Are Parabens Harmful to Our Health and Beauty?

Dear Leah Renee, 

What exactly are parabens? And why are they so harmful? What are the long-term effects of using products such as cosmetics/lotions that include parabens? Any suggestions for paraben free products?  –Ashlee W., MT

Parabens are defined as “any of a group of compounds used as preservatives in pharmaceutical, cosmetics, and in the food industry”.  While I’m sure the word preservatives are familiar to you in reference to packaged foods we eat, it also applies to our skin care, cosmetics, and hair products.

In short, parabens are so harmful because they are toxic chemicals.  They have been shown to disrupt hormones, mimic estrogen, and even linked to cancer.  Parabens are often listed as methylparaben, ethylparaben, propylparaben, benzylparaben in the ingredients portion of our toiletry products.  When we apply lotions and other products, the toxins are absorbed by our skin.  Our skin is the largest one in our body and needs just as much care as any other organ in our body.  Unfortunately, the reactions we have to certain products aren’t always going to be as obvious and brushing through some poison ivy.

In the United States and some other countries, the cosmetic industry is not regulated.  That means they are allowed to put anything they want in the products sold on the shelves.  It’s tough when we see a beautiful celebrity advertising a product that contains harmful chemicals.  It can’t be that bad if she’s using it!  I highly doubt the celebrity actually uses the product being advertised.  These companies pay celebs a lot of money, use cool packaging, and other claims to make their products so appealing to the consumer.  Up until recently cosmetic companies have not had any reason not use cheap, toxic chemicals in their blends.  It extends the products shelf life and keeps costs down.

Some of the products I use

Some of the products I use

I suppose it’s a little hard to believe there are threatening toxins in the products we use because, well, they make us look good!  That’s why we use them.  What we are not seeing are the long term effects that actually tend to go on internally (hello, cigarettes), so we continue doing what we’re doing either because we don’t know or because we do not see the harmful effects taking place.  There are organizations and lobby groups that fight to ban the use of toxic ingredients in the products we use on a daily basis and help to educate the public that these ingredients are harmful to our health.

The Environmental Working Group (EWG) is a non-profit organization that uses public information to protect public health and the environment. Pay a visit to Skin Deep, their online database that identifies which products based a scale of zero (being non-toxic) to ten (the most toxic).  They also go as far to highlight which ingredients in particular are giving the item their toxicity number and why they are harmful.  It’s brilliant.  If you don’t see the item you’re looking for on the list, head over to the search option and see if it comes up there.

More products I love and personally that do NOT contain any parabens are:


  1. Desert Essence Thoroughly Clean Face Wash
  2. Burt’s Bees Peach and Willowbark Deep Pore Scrub
  3. Juice Beauty SPF 30 Tinted Mineral Moisturizer
  4. 100% Pure Coffee Bean Caffeine Eye Cream
  5. Burt’s Bees Naturally Nourishing Honey Body Lotion
  6. Juice Beauty Oil-Free Moisturizer
  7. Dr. Bronner’s Hemp Almond Pure-Castile Liquid Soap

Here is another product I swear by:

coconut oil

Kelapo Coconut Oil.  I hardly use lotion because this pretty much does the trick.  It’s completely natural and so great for your skin.  I even use it on my face.  I also use it as a hair mask.  The options are endless. I love it.

Checking the ingredients in your current products and ones you’re looking to purchase is a wise decision.  Parabens are just one of the many toxic ingredients that can be found in our beauty products.  Using resources like EWG’s Cosmetics Database is one great way to get educated on the toxicity levels in our lotions, soaps, deodorants, sunscreens, and toothpastes and getting to choose accordingly.  Beautiful!


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