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What are Parabens and Why You Should Avoid Them?

You may have heard a lot of parabens lately, or at least seen products on the shelf that say “paraben-free” or “No harmful parabens!” Naturally, you might be wondering what is so wrong with parabens and how many parabens you’ve been exposed to in your lifetime. Much like other things we now know are unhealthy for us, parabens (at least some of them) should be avoided. But why?

What are parabens exactly?

Parabens are basically preservatives used in a variety of cosmetic products, from shampoos to skin cream to makeups and more. However, there are many different types of parabens, which are essentially just chemical compounds that help extend the shelf life of other compounds. Parabens do occur naturally, even in blueberries, but most are man-made. The most common ones are methylparaben, propylparaben and butylparaben.

Why are parabens bad?

The parabens mentioned above are the “three least wanted” parabens on the market because they have been found to mimic estrogen in the body. Of course, little doses of estrogen aren’t the problem, but our skin is our biggest organ. When we put a ton of paraben-laced products on the skin, it absorbs quickly and easily.

Because of this absorption, parabens have been found in breast tumors and studies show that the estrogen-mimicking effects can harm testosterone levels and sperm count in men. Studies are also showing that parabens don’t just leave the body like other compounds; they store in cells, causing long-term damage long after exposure. Research continues to link parabens to cancer cells, making them a “no go” for many consumers.

Should you really avoid parabens altogether?

As with any news that a common household product may be harmful, there has been an initial push against using any products that contain parabens. Especially for women who use cosmetics full of parabens, the risk is very real and should be addressed. But the key to safe product use is knowing what you’re putting on your skin first and foremost.

Check the labels of items that you use frequently; most manufacturers don’t put “parabens” on the ingredient list. That’s why you should know the names of paraben ingredients so you can decide for yourself if you’d like to continue using a product. Keep an eye out for:

  • Ethyl-, butyl-, methyl- and propyl- – paraben family
  • Dibutylphthalate (DBP), dimethylphthalate (DMP) and diethylphthalate (DEP) – phthalates family (similar to parabens)

On top of knowing what’s in your cosmetics, you should also do your own research. Many companies discuss their ingredients on their website, or you can call them to ask if they’ve done research on the long-term effects of their products. Most of all, if you’re worried about the amount of parabens in your products, stop using them.

To ditch or not to ditch?

For many, finding out that parabens can affect their long-term health is enough of a reason to stop using certain products. However, it’s worth noting that not all studies show parabens to be harmful – and they play a vital role in keeping some of our most necessary hygiene products on the shelf longer. The important thing is to know what you’re putting on your skin, do your research and decide where you want to spend your money. There are plenty of newer products on the market that are paraben-free, or have decreased amounts of parabens in their compounds.

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