Skin deep: Beware of parabens

Published: May 5, 2013
The reality of skin and personal care products, however, is ghastly — almost all of them contain chemical additives. DESIGN: SAMRA AAMIR

The reality of skin and personal care products, however, is ghastly — almost all of them contain chemical additives. DESIGN: SAMRA AAMIR


As people grow more and more conscious about how their skin looks and feels, skin-friendly products in smart bottles regularly find themselves a home at super market racks. In a bid to age gracefully, women spend a great deal of money on these products that will help them achieve their goal. The reality of these skin and personal care products, however, is ghastly — almost all of them contain chemical additives known as parabens.

The average skin-conscious person lathers, exfoliates, chafes and sprays skincare products on their body everyday — and because our skin acts more as an absorbent than a barrier, we soak up the hundreds of chemicals we are often exposed to.

While the name of the compound itself sounds pretty harmless, parabens can be easily spotted in essential products such as shampoos, moisturisers, shaving gels, make-up and toothpaste — feel trapped?

What are parabens?

Parabens are esters of para-hydroxybenzoic acid (hence the name), which are used as preservatives in skincare products, or to put it simply, they are used to extend the shelf life of such products. Some common kinds of parabens used are butylparaben, ethylparaben, heptylparaben, methylparaben, propylparaben.

What do parabens do?

Parabens are anti-microbial agents that are used to prevent the bacterial and fungal growth in the products. Parabens help preventing their decay and make products last for long so they stay on your dresser. It is an estrogen-mimicking compound that disrupts the endocrine system and causes reproductive and developmental disorders. Recently, according to many researches done, it has also been linked to breast cancer.

Although no definitive link has been made between parabens and breast cancer, a recent study found remains of the chemical in the breast tissue while operating the tumor out of the body.


So what should you do when almost every product you use has parabens as an ingredient? According to dermatologist Dr Badar Dhanani, you can do the following things to keep yourself away from products rife with the hazardous compound:

Less is more

Dr Dhanani says, when you go to the cosmetic or drug stores, you should pick out products that have a short shelf life. A shorter shelf life means less parabens are used. This is the first step towards getting your body out of the vicious cycle of parabens.

‘Handmade’ won’t do the trick

When people learn about the harmful products used in commercial products, they think handmade products are the only way out. Despite being absolutely harmless, the manufacturers of these products cannot guarantee the same product every time. “There is no quality control in products that are handmade. You cannot make sure each batch have the same amount of ingredients used,” says Dr Dhanani. So, you might as well think twice before spending a hefty amount on handmade products.

Pay more suffer less

The dermatologist suggests that resorting to expensive skincare brands might help as they clearly mention the elements used in the products that they make. Some brands even have parabens-free range or use fewer amounts of the chemical compound in their products.

Get real

We don’t realise the damage products made on a large scale can cause until things start turning ugly. Sometimes it’s too late to realise the importance of bringing back nature to our lives. Dr Dhanani suggests alternating chemical-laden products with natural (and way cheaper) substitutes. “If you cannot find parabens-free lotions in the market, use olive oil or rosewater,” he says, while reminding us of a very simple truth. “Products are not a must for our survival.”

Published in The Express Tribune, May 6th, 2013.                      

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Reader Comments (2)

  • Stranger
    May 6, 2013 - 1:12PM

    Hmmm I like a society interested in beauty products . It means its thriving and healthy . Young and old should take care about their looks .The minute people loose interest in their looks it means they are disillusioned/ dis enchanted/ depressed /disinterested with life in general.


  • Natasha
    May 7, 2013 - 8:01AM

    Gr8 piece of work very informative people needs more article n education regarding this subject as majority is unaware of the dark side of these cosmetics n beauty products consuming it without knowing the damage its cause to their bodies.


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