauty and personal care, but it would help to be more cognisant of our buying habits. When you know what you’re looking for, checking the ingredients can be very helpful. Some ingredients to look out for are:
Another ingredient to look out for is simply “fragrance” or “parfum”. While the presence of this ingredient doesn’t guarantee the presence of parabens, it could be a way of masking the ingredient. Under the Fair Packaging and Labelling Act the law cannot force a company to disclose their “trade secrets,” meaning they don’t have to be specific about what goes into the fragrances. It could be an innocuous cocktail of natural scents or a mix of natural and synthetic chemical scents that may or may not contain parabens.
So, how do you know if a “fragrance” has parabens? While you can’t lawfully uncover a company’s secret recipe for their fragrance, you can look for labelling that specifies that it’s “paraben free” and be more discriminatory towards products that have unclear or vague ingredients. It’s also helpful to look into brands as a whole rather than specific products. If a brand values wholesome natural non-toxic ingredients that don’t use preservatives then you’re more likely to be able to find paraben-free items without having to dig through their list of ingredients on every product you buy.
Here are some great Canadian skin- and hair-care brands that we love that are committed to non-toxic natural beauty:
Wolf & Pine - Skincare
Their promise: “We pick many of our own herbs to include in our formulations. Meaning, we're often out in the wilderness foraging ingredients ourselves, drying, processing, distilling in our own still, to give you the fresh and unrefined goodness plants have to offer. Our products contain almost exclusively organic and wild oils and botanicals. We do not use chemicals, toxins, artificial colors, fragrances or fillers.”
Luna Oil Organics - Oils and Serums
Their promise: “Based on the ancient wisdom of Ayurveda principals, our skincare products are designed to harvest the power of nature in order to provide time-proven benefits of clear, soft, radiant skin. All this is achieved without a single drop of harsh or synthetic chemicals, fragrances or coloring agents.”
Skin Essence - Skincare
Their promise: “By filling our bottles entirely with nature’s extracts, our products are designed to nourish, heal, and hydrate the skin providing exceptional results while also completely avoiding the use of fillers, preservatives, and synthetic chemicals.”
UpFront Cosmetics - Hair Care
Their promise: “Shampoo bars need preservatives to maintain our high standard of safety. Our preservatives never contain formaldehyde or parabens and are the safest to ensure that your bars work effectively and are safe for you and your family.”
Leaves of Trees - Skincare and Deodorant
Their promise: “We also never use artificial preservatives, which have been shown to cause irritation, allergy, and can even increase risk of other conditions. And you’ll never find artificial colours or dyes in our skincare either.”
Woman Divine Skincare - Skincare
Their promise: “Woman Divine Skin Care is prepared with all-organic healing and nourishing cold pressed vegetable oils, nut and seed butters, essential oils and premium quality herbs. Each ingredient provides support for skin health and there are no fillers, parabens, alcohol, sulphates, propylene glycol, mineral oil, GMO, artificial colours or fragrance… There are no toxic ingredients in my products. None at all!”
The Cure Apothecary - Skincare
Their promise: “The Cure is a natural skin care brand with a focus on sustainable ingredients. Every ingredient that goes into The Cure products is selected for its effective properties. There are no fillers, perfumes, emulsifiers, parabens used in The Cure products.”
Rosé Toronto - Oils and Serums
Their promise: “When developing our products, our main focus was to formulate using only active ingredients that were biologically compatible components. Our products are formulated without parabens.”
If you’re curious about how the products you already own fare, you can try out the app Think Dirty. With over 1.8 million products in their database, users can look up products by name or barcode and the app provides a list of ingredients and scores the product on their Dirty Meter™. It also provides an explanation as to what ingredients are and what effects they have on the body.
All this goes to show that what you don’t know can actually hurt you, and the best defense is knowledge! Here at Lithe Lashes we believe in natural non-toxic beauty and we want to see all of you flourish in good health and radiance. With a bit of scrutiny into our individual shopping habits we can clean up your beauty routine to be entirely non-toxic and paraben free!