Today I ran across this article on Beauty Stat on a familiar topic: parabens. The body of the post expresses the general scientific consensus that parabens are safe. Yet even as Beauty Stat clarifies the virtues of this widely used preservative (it's in everything from shampoo to toothpaste to breakfast cereal), it continues to promote cosmetic lines that have latched on to the attack on parabens.
I found this disquieting, especially after reading the subsequent comments from other readers (many of which seemed more interested in the paraben-free beauty lines the article mentions rather than the actual conclusion of the article). I had to add my point of view on the debate, which mostly started for me 4 years ago when began researching skincare products for my newborn daughter. With this being such a misunderstood "hot button" issue, I wanted to share my thoughts with you here as well. The following is the text from the comment I added to the Beauty Stat discussion, though I have added some supportive details to this post.
I find it a little odd that Beautystat would publish an article whose primary point is that parabens are safe, but then cap it off at the end with mentions of all of the companies that are still pursuing paraben-free formulation. It seems a little contrary to the spirit of the article, and I do think that it's confused some of your readers.
Parabens have been the unjust target of a well-executed smear campaign, at the hands of an alarmist lobbyist group (the Environmental Working Group) and marketing think tanks. Companies have not gone paraben-free because they think it's better skin care, they've gone paraben-free because they know there's a large segment of the market that's looking for paraben-free cosmetics and are willing to pay a premium for them.
This smear campaign has been so well executed that even after reading an article like this, an article that references the consensus of scientifically sound, peer-reviewed research and support of world-wide governing bodies, people are still inclined to ignore the facts (parabens are safe) in favor of the marketing.
In fact, the reason parabens are used as widely as they are is that they have a low incidence of irritation compared to many alternatives. According to Fisher's Contact Dermatitis (Rietschel, Fowler, Fisher. PMPH-USA, 2008) "Considering their volume of use, incidence of allergy to the parabens is relatively low compared to the other common preservatives."
Yes, there are people out there that are allergic to parabens, just as there are people that are allergic to sunlight and water. Such allergies are rare, however, so unless you have been diagnosed by an immunologist, the greater body of knowledge insists that parabens are among the best options for preserving and keeping your cosmetics safe and effective.
Common replacements for parabens, on the other hand, may be unstable and even ineffective in small quantities. Many, like tea-tree and grapefruit seed oils, can be potent skin irritants at the levels needed to be effective as a preservative. I understand that many people avoiding parabens simply prefer to take the "better safe than sorry" route, but I also think it's important that people understand that the idea that paraben-free products are safer or better for your skin is not a foregone conclusion.